Buttering Their Bread

Chefs buck the health trend and offer steaks, sausages and French toast for breakfast.

The debate over the role of breakfast in a healthy diet continues to rage, as concern about obesity and disease spreads to much of the world. Is it better to eat a rich, satisfying breakfast soon after waking, or only after a few hours of activity? And is it still breakfast if you wait until later, or is there a point at which it becomes simply pigging out?

It is only natural as counting calories becomes a national pastime there is a backlash by those who assert that eating is a pure pleasure that should not be a cause for guilt. Some eateries proudly serve a cholesterol-filled breakfast, as if Israel was a province in Bavaria. Chefs and restaurateurs report an ever-growing demand for rich foods, just when cafe chains are opting for low-fat dressings, raw or steamed vegetables and low-fat cheeses. Alongside these are others that dip foods in butter, serve various types of sausages and bake coconut bread - with no pangs of guilt.

The breakfast innovations may surprise salad lovers. Zuni, which opened in Jerusalem about a year ago, offers steak and eggs: an 80-gram entrecote steak with two fried eggs and garlic confit. The breakfast menu also offers roasted potatoes and sausages. The piece de resistance is the French toast made with homemade English bread soaked in a mixture of cream, sugar and eggs and topped, after being fried in butter, with creme fraiche, zabaglione and fruit. Another option is the Croque Madame, the traditional grilled sandwich topped with a fried egg, served here with three layers of Emmental cheese and sliced sausage.

"We serve our breakfast menu for 12 hours straight, and early guests are welcome," Zuni owner Dan Kirsh, who comes from Tel Aviv and chose to open a round-the-clock restaurant where you leave your diet at home.

"Late at night, from about 3 A.M. until morning, these are the most popular dishes," Kirsh said. "It seems to be comfort food that people eat as they wind up a long night. Others are early risers who come especially to us for those dishes, or they sleep late on Saturday and are happy for these meals. They are in demand even in the summer."

Alon Goldman, 31, has worked in restaurants for over a decade, including a stint as pastry chef at Haim Cohen's Keren. Afterward he went to France and stayed for seven years. In Paris he lived on Rue Mazarine, on the Left Bank. When he returned to Israel he decided to open a place that would bake with butter and specialize in rich desserts served for breakfast dishes 24 hours a day. About a year ago he opened Mazzarine in Herzliya Pituah. Two months ago he launched a branch on Gordon Street in Tel Aviv.

"I make breakfasts in the patisserie spirit that is close to my heart," Goldman said. "These are not olemet-and-salad breakfasts, and the response has been very good."

The menu includes grilled coconut-vanilla bread with creme fraiche, served with maple syrup and fruit preserves; puff pastry filled with spinach, sheep's-milk feta cheese and eggs; whole wheat bread with pesto, roasted eggplant, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese; and a plate of pastries stuffed with ricotta cheese, sheep's milk cheeses and polenta.

The location of the Tel Aviv branch, Goldman said, was chosen for its proximity to the sea. "Tourists from France pass by, and the location and decor remind them of Paris. They are not looking for low-calorie breakfasts. On the contrary, they enjoy breakfasts with familiar ingredients."

Chef Ayelet Orr, of the OM restaurant in Hod Hasharon, serves a seafood shakshuka (with onions, garlic, hot pepper, lots of tomato sauce, shrimp and calamari); another shakshuka dish, slow-cooked with eggplant in tomato sauce; white sausages stuffed on-site and served with cubes of roasted potato; and pastries made with cheese in the dough, with a variety of fillings. "We try to vary the menu so customers won't get bored," Orr said. "Some people still want their omelet and salad, but most are open to trying new things."

Nutritionist Rachel Granot is not put off by the untraditional Israeli summer breakfast menus. "There is no right or wrong in nutrition," she declared. "There is only appropriate and inappropriate. These menus are perhaps more suited to people who eat breakfast two or three hours after rising, and that's fine. Maybe dieting has become widespread in Israel and these meals are a reaction that says, 'There's no need to exaggerate. Live a little.' I am in favor of the middle road. The Israeli breakfast that is now considered high calorie - with fried eggs, full-fat cheeses and regular (not "light") bread is perfectly OK from a nutritional point of view. Still, it is considered 'sinful,' prompting understandable opposition."