It is by no means a smart joke. Most people probably won’t even find it funny. But a throw away line from a first season episode of West Wing has always made me chuckle. And as I eyed down a Breads Bakery sandwich, it came rushing back to me.
Margaret: You know why they only eat one egg for breakfast in France?
Margaret: ‘Cause in France, one egg is ‘un oeuf’
As a child, one egg was more than “un oeuf” for me. There is little rhyme or reason to why I put my foot down on eggs when I was younger. Maybe it was the texture, or the stark visual, or it was the smell that filled the house as my father ate hard-boiled eggs. Hell, blame that seminal 80s anti-drug commercial that showed eggs in a frying pan with the voice over that said, “this is your brain on drugs.” I didn’t want my brain on drugs. I didn’t eat eggs.
Even back then I knew my hard-line stance wasn’t foolproof. I knew eggs were part of some of favorite foods (French toast) and my go-to condiment (mayo – I was a unique kid, clearly). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve softened my stance on eggs. When comes to food, I think is admirable. It isn’t like someone is going to call you a Benedict Arnold if you expand your food horizons.
Looking at eggs with a sunnyside up perspective, however, did not prepare me for what I came across at Breads Bakery.
Bakery in the front, café seating in the middle, and sandwiches, salads, and coffee in the back, Breads Bakery’s charmingly unassuming storefront sits on a block I though I knew well. Between the since deceased Chat N’ Chew and its proximity to my office and Union Square, I’m no stranger to that stretch of East 16th. Even with all that, I had never noticed the spot until the New York list came out in July. Even fellow co-workers who have been working at the same spot for more than a decade asked me what was Breads Bakery.
What Breads Bakery is, is a sandwich gem hidden in plain sight. And if the bread is half as good as how the front of the space smells, then it is on the same plane as the sandwiches.
New York didn’t lead me astray when it highlighted the Tunisian as the sandwich to go with when ordering from Breads. It is pretty easy to not judge a book by its cover. Not judging a sandwich by what you see around the edges is a lot tougher. And that distinctive hard cooked egg white with yellow in center is what my eye was drawn to. Several sizable pieces of egg dotted the Tunisian on the display shelf during my first visit.
It was a quiet Saturday afternoon at Breads Bakery. Even though I knew I could easily turn around, walk out to Union Square and hit up a host of other lunch places, I stayed in line. Visiting all 101 restaurants is about more than just eating at a century plus one’s worth of meals at places in the city I would have never been to otherwise. It is about trying new foods. Challenging my preconceived notions of what I like – what I think I like.
So with that, I ordered the Tunisian. Certainly, it is not all egg. There is tuna, some sliced tomatoes, small pieces of potato, lemon, olives, and harissa – a Maghrebian hot Chili pepper paste.
To me, an unspoken universal truth about sandwiches is that if you order the same sandwich every day, the first bite will never taste the same. Every sandwich – even ones made by the artists at Subway – is made by people. The same ingredients will be there, but the placement will be different every time. Your sandwich is unique in its own way – like a snowflake.
Of course, my first bite of the Tunisian was full on egg. But the zip of the harissa and the bread made this first bite the right combination of spice, crunch, and softness. Kick in the tuna, lemon, tomato, and potato, and the whole sandwich hits the spot. Unlike a foot long from Subway that fills you up and leaves you feeling lethargic, the Tunisian hits the spot. So much so that after I was done, I noticed a piece of egg that had fallen off the sandwich and on to my plate. I ate it.
Having made several visits to Breads, the staff is consistently friendly and laid back – maybe too much so on the latter. This is real food. Places like this don’t pride themselves on shaving seconds off service time, but there seems to be a slower pace – even during high traffic times like a workday lunch.
Two-tops, four-tops, and if my memory serves me, high-top seating abounds in the space, creating a vibe that is particularly chill given the proximity to the hustle and bustle of Union Square. Maybe it is a byproduct of the staff’s chillness? This is the place to go to if you need to do work outside of the office and want coffee and food in the Union Square area.
With seats to the front of it and the kitchen behind it, the space to purchase sandwiches and other food and drink can get pretty cramped. People waiting for their order bunch up in a corner with no way to exit other than crossing through folks waiting to order. There’s not much that can be done given the layout of the space, but it is one of those things that stands out when the place has so much else going for it.
Eggs are rather pun-friendly. But thanks to Breads Bakery, I’ve learned they can be rather tasty when the primary ingredient in a sandwich.