Cracking the breakfast code: A morning pop-up flourishes in Oakland
By Ethan Fletcher on July 12, 2016 at 12:00 P
Despite built-in commuter traffic, the area surrounding Oakland’s MacArthur BART station doesn’t have much of any morning eats.
Buna Babilla recognized that potential customer base, but remained wary, realizing how difficult it was to make any kind of profit at a breakfast-only restaurant. The answer: Share space within another existing restaurant.
And it’s been working out just great, Babilla says, as his breakfast sandwich-centric pop-up, Cracked, has been doing brisk business since it launched mornings inside the Chick & Tea space near the corned of 40th and Telegraph streets earlier this year.
“I knew that doing breakfast just by itself was nearly impossible,” says Babilla, a former food consultant for Filipino fast food corporation Jollibee. “But this way, I’m able to make it work; I’m doing way better than I expected. And I’m able to charge $7 for a sandwich instead of $10—I wanted to make it accessible to the working man.”
That’s a philosophy that’s reflected on Cracked’s menu, which Babilla describes as “parked between fast food and high-end breakfast sandwiches.” All made on squishy, slightly sweet Filipino pandesal bread rolls and served with a soft fried egg, sandwich options keep things simple and comforting, ranging from spam with nori and miso mayo to crispy bacon with avocado and tomato jam to pesto with grilled mushrooms and crispy parmesan. They’re designed to be portable so that commuters can eat them on the go, something that’s also reflected on the sides menu, which includes a classic McDonald’s-esque oval shaped hash brown, pastry rolls, and French toast bites served with a skewer for easy dipping.
Babilla would like to expand the menu a bit—he’s working on some new sandwiches, including one with teriyaki steak, as well as a side of deep fried cheese grits—but he’s more than content with how things have been progressing so far. So content, in fact, he’s looking to replicate the same model at other BART stations around the Bay Area, specifically in Richmond, Daly City, Hayward, and West Oakland.
“Probably doing a shared kitchen again, or maybe doing something on my own if I can find a more affordable space, but prices are just skyrocketing right now,” he says. “I’m all about the shared economy.”
Hours: 7–10:30 a.m., Mon.–Sat.
Cracked: Inside Chick & Tea, 3932 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, crackedsandwich.com.
San Jose Mercury News
Breakfast sandwiches are having a moment.
There was a time when you could only find them at certain fast food restaurants (I’m looking at you, Egg McMuffin) or on the late night menu at chain diners (and you, Moons Over My Hammy), but in the past few years, breakfast sandwiches have blown up.
Pop-ups, coffee houses and even casual bistros have all gotten on board to get a piece of the action. Some restaurants, like the racily named Eggslut in Los Angeles and now Las Vegas, have devoted their menus solely to the pursuit of the perfect breakfast sandwich.
While the name may get it noticed, it’s Eggslut’s founder, chef Alvin Cailan’s drool-worthy breakfast sandwiches, with their glossy buns, oozing egg yolks and fistfuls of bacon, that land it on nearly every list of America’s best breakfast sandwiches (something that wasn’t even a thing five years ago). Although he was arguably one of the first to see and seize opportunity by starting a fast-casual breakfast sandwich-centric operation, Cailan doesn’t necessarily see himself as a pioneer.
“It was bound to happen,” he says. “Everyone makes an egg sandwich at home, but they may not always have time. Or they want to make it an event.”
Inspired by a visit to Eggslut, Buna Babilla returned to Oakland, and seeing similar opportunity, opened Cracked, a pop-up breakfast sandwich shop, inside his friend’s restaurant, Chick & Tea, near the MacArthur BART station. Open since March, the pop-up has been so successful, Babilla had to invest in new equipment so he could serve more sandwiches each day. Now he’s looking to open as many as three other locations in the coming year.
Babilla, who used to work for the Filipino fast food chain Jollibee, starts each sandwich with a toasted and buttered pandesal, a Filipino bun similar to a Hawaiian sweet roll, and a fried egg, over medium. One of his more unusual creations includes Spam with miso mayo and nori, a nod to Spam sushi, a common delicacy in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. To the uninitiated, it raises some eyebrows, but Babilla says they’re missing out: “Once you get over the stigma of the Spam, when you fry it in a pan, it tastes good.”
His best-seller is a sandwich made with bacon and tomato jam, but he’s most proud of his vegetarian creation made with pesto, mushrooms and griddled Parmesan, which gives the sandwich “something crunchy that makes it really interesting when you’re chewing,” Babilla says.
Although it’s easier than ever to get a breakfast sandwich out, there’s still a point in the day, around midafternoon, when it becomes more difficult to find one on any given menu. Making them at home means you can have one whenever you want it, for a quick breakfast as you dash out the door or an easy dinner after a long day at work. And it will be made exactly the way you want it — as decadent or utilitarian as you need it to be.
Sandwich inspiration can be found all over the Bay Area. The Farmer’s Breakfast at San Francisco’s American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is a typical diner breakfast — eggs, bacon and roasted potatoes anchored in place on two pieces of toast by melted cheddar cheese. Although very much breakfast fare, it would be equally welcome on a cool fall evening with a cup of soup.
A popular roadside stop in Sonoma’s wine country is The Fremont Diner, where the biscuit sandwiches are practically de rigueur for steeling one’s belly for a day of wine tasting. As we spoke on the phone, owner Chad Harris was busy making a batch of cherry fennel jam for the popular sandwich, made with house-cured ham and a crisp, buttery biscuit spread with spicy mustard and that particular jam.
Although it’s not something one would just whip up on a weekday morning, if there are baked biscuits in the freezer and sliced country ham in the fridge, it’s a meal that could come together in mere minutes while the coffee is brewing.
For those wanting to a jump start on their “five servings a day,” a veggie-filled frittata sandwich can do it. At San Francisco’s Craftsman and Wolves, the frittata is packed with seasonal vegetables, topped with melted cheese and served on toasted, housemade English muffins. Like the biscuits, it’s a great grab-and-go option for home. Make a big frittata on the weekend and slice the leftovers. A minute or two in the microwave, then tuck the frittata between English muffins and you have a filling weekday breakfast that you can eat on your commute.
And there is no shame in hitting the freezer case for waffles — like I did — to make a fried chicken and waffle sandwich, slathered in maple-sriracha butter, a condiment with a huge payoff for little effort.
In the interest of keeping things simple — because breakfast sandwiches aren’t supposed to be hard — Cailan shied away from offering something as structured as a recipe.
“There’s no actual rule or equation,” he says. “Sometimes, the best breakfast sandwiches are two pieces of bread, with some leftovers from the refrigerator and a fried egg on top.”
And that may be what makes breakfast sandwiches so irresistible. Not only are they protein-packed and portable, but the possibilities are endless — sort of like those mix and match books you played with as a kid. Choose a bread, then an egg cooked any number of ways. Add meat, cheese or vegetables in any combination and finish with a condiment to make your own morning masterpiece.