News flash: Around a year ago, researchers revealed a new finding about human digestion, contrary to the message drilled for decades into our heads: Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. While there seems to be agreement that breakfast has physical health benefits, let’s talk instead about joy – the happiness generated by taking the time to have a solid meal in the morning, while the world wakes all bright-eyed around us. And that is what you’ll find here: The pure delight that breakfast brings to our psyches, the nostalgia, the soulful satisfaction. Read about all the ways you can make this meal an important (read: joyful) part of your life, whether seated at a diner counter or your very own kitchen table.
TUES-SUN 8 A.M.-3 P.M. | 3514 W. NATIONAL AVE.
Orenda means “spiritual energy” in the Iroquois language. It’s appropriate since every time I come here, it feels like a room full of mini celebrations. The menu offers the basics – from French toast to build-your-own omelets – and some Mexican-inspired creations like the carnita hash bowl. I like the spins on expected things like eggs Benedict. Orenda makes a delicious one with house-made veggie cakes topped with grilled salmon, poached eggs and beet hollandaise. $6-$16.
Where to Get: Breakfast Tacos
Head to St. Francis for the stupendous taco trio made at La Finca Coffeehouse. Warm corn tortillas are stuffed with scrambled eggs, black beans, avocado and Monterey Jack cheese. Comes with salsa and sour cream. $8. 3558 E. Sivyer Ave.
Know an individual or group committed to bridging divides in our community? Nominate them for a Unity Award by Oct. 31.
THURS-SUN 8:30 A.M.-2 P.M. | 839 W. NATIONAL AVE.
This artsy storefront has been a powerhouse breakfast spot since it opened in 2008. It’s now co-owned by a longtime employee, Angie Wierzbinski, who underscores the message that a great morning meal delivers a boost in vitality. To the National people, the egg is a chameleon. It isn’t used in all their morning plates, but it is in their best – the potato and chorizo burrito topped with sunnysiders; the rice bowl with avocado, pickled cucumber, sunnysiders, sesame spinach and sriracha ketchup; and the Hot Mess, mingling breakfast potatoes, eggs, caramelized onion, cheddar cheese and hollandaise. $10-$14.
MON-FRI 7 A.M.-3 P.M., SAT-SUN 8 A.M.-3 P.M. | 1505 W. MEQUON RD., MEQUON
Opened under the name La Boulangerie in 1991, the cafe
in Mequon’s East Towne Square shopping center has always known its way around a baked good – from cinnamon roll to sunshine bun. And there’s something about the pancakes here – so fluffy, and the size of your head. I love them dotted with fresh blueberries and a generous pour of maple syrup. Their quinoa bowl with feta, chickpeas, eggs, kalamata olives and greens dressed in lemon Dijon is great if you’re leaning healthy; the quiches start with a solid base of a flaky, deep-dish pie crust for when you’re reaching for richness. $6-$17.
Revisiting that rite of Milwaukee passage – breakfast at Ma Fischer’s
Ma Fischer’s isn’t open 24 hours anymore. Ignore what the menu says (“open 24/7”); it closes nightly at 9 p.m. I had originally thought I’d be writing this about my 3 a.m. Greek omelet – something I haven’t done since I was a college kid – but those hours never returned post-COVID. Still, this institution, which grew out of a sandwich shop dating to 1932, is plenty fun at 8 a.m. It’s some of the best people-watching on the East Side, and better-than-average divey diner food. Like the old days, I dig into that tasty omelet with chunks of feta and gyro meat. It comes with American fries that are greasy, crusty and satisfying. The bacon – which dangles precariously off the edge of the plate – is chewy and meaty with a balanced smoky-salty flavor. Thin, sponge-like pancakes soak up all the real maple syrup. I can’t remember if I liked the experience here any more (or less) decades ago. But there aren’t a lot of places like this around anymore, and I’m unexpectedly thankful it’s still here. $7-$17. Daily 7 a.m.-9 p.m. 2214 N. Farwell Ave.
MON-WED 7 A.M.-9 P.M., THURS AND SAT 8 A.M.-9 P.M., FRI 7 A.M.-2 P.M., SUN 8 A.M.-2 P.M. | 1900 W. CLYBOURN ST.
It’s easy to forget that visiting politicos (Bill Clinton, Donald Trump) have eaten eggs, bacon and hash browns here. There is nothing fancy about this old-school diner with swivel bar stools and booths filled with Marquette students and civil service types. Miss Katie’s can fulfill your greasy spoon fantasy, if that involves the house skillet with two eggs any style, locally made Balistreri’s Italian sausage, oily (but still crisp) hash browns and toast. The pancakes have crispy edges and a buttery flavor that keeps me going back for just one more bite. $9-$17.
TUES-SAT 8 A.M.-2 P.M. | 6108 W. BLUEMOUND RD., WAUWATOSA
The L-shaped counter with additional tables scattered around it smacks of the George Webb’s this spot used to be. Chef Bennie Smith, who runs Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille, opened it two years ago, spruced it up and moved in some good (home) cooking. I really appreciate the simple eggs made exactly the way I ordered them, with crisp-chewy smoked bacon, hash browns (ask for them loaded!), tender salmon croquettes, and chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy. Absolutely delicious. $10-$16.
Where to Get: Chilaquiles
This Mexican specialty looks like a hot mess – and it is! A super-bueno one, consisting of fried tortillas piled over eggs with red or green salsa, cheddar, onion and lime crema. It comes with choice of meat, plus beans and rice. $13.50. Café Corazon, three locations
WED-FRI 9 A.M.-2 P.M., SAT-SUN 8 A.M.-3 P.M. 3216 S. HOWELL AVE.
Co-owner Frank Sanchez comes from a restaurant-running family – I still miss the late Taqueria Azteca, his family’s South Side Mexican place – but breakfast was a whole new endeavor with Sabrosa. And the place is humming now – finally back to a full staff, with a rocking patio and a menu that reflects Sanchez’s heritage and inspirations. This is where I like to get huevos rancheros with a side of Oaxacan black beans; and the puff pastry breakfast pasty. $15-$19.
DAILY 7:30 A.M.-2:30 P.M. 9405 S. 27TH ST., FRANKLIN; 275 REGENCY CT., BROOKFIELD
Some balk at huge breakfast menus – how can everything be done well? I can see that, but still, I love a big breakfast menu. That’s Mimosa: multiple skillets, eggs Benedicts, waffles, pancakes, etc., and a lot of it really good. The pollo picante omelet is fluffy and creamy, the texture of the eggs near perfect; and flaky house-made biscuits come with thick, meaty chicken chorizo gravy. I also like the challah French toast – no bells and whistles, just simple and good. $9-$23.
Delicate by Design
This Riverwest cafe centers around the classic, wafer-thin French crêpe.
Crêpe virtuoso Kate Bryan developed a cherished childhood memory of her dad making “skinny pancakes” into a successful business model, starting with a Kansas City food truck in 2017. That business has since been followed by two brick-and-mortar locations, including one here in Milwaukee, her hometown. Seven Swans Crêperie – the former Dino’s Italian resto in Riverwest transformed into a charming, country-craftsy cafe – is almost completely focused on crêpes, and no complaints with that decision. The tender, delicate cakes wrap around smoked salmon, dill cream cheese and arugula, or lavender lemoncurd under fluffy clouds of whipped cream and fresh berries. There’s always at least one seasonal flavor like the caprese (fresh mozzarella, pesto, cherry tomatoes, balsamic reduction) I devoured not long after Seven Swans’ spring opening. A crêpe is like that little black dress – so versatile. If you’ve craving simple, Bryan’s childhood inspiration has universal nostalgic appeal: that’s Dad’s Skinny Pancakes, served with grass-fed butter and maple syrup. $8-$16. Thurs-Sun 8 a.m.-3 p.m. 808 E. Chambers St.
DAILY 8 A.M.-3 P.M. 234 E. VINE ST.
In Brewers Hill, this always-hopping brekkie bar adds panache to its plates. The Big Wolf Breakfast – “Wolf” is co-owner Wolfgang Schaefer – is its take on a basic egg-toast-meat combo with tasty, smashed baby red potatoes. It only gets better: johnnycakes – like a corn muffin pancake – and the Wolfundido, their version of eggs and hash, with chorizo, sweet potatoes, beer cheese and ancho-seasoned egg. $13-$18.
DAILY 7 A.M.-2 P.M. | 317 N. 76TH ST.
When Blue’s opened in 2010, it started a trend of imaginative breakfasts. “Stuffed” hash browns. An egg scramble with crispy shrimp, scallops and calamari. Chicken chorizo omelet with goat cheese, pickled chilies and tomato sauce. Blue’s plates still inspire, including the stuffed browns, hoppel poppel (egg casserole, not easy to find), the classic Benedict with pulled ham, and always the sweet, gooey monkey bread with rich, bourbon-based “crunk” sauce. $9-$16.
Where to Get: Shrimp and Grits
What seems more of an elevated dinner entrée to us Northerners was once an obscure Lowcountry breakfast. At Sam’s Place Jazz Cafe, it’s a wake-up treat – the shrimp firm but tender; the sauce, a peppery brown gravy; and the grits, so creamy and buttery. $14. 3338 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
MON-SAT 7 A.M.-8 P.M., SUN 7 A.M.-2 P.M. | 7225 W. NORTH AVE., WAUWATOSA
The busy Tosa stop is a full sensory experience. You’ve got the hiss of hash browns on the grill, the smell of smoky bacon, and the tastebud assault of salty-briny homemade corned beef hash. The diner keeps ’er moving: Plates come out fast, hot and pretty consistently on-point. You can’t go wrong with that hash, a crispy breakfast quesadilla or egg skillet served over a mound of humdinger American fries that’s all crackly corners and soft innards. $4.50-$17.
MON-THURS 7:30 A.M.-3 P.M., FRI 7:30 A.M.-4 P.M., SAT-SUN 11 A.M.-4 P.M. 239 E. CHICAGO ST.
Not a diner in the traditional, greasy spoon sense, Sweet garnishes with edible flowers and posts pretty pictures on social media. Though the menu offers no surprises (eggs bene, omelets, avocado toast, big pancake saucers), they do a good job keeping it on track. I’m partial to the skillet bowls (like chorizo hash), Denver omelet with breakfast potatoes, and berry blast pancakes. $12-$26.
Where to Get: Shakshouka
This North African stew-meets-egg specialty is dramatically tasty. Story Hill BKC’s version combines the trademark cumin-spiced tomatoes with smoked lentils, goat cheese, cilantro and sumac mayo. The eggs are baked inside. Dig in with hunks of warm naan. $16. 5100 W. Bluemound Rd.