Breakfast is a big deal at Popping Yolk Cafe – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

With a trio of branches stretching from Old Pasadena in the west, and Hacienda Heights in the east, with a stop at the Alhambra, Popping Yolk Cafe has been at the forefront of the crazy breakfast and lunch fad that has made dinner a mere footnote in our culinary day.

After a meal at Popping Yolk, any extra food doesn’t just seem like a non-necessity, but something to get your cardiologist to wash their hands of your potential lifespan. Believe me: After a Nashville Hot Chicken Benedict for breakfast, more food is an exercise in gluttony. (It’s not that I’ve ever turned down another meal! But hey, it’s my job!)

That’s not to say you can’t find old-fashioned breakfast on the menu at Popping Yolk. It’s all the way up – the classic breakfast, a choice of ‘juicy’ scrambled eggs or sunny-side up eggs, with bacon and sausage, greens and tomato salad, fried potatoes and toast. It is perfectly fine food. Just like the ham and cheese omelette and the “crispy” French toast.

But old school is a minority report to Popping Yolk. Much of the menu leans toward dishes created in the kitchen, where the notion of a kimchi and spam omelet is part of a morning’s work.

Popping Yolk is far from unknown. When I last walked into a branch, early on a seemingly calm Saturday morning, an iPad at the entrance where you are asked to check in informed me that there were 30 people in front of me and that the wait would be close to an hour. There is also a counter with stools, and I asked if I could sit there. I was told that I should connect to the iPad and wait my turn. Push me. Also hungry.

Over time, a table becomes available, but with the size of these dishes, it’s not fast food. Fans like to… bask in the joys of their barbecue pulled pork Benedict. Indeed, most of Popping’s yellows poppin’ in the eight Benedicts that dominate the menu.

  • Tables line one of the walls at Popping Yolk Café, which has three locations in the San Gabriel Valley. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

  • All the breakfast favorites - eggs Benedict, omelettes, French toast...

    All of the breakfast favorites – Eggs Benedict, omelettes, French toast and more – are available at Popping Yolk Café. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

For the record, like many iconic dishes, the roots of Eggs Benedict are hazy at best. A Wall Street stockbroker named Lemuel Benedict claimed to have invented it at the New York Waldorf in 1894 as a hangover cure. But it was also assigned to Commodore EC Benedict. And to a regular at Delmonico in New York named LeGrand Benedict. Of course, there are plenty of people who go by the name “Benedict” – all apparently love their eggs on muffins with smoked meat and Hollandaise.

Whatever their origin, eggs Benedict have long been a big part of our breakfast. And this is clearly still the case. Especially on a weekend morning, when it can still be consumed as a hangover cure. Does it work? Damn if I know; I haven’t had a hangover in a long time. But it sure makes me happy for the whole day. And Popping Yolk’s Benedicts are perfectly done – with enough variations to keep them forever interesting.

Along with the authentic exoticism of Nashville Hot Chicken Benedict and BBQ Pulled Pork Benedict — both of which make Popping Yolk feel like breakfast in the Deep South — there’s a Norwegian Benedict made with smoked salmon and spinach (and a very good combination that is too!); a much simpler Benedict with avocado and ham; a Florentine (code for spinach); a Benedictine fish fillet with coleslaw and tartar sauce, fish and chips collision and breakfast; and a Chicken Teriyaki Benedict (which given the alternatives, seems totally reg’lar).

The six omelettes pretty much reflect the Benedicts, while the six breakfast sandwiches get even more regular, with a ham and sausage sandwich, a bacon and cheese sandwich — and even a salad sandwich with eggs.

The pancakes and waffles are oversized, gooey, sugary – a serious, happy sugar rush that makes me feel like I’m 8 years old. I mean, a caramel banana with ice cream? Strawberry cheesecake? My carefully crafted diet will stop talking to me, but I’ll definitely be happy…until the sugar rush subsides.

All of this makes me wonder, as I have before, why we eat like this for breakfast, but rarely for dinner. Quite simply, eating this food as an early morning indulgence may give us all day to digest and adapt. Caramel Banana French Toast before bed seems a little…risky. Dreams would be beyond insane. And then, what would I eat for breakfast the next day?

Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]

Popping Yolk Cafe

  • Evaluation: 2.5 stars
  • Address: 119 W. Main St., Alhambra, 626-940-5822; 88 W. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena, 626-345-5161; 15840 Halliburton Road, Hacienda Heights, 626-330-6767.
  • Information:
  • Kitchen: Hyper popular mini chain for breakfast and lunch, with a very large menu, and expects to match on the weekends. Come hungry…leave stuffed!
  • Beverages: Coffee and more coffee, plus many teas
  • When: Breakfast and lunch, daily
  • Reservations: Nope
  • Prices: About $20 per person
  • On the menu: 8 Eggs Benedict ($16-$18.50), 6 Omelettes ($16.50-$18.50), 2 French Toasts ($8.50-$14.50), 7 Sandwiches ($14-$16 ), 6 Pancakes & Waffles ($15-$15.85)
  • Credit card: CM, V
  • What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it write on it.)
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