At Philly's Hottest Brunch Spot, the Eggs Might Be Too Fresh
At Hungry Pigeon, the phrase "farm to table" isn’t posted all over the menu or website, though the Philadelphia restaurant does quietly tout they only have nice things, sourcing beef, poultry, vegetables, and more from nearby farms. And while this rigorous sourcing sets the restaurant apart in a city brimming with first-rate dining options, the chef-owners have learned there are some drawbacks to super-fresh products, too.
The eggs at the all-day cafe arrive so fresh, Scott Schroeder and Pat O’Malley have considered aging them. Yes, there is such a thing as too-fresh eggs.
The two-year-old Queen Village spot sources organic eggs from a place called Lancaster Farm Fresh—a co-op of family farmers in rural Pennsylvania. It’s only a matter of days between the time an egg is sitting under a hen to the time it’s in their kitchen. But for Schroeder and O’Malley, this can be less of a bragging right and more of a supreme annoyance when the brunch rush hits. The yolks in super-fresh eggs have a tendency to break more easily, wreaking havoc on sunny side-up and over-easy orders.
“When you crack an egg, there’s the yolk, the white, and that little stringy thing is attached to shell,” says Schroeder. “It attaches to the shell wall so that the yolk stays in the middle. But when it’s super fresh, it’s so attached to the shell that when you crack it, it hangs on to the shell and rips the yolk, causing it to break.”
The technical term for that little stringy thing is the chalaza, which anchors the yolk to the shell. According to Schroeder’s farmer friend (and also, science), fresher eggs have stronger chalazae, so it makes sense the yolks in Hungry Pigeon’s days-old eggs break more often than the eggs from your local grocery store, which have probably taken far longer to get to your kitchen.
“It’ll destroy your brunch and make the most polite, mild-mannered cook into an angry, cursing monster,” says the chef. “If it breaks, you have to get all the yolk out or you look like an amateur.” Which is why Schroeder’s farmer friend just takes his eggs scrambled.
The cafe can’t disappoint the over-easy customers, though, so Schroeder has envisioned a somewhat unconventional technique to solve the problem. “I would actually love to age the eggs, but we don’t have as much cooler space. It would involve twice as many eggs in the walk in at once.”
But despite the fragile-yolked hassle, the chefs have found that insanely fresh eggs are worth it. O’Malley, who moved to Philly from New York City, where he was the pastry chef at Balthazar, bakes his banana bread sticky buns and chocolate croissants with them, and they also lend a beautiful, bright yellow shade to the homemade vanilla ice cream.
Sourcing for the ingredients-focused restaurant has been an evolving challenge for the chefs, who are always on the lookout for the freshest, most local dairy, meat, and produce. This can sometimes cause problems like the yolks, or be a hassle in other ways, but Schroeder and O’Malley wouldn’t do it differently.
“It’s kind of political to be honest—refusing to buy from large conglomerates and giving our money to small farmers,” says Schroeder. “We’re a very small business, we don't have any investors, it’s just me and Pat. The money we do make goes to these guys.”
“These guys” includes Earl and his brother Mike, who run Keiser's Pheasantry near Harrisburg, and supply the restaurant with chickens, turkeys, ducks, and guinea hens. It also includes Sue, who makes raw milk cheese at the family-run Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester County, and Jack at Urban Roots Farm in Newtown Square. “His broccoli tastes more like broccoli than anything anyone else gets,” says Schroeder. “He gets us these giant snow peas that we have on the menu—a breed called Giant Oregon Snow Peas that are big, really rich, sweet peas. It becomes: Jack has these peas, what are we going to do with Jack’s peas?”
These first-name relationships are integral to the restaurant. “When the food comes into the restaurant, and you know those people, it causes me to want to do my best with it,” says Schroeder. “I’m more connected to it. We’re really happy with who we use, and we’re really proud of it.”
Even if it means battling broken egg yolks at brunch.