It's said that before you can work in the kitchens of famed French chef Daniel Boulud, he'll ask you to make an omelet. He'll decide whether you're worth hiring by how well you work your fork in beating the eggs, how you handle your salt, what pan you choose, and most important, if your omelet is up to snuff.
There are few places that do omelets well enough to pass Boulud's test. The perfect omelet does not have a brown spot on it; it should be uniformly yellow from bow to aft, as though it never touched a frying pan. There can't be wrinkles on the surface—not a single crease or tear. It needs to be as taut and supple as a newborn's skin. The perfect omelet should be smooth but fluffy, firm but not quite solid, and never overcooked. When you cut into it, what can be best described as dog slobber should ooze out from the center. Properly done, it's a rare object to behold—a simple but elusive creature in an American restaurant culture too used to egg mediocrity. When you come face to face with the perfect omelet, you'll recognize it as such. It will taste just as the ones Joseph Mahon cooks at the new Early Bird café in Fullerton.
Before he opened this breakfast joint, before the burgers and fries at his Burger Parlor, before the Magnum pop-ups, even before landing the executive-chef gig at Bastide in LA, the La Habra native worked for Daniel Boulud, who must have put him through the wringer. The man has undoubtedly learned much from the master, but it's Mahon's omelets that make this breakfast restaurant one of the best things to happen to Fullerton in a long time.
As with Dee Nguyen's Break of Dawn, Early Bird reclaims what Norms, Denny's and IHOP have subjugated in recent decades. Breakfast shouldn't be held to the confines of sunny-side-ups, bacon, pancakes and waffles, though you can certainly order all of that here. The waffle, for instance, is crisped to a buttery, golden brown and made flatter than the usual Eggo disc; one can be had with berries and thick whipped cream. But at Early Bird, it's destined for a higher calling: Mahon also offers it as the platform for breaded boulders of fried chicken and drizzles of gravy, served with a salad of green beans, arugula and beets in an homage to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Though it would've been better had it been as crunchy as the dessert version, you eat this waffle undecided whether you've just consumed your breakfast or your lunch.
For those who've tasted Anepalco's chilaquiles, here's yet another fashionable take on the homey Mexican breakfast staple designed to use up last night's leftover tortilla chips. The smoky ancho chile-based red sauce penetrates deep into the still-whole, equilateral triangles of the chips, each piece slightly crunchy—all served with two sunny-side-up eggs and some steak.
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Despite the bare air-conditioning ducts overhead and the gigantic poster of an elderly man standing next to an ancient coal stove suggesting a back-to-basics ethos, Mahon offers uppity brunch foods, too, with two kinds of eggs Benedict—one traditional and another he calls a Frank Floyd, with eggs pristinely poached to teardrop shapes, spinach and smoked salmon. A roasted portobello mushroom and béarnaise subs in for the English muffin and Hollandaise. But there is perhaps nothing more telling of Mahon's French training and the desire to prove it than his duck confit hash, with strips of the bird torn up as though it were pulled pork and tossed around potato spears and raisins. He blankets it with two fried eggs. If Early Bird ever decides to stay open for dinner, the dish could do very well with a swirl of burgundy. Either way, stay clear of the lunch menu, which features an unremarkable Philly cheesesteak and overly salted fries best ignored for the breakfast skillet potatoes or the crisp-edged hash browns.
But let's go back to those omelets. It's almost beside the point what Mahon fills them with. Whether it's chorizo and avocado for the El Guapo or the pleasant sting of roasted Hatch chiles (while they were in season), all of the omelets are served with a roasted tomato and potatoes, each egg envelope done as Boulud would demand. Above all, there's something comforting about this restaurant. Perhaps it's from seeing everyone around you nursing big, white mugs of coffee. Or how the place always smells of bacon. Or maybe it's because you never realized the perfect omelet could put you in a good mood for the rest of the day.
This review appeared in print as "Egg-cellent: Eat a perfect omelet at Joseph Mahon's Early Bird in Fullerton."