Since settling The Fireside restaurant into its new Egg Harbor home at the close of 2018, owners Blake and Lauren Schar have been busy baking up a new addition to their food ventures: Big Easy Bagel and Beignet. The new, breakfast-focused business opened its doors on Valentine’s Day in the space next door to The Fireside in what was formerly The Bistro at Liberty Square. Balancing out The Fireside’s peak dinner hours, the cafe and eatery is open from 6:30 am to 2 pm Thursday through Sunday, and the menu is in keeping with the Southern-cooking theme of the Fireside’s menu.
The name, Big Easy, is a reference to New Orleans, and the menu follows suit, serving beignets and chicory coffee. Café du Monde – a historic New Orleans cafe dating back to 1862 – can be given credit for helping popularize a breakfast of dark-roasted chicory coffee alongside a plate of warm, fresh beignets: square, French-style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar. These sweet treats are shareable and the perfect item to enjoy with a morning cup of coffee or specialty latte.
At Big Easy, beignets are served in batches of three, which is a good number to share between two people for a delicious, Sunday-morning treat. They were fresh from the fryer and warmed through – exactly what I needed while watching more snow fly outside. I opted for my regular coffee with cream but took note of the chicory coffee on the drink menu.
LISTEN: Aleah Kidd talks to Myles Dannhausen Jr. and Andrew Kleidon about Big Easy Bagels and Beignets and a resurgence in Egg Harbor dining.
Chicory coffee is also a nod to New Orleans-style dining. Coffee-and-chicory blends are a mix of your usual coffee with ground, roasted chicory root, an herbal coffee substitute that became popular when trade disruptions during the 19th century made coffee deliveries infrequent. The addition of chicory made rationing coffee easier during the Civil War, but after trade and coffee distribution went back to normal, most areas saw the return to coffee being served alone.
However, the tradition of mixing coffee and chicory persisted in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, some believing chicory offered more flavor and added health benefits.
The core offering of Big Easy, however, is the house-made bagels. When you walk in, you’ll see a large shelf holding baskets full of freshly made bagels. The variety up for grabs during my visit included plain, pumpernickel, cinnamon raisin, sun-dried tomato, cranberry orange, onion, jalapeño, egg, everything and double cinnamon crunch, plus the option of regular or strawberry cream cheese.
Choose your favorite combination, and then toast and smear your bagel to your liking at a separate counter near the entrance. To counter the sugary sweetness of the beignets, I tried the jalapeño bagel with regular cream cheese and was wholly satisfied with the slightly chewy and not-too-spicy flavor.
Owners Blake and Lauren were on site, chatting with their staff and getting their Sunday morning started. In their third weekend of being open, they had already served a substantial number of visitors.
“We are surprised with how much traffic we’ve seen so far for what is usually such a slow time,” Lauren said. “There’s been a lot of people coming in.” They take that as a promising sign of things to come and plan to be open seven days a week once the summer season hits.