City Bites

EGGVILLE: An unlikely breakfast with Bridgehead’s Tracey Clark

Welcome to Eggville! In this series created for City Bites I will attempt to test out some of my unscientific theories over breakfast with icons of the city’s food scene. The question: What does the way we eat our eggs say about us? I am also hoping to discover some of the city’s hidden greasy spoons and old-school diners while getting to know more about our food-world personalities. Each guest — be it a chef, farmer, or restaurant dishwasher — will choose their favourite breakfast joint and walk us through their choices, preferences, and rituals surrounding the morning meal.

The Eater: Tracey Clark, founder and managing director of Bridgehead Coffeehouse

The Place: Starbucks. Yes, an unexpected choice from the person behind Ottawa’s homegrown alternative to the coffee giants. It wasn’t our intent, but a turn of events led to the ironic choice. We had originally agreed to meet at a bona fide greasy spoon behind IKEA. (Clark was so enthusiastic about going out for eggs, in fact, that she sought the recommendation of a Bridgehead employee whose partner is an OC Transpo driver.) But when we arrived, we discovered it was under renovation. Plan B was to go for the $1 breakfast at IKEA but it didn’t open for another hour. Plan C: Starbucks.

The Order: A heat-and-serve Bacon, Egg & Gouda Artisan Breakfast Sandwich and a cup of Pike Place® Roast coffee.

The Method: Clark inspected her ciabatta with the precision of a forensic investigator — squeezing it, pulling apart the soft gooey cheese, lifting out and jiggling the flimsy strips of bacon, and finally taking a bite and chewing it slowly. “Not bad,” she said. “It’s inoffensive.” Moments later she gets in her zinger: “I’d rather have one of our ham & gruyere croissants.”

Then, Clark took a sip of coffee: “Resinous,“ she said matter-of-factly, “It’s over-roasted. It tastes like smoke. But that’s their profile.” When I pointed out that my coffee had an unappealing greasy film and the cream appeared to separate, Clark offered this expert explanation: “With less fresh coffee, more oils come out.” Ewwww.

The Analysis: It’s pretty easy to guess why Clark chose to have breakfast at one of her fiercest competitors: clandestine research opportunity, anyone? Bridgehead does not yet offer a breakfast sandwich, but Clark knows there is demand from her customers and admits to keeping an eye on how competitors are doing it. Logistics is the issue and Clark wouldn’t be satisfied offering pseudo-microwaved food. “Kudos to them for having a hot breakfast,” she says.

Clark tells me that her personal history with breakfast on a bun goes back to her days as a competitive tennis player in her 20s. The team travelled by van in the Southern U.S. and she remembers frequent visits to McDonald’s where she would order the breakfast sandwich. She had to record everything she ate in those days and recalls how her coaches often complained that she ate too many M&Ms. Running and skiing replace tennis for Clark these days but she appears to still to work with an internal calculator when it comes to calories eaten with relation to her physical activity.

But that’s not to say Clark doesn’t enjoy eating. In fact, she speaks more passionately than most about the foods she loves, including the ultimate soft-boiled egg. “I actually don’t like to combine eggs with bread,” she confesses. She describes in great detail her process for attaining an ideal runny yolk and perfectly cooked white (immerse the egg in just simmering water for exactly 5 minutes and 10 seconds, a technique recently popularized in the Momofuku cookbook, she says). “We had that for Christmas breakfast this year with smoked octopus.”

She’s quoting the chef of the hottest restaurant in NY and eating smoked octopus…for breakfast? Who knew Clark was such a foodie? She goes on to reveal another unexpected plot twist in her egg story. Clark is rarely able to enjoy her beloved eggs at home. Why? Her partner Gina, whose father was an egg farmer, has an aversion to eggs — she simply won’t eat them. “It’s a very personal thing. Eggs are just for me.”

It all makes sense: Clark, ever the savvy businesswoman, is accustomed to compartmentalizing things. She understands how to live with the reality that the things she finds pleasurable, might not always please everybody else.