Learning from the butcher behind New York’s White Gold
Breakfast sandwiches fuel New York. Without them, the city would sleep. You don’t need to live here long to know bodegas are bright orbs of hope whose rays shine in the form of greasy sausage- and bacon-egg-and-cheeses. These sandwiches are stitched so deeply into New York’s culinary fabric they’ve taken on their own acronyms—SEC and BEC—that are as much a part of the city’s lexicon as JFK, MTA, and NYC.
April Bloomfield, a New Yorker for 13 years now, understands this better than most. Bloomfield recently added White Gold Butchers, a whole-animal butcher counter on the Upper West Side, to the restaurant empire she shares with Ken Friedman. Her awareness of New York’s iconic sandwich is surpassed only by her comprehension of animal butchery, something she first showed us in 2004 in the immaculate hamburger at the Spotted Pig that ignited a lasting burger craze. So when Bloomfield opened White Gold with hopes to feed guests shopping for steaks in the early morning, adding breakfast sandwiches to the menu was a no-brainer.
White Gold offers an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich for $5. You can have it as-is, which is not a bad idea. But the better idea is to add sausage, ham, or bacon—each made in-house—for $3. All sandwiches are served on poppy seed buns and, as you might expect, each is a perfect rendition of a stalwart classic.
But what does it take to make a great breakfast sandwich, and how has Bloomfield worked her unmatched enthusiasm, unbridled know-how, and spritely passion for cooking into New York’s iconic sandwich? I reached out to her over email to find out.
Extra Crispy: Why did you put breakfast sandwiches on the menu at White Gold?
April Bloomfield: We wanted mornings and lunch to have a fun diner/deli feel and to be a bit more casual than dinner. I love a good diner and I love eggs and bacon. My mom makes the best egg sandwich. It wasn't until I got to the States that I had cheese on a breakfast sandwich, actually. What a revelation that was. It seemed fitting to put a bunch of breakfast sandwiches on. Something that would be worthy of people going out of their way, but also something that our neighbors could eat a couple mornings a week.
How does the art and craft of butchery tie into breakfast sandwiches?
When you butcher whole animals, as we do at White Gold, you have a lot of things to play around with. So for our sandwiches we really incorporate the whole pig: Belly goes for bacon, shoulder for sausage, and leg as ham. That's quite fun to do, isn't it? There are not many places that serve a humble breakfast with meat that's delivered from a farm upstate, broken down, cured, smoked, or prepared in-house, then cooked with eggs into an amazing and simple sandwich. We like that about it.
At white point in the ideation for White Gold did breakfast sandwiches enter the conversation? And why?
It basically started when [partners] Erika [Nakamura], Jocelyn [Guest], and I began looking for spaces. We were always on the same page about doing a fabulous breakfast. The butcher shop would, of course, be open all day, so it only made sense to serve food all day as well. But we had an idea in our minds to do a breakfast counter with low stools. Obviously the space we have now dictated what we could and couldn't do. So we kept the sandwiches and nixed the idea of the counter.
Can you walk me through the process of making each meat add-on (ham, sausage, bacon)?
The bacon is dry cured with a little salt and sugar then smoked over oak. The ham is wet-brined for about seven to ten days with a few spices and smoked the same way. The sausage is an English breakfast sausage. It has a little sage and bread mixed into it with salt and nutmeg. We have such good pork that we don't have to do much other than cure and smoke. Simple, really, but a lot of careful labor.
What do you look for in a great breakfast sandwich?
Balance is key—of flavors and textures and temperatures. Moreishness above all.
Where is the pork from?
It's 100 percent Berkshire breed from Sir William Angus Farm, which is in Craryville, New York, and among the oldest pig farms in New York State. It's a father and son team that does everything right.
Why poppy seed buns and not bagels or rolls?
We tested a bunch of rolls including rolls and bagels and ultimately decided we liked the poppy. The texture stood up to the filling and the particular bread is great when super fresh and toasts up a treat.
What kind of cheese are you using and what results were you looking for when considering cheese type?
We are using a simple American. It was super important for it to have that oozy quality but with enough acidity to cut through the fat.
Why slightly runny yolks and not scrambled?
Funny. We didn't even try scrambled. We just loved the fried egg so much we didn't consider anything else and didn't look back.
Is the breakfast sandwich a perfect foodstuff?
It’s up there for sure, especially if you're partial to breakfast more generally. Not everyone is. Then again, who doesn't like all-day breakfast? Breakfast sandwiches are like a lot of other foods—burgers, pizza, steak—in that there isn't a whole lot to hide behind. So a breakfast sandwich can be near-perfect and a breakfast sandwich can be awful—it all rests in the ingredients and execution.