When I moved to San Francisco a billion years ago, I was shocked that you couldn't just pop into a corner deli and order a restorative egg and cheese.
I was in my early 20s, and the sandwich had become a weekday ritual: After drinking my dinner, nothing tasted better the next morning than scrambled eggs and a melted slice of cheap cheese on a hard roll.
I'm obviously not alone in this. The egg and cheese is nearly as important in the New York City breakfast oeuvre as the iconic bagel and a schmear. It's what sustains us. A little hungover? The grease will get you through your morning meetings. The bread helps soak up whatever shame and regret are churning in your stomach.
Now I'm older and wiser (proof: I moved back to NYC). And while I still love the egg and cheese, I'm happy to trade up from the corner deli variety. My latest obsession is the build-your-own option ($6) available all day at the aptly named Egg Shop, a whitewashed, sunny little restaurant focused on all things eggy that just opened in Nolita.
Choose your preferred style (sunny-up, whites, soft scramble, egg salad), bread (buttermilk biscuit, panini roll, multigrain, gluten-free English muffin), cheese (Shelburne cheddar, Gruyère, feta) and sauce (too many to list, but I'm partial to the carmelized onion aioli and chimichurri).
My vote for most evolved egg and cheese: Sunny-side up, with gleaming whites and a raised, perfectly golden yolk. Panini roll, soft and airy with a light sprinkle of sea salt on top. A thin layer of Gruyère for sharpness. Tangy tomato jam. An add-on of avocado, smartly crushed so it's easier to eat than slippery slices. Cut in half, let yolk run, chew, mop up.
Another buzzy Nolita spot, Black Seed Bagels also has a new-ish breakfast sandwich (the No. 11, $8) that I very much like: Eggs are baked in small cast-iron skillets in the same wood-burning oven as the bagels, then gently placed on the bagel of your choice with a slice of cheddar and two thick slabs of smoky, fatty bacon from sister shop Mile End.
Every bite is meaty and cheesy. Black Seed's smallish bagels are generally pretty chewy, so I'd recommend ordering a toasted poppyseed to get a little more texture and crunch.
Here are a few more fancy favorites to get you through the morning:
Saltie's Ship's Biscuit ($11)
Big, fluffy clouds of scrambled eggs fight heaping spoonfuls of fresh ricotta for focaccia real estate.
Nine Chains' Sudden Impact ($6)
The house-made English muffin at this killer Flatbush bakery is the best part of the sandwich, toasted and still warm. It's piled with custardy egg, bacon and a little smoky chipotle.
Campbell Cheese & Grocery's Jalapeño Ham & Egg ($6)
There are two sources of heat in every flavor-packed bite: pickled jalapeños and a peppery, North African-spiced mayo. They join a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg, salty ham and cheddar on a hard roll.
Northern Spy Food Co.'s Egg Begley Jr. ($12)
Brilliant name aside, this poached-egg sandwich gets a boost of green from kale hash laced with potatoes and caramelized onions, as well as a slathering of bright chimichurri sauce. Cheese isn't standard, but feel free to ask for a slice of cheddar to complete the picture.
Court Street Grocers' Mr. Victor ($8)
Attention, sausage fans: Two snappy links of Edward's hickory-smoked sausage are the meaty foil to two scrambled eggs, Cabot cheddar and a smattering of arugula on one of the city's bread standard-bearers, Balthazar ciabatta.