The simplicity of the Veg Pal (two fried eggs, roasted Jimmy Nardellos, herby mayo, smoked Gouda, brioche) is one of the main attractions at Egg Pals, a popular weekend breakfast pop-up.
¡Hella Hungry! is a column about Bay Area foodmakers, exploring the region’s culinary cultures through the mouth of a first-generation local.
When it comes to weekend brunch foods, I’m a prickly curmudgeon. More than any other meal, a worthwhile brunching experience in the Bay Area often involves a line-down-the-block wait — and can quickly run up the bill, too. So if I’m exiting my house in pajamas and fur-lined Crocs to grub in the a.m., the food had better be damn good.
I’m elated to report, then, that Egg Pals — a weekend-only pop-up serving breakfast sandwiches and snacks on the fly — is worth the post-sleep pilgrimage. Without the fancy buzz or overwrought allure of a high-profile eatery, these egg sandies served beneath a tarp are simply delicious. The pop-up’s recipe is refreshingly basic: It’s just two dudes making egg sandwiches.
Chris Morgan and Brack Defries met a decade ago while working in restaurants and bars around Oakland. They’ve since been running Egg Pals for just over a year. Whether tucked off to the side at an open-air vintage market or set up on a sidewalk, Egg Pals is delivering what Morgan calls the “upside down smiley face emoji” equivalent of a breakfast experience — more on that later. They pair the sandwiches with a rotating bevy of miscellaneous goodies (see: miso chocolate chip cookies, housemade potato chips, “wedgie” salads, carbonated margaritas and Arnold “Pal”-mers).
During our visit, my wife enjoyed a classic Egg Pal (two fried eggs, bacon, American cheese, herby mayo and pickled red onions on buttery brioche) while I crushed a Veggie Pal (fried eggs, roasted Jimmy Nardellos and smoked Gouda). In addition, they offer a revolving array of specialty sandwiches — a Spam melt, tomato melt, nectarine melt and katsu sandwich, to name a few — that vary with each event.
After sipping on a cold brew fizz topped with orange blossom foam from Molly’s Refresher, a drinks-focused pop-up that regularly collaborates with the Pals, I felt affirmed in my decision to crawl out of bed on a slow Sunday morning.
Here’s what Morgan and Defries had to reveal about their breakfast sandwich revolution after a weekend of frying eggs for the people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alan Chazaro: Let’s start off with the basics. What are your most popular breakfast egg sandwiches?
Chris Morgan: The Egg Pal and the Veg Pal are our signatures, so we always do those. The Egg Pal is always two fried eggs, American cheese, bacon, herby mayo and pickled onions on a brioche bun from Starter Bakery.
Brack Defries: The Veg Pal is fun, and we change the vegetables based on the season. The first one we ever did was with roasted delicata squash. People really liked that and still ask about it. It’ll be fun to bring that back once it starts popping up again. We also like to have some palate-cleansing options, since, you know, the food we serve is a rich, greasy, sloppy breakfast sandwich. We want to cut through that to balance it out.
Morgan: Some sides we generally have are our house potato chips made with our own seasoning and served with Blowhole Hot Mayo, which our friend makes in Oakland using rocoto pepper plants in his garden.
Defries: We just started doing a Pickle Pal, which people really like. It’s a similar set up to the Egg Pal, but with a mixture of housemade pickles — dill red onions, pickled cucumbers from my garden and some pickled carrots and pickled garlic. We’ll play around with that pickling variation [going forward].
What makes a perfect egg sandwich?
Morgan: I just love a sloppy breakfast egg sandwich to start my day. It’s simple but indulgent.
Defries: The Egg Pal is designed as exactly what we would want to eat as our perfect breakfast sandwich. We were set on brioche. It’s soft, sweet. It’s a must. American cheese, also a must. Then you get the salty, smoky bacon to go with the cheesiness that becomes a sort of sauce. And the brightness of the onions with the herbiness of the mayo. It all gives some depth. It’s very simple, but it also has essential components.
How long have you known each other, and how did Egg Pals become your thing?
Defries: We met about 10 years ago. I was working at Kronnerburger with Chris’s partner at the time. So we would see each other a lot, just out and about in the area.
Morgan: I was at Starline at the time. We became better friends when we worked at Fish & Bird together. That’s where we do our prep now, and that’s where we came up for the idea of this pop-up. Coming back from the pandemic, I had a friend opening a breakfast spot on the East Coast. I was talking about it with Brack, and it just seemed like a cool concept. There weren’t many places I could think of around the Bay for getting a quick, good breakfast sandwich. Not on my radar, at least. So I went out to New York and helped my friend for a few months and saw how it was done. Brack started our social media account and came up with the name. And a friend of ours who was doing Molly’s Refresher needed food. So we went from there.
Defries: Our concept was to keep things simplified but still use the bountiful ingredients and produce that we all love out here. We aim to keep it approachable but as delicious as possible, and that’s what we steer towards. We just hit our one-year anniversary a week ago.
Morgan: It’s a 50/50 split partnership. We prep all the food together. We split admin and errands. Brack runs our social media.
Defries: We refer to ourselves as co-owners because we each do a little bit of everything. Chris is the egg cooker, though (laughs). I run the expo station on the day of the pop-up or event. We really try to share our duties in leading it.
How have your prior experiences in food informed what you do now? Are you still working day jobs elsewhere?
Defries: I still do other work part time — bar consulting, pop-ups, beverage catering. I’ve worked in many kinds of restaurants in the past. I actually have helped to open a handful of restaurants; not intentionally, but just joining projects as they were starting out. You learn and absorb a lot of what to do and what not to do in those situations. It goes back to keeping things simple, straightforward. We wanted to start with our core idea and slowly build it out — staying focused without trying to do too much right away. You sometimes see expansion and doing too much early on instead of nailing down what your vision is.
Morgan: I have a part time job at a barbershop in Oakland as a shop person helping things run, cleaning up. I don’t cut hair (laughs). I stay away from the shears (laughs).
What are some challenges you’ve encountered while running your pop-up?
Defries: We started our business a year ago, and after three months eggs prices suddenly tripled. So yeah, that has been fun to navigate. It is leveling out more, but it’s still twice the price than when we first started out. To be honest, the cost of all goods has gone up in the last year alone. In the Bay, there are two sides to it all. It’s hard to find things, like a prep kitchen, because we can’t afford it. We’re looking around, but it’s crazy how expensive it is for just one or two days. We’re so grateful to those who have allowed us to use their space, like Fish and Bird, who are so gracious and accommodating for one day a week. We’d have a hard time without them. We have to store shit all over town: in our kitchens, at friends’, at other places we work at. We can’t have our own space quite yet, but we’re working towards that.
Morgan: This probably goes for most pop-ups, but just knowing how much food to bring to sell, managing that. The goal is to sell out because then you don’t have waste. But when we get so busy we sell out quickly, and people get disappointed when they show up and we’re all out. So we’ve had to dial that in over the year. We have a better sense now, especially if we’re returning to a place we’ve been before. We can land closer to the right amount. Usually, we make an average of 150 over-medium eggs in one outing.
What other foodmakers have you’ve drawn inspiration from?
Defries: Tacos Oscar is one of my favorite places, good buddies of ours. They use seasonal, local produce and just combine flavors so well. Also, Range Life out in Livermore. Hands down a favorite place to eat. I worked with the chef for a while, and his palate is easily one of my favorites. Very classic New Californian food.
Morgan: As far as breakfast sandwiches, there used to be a spot called Jodie’s in Albany. Hole-in-the-wall kind of place. Jodie and his grandson Charles used to run it. When I first moved here, that’s where I went to feel at home. Outside of the Bay, there’s a place in New Orleans called Molly’s Rise and Shine, and they did everything so well and it inspired me to do breakfast foods. And Rosie’s in the Hudson Valley was a big influence; I was able to help open it, and it’s where I could first try out making only breakfast foods.
You mentioned moving to the East Bay. Where did you move from? And since arriving in the Bay, how has it shaped your sense of food?
Morgan: I moved here in 2011, over 12 years ago. I was 19 when I moved. I only worked in one restaurant in my hometown, Asheville, North Carolina, before moving out. The Bay is definitely home now and has had a huge impact on the career path I’ve fallen into. I’ve gotten to work at awesome restaurants with amazing people here.
Brack: I’m from Missouri originally, north of Kansas City. I moved out about nine years ago. My partner at the time had a plan to move out here so I just tagged along. I worked in food a lot in Missouri, and I just got lucky here by getting a nice introduction in the food scene by working at Kronnerburger. I learned a lot from the chefs there about the abundance of delicious, year-round shit out here and the creative ways to use it all.
If you had to choose an emoji from your phone to represent your egg sandwiches, which would it be? To be clear, I searched some up before our interview, and the official name of what I would call the “yum face” emoji is actually called the “food savoring face,” but that just sounds hella clunky and basic.
Morgan: Wow. This might just be personality-wise, but the upside down smiley face feels right. Or the one where the smiley face is kind of melting (laughs). Those two do it for me.
Defries: (Laughs). Maybe the one with the bright, smiling face and the hands out? We’re just goofing and having a good time. That’s what we try to embody with Egg Pals. We’re just talking shit to each other and having fun while we cook, and we hope that carries over to the food we serve. We want it to be a vibrant and fun experience.
Morgan: Also the handshaking emoji. Shout out to our friends who help us. When we pop up, there’s a cashier, a helper and some great friends we’ve made in the restaurant industry. It’s a rotating squad of pals who help us do this.