It's early morning in Newcastle. The sun has risen. People are out for a jog or surf, maybe walking the dog, definitely getting hungry.
It's time to think about food.
In every suburb across the city and lake and valley, there's no doubt you'll find a place that serves up something to eat for breakfast, or at the very least, coffee and a snack to go with it. Newcastle has a multitude of cafes and espresso bars and it seems that we just can't get enough of our morning meal. Over the years, eating out at breakfast has become as beloved as going out for dinner.
But considering it's the easiest meal to cook (put the bread in the toaster and get the Vegemite jar out of the pantry), why have Novocastrians developed such a strong love affair with brekky?
Could it be that a little early morning TLC can lighten the load?
"I think it's just a great way to start the day, with the fresh faces of friendly people, a space someone else has set for you and will tidy up for you once you leave, awesome coffee, delicious food and the time to sit and breathe and let your head get around the coming day," Bec Bowie, owner of Estabar in Newcastle East, says.
Chris Nicholls, head chef at Newcastle West cafe Estratto, agrees.
"It's the most important meal of the day, for a start," he says.
"It's nice having someone else make breakfast for you, without the washing up. Plus it's affordable; you wake up and you've got nothing to do."
The old adage says to "breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper."
So what are Novocastrians eating to break their fast?
What are we eating
Growing up in the '80s, it was cereal with milk, then toast with a condiment. A cooked breakfast on weekends - either poached or scrambled eggs on toast (I'd smother mine with tomato sauce), perhaps semolina in winter, maybe pancakes for a special treat. That was it.
We never ate out, partly because we lived miles from a cafe, partly because there wasn't really a cafe culture in the 1980s, and mostly because it wasn't a done thing - bacon and eggs aren't Le Cordon Bleu territory. Breakfast was basic.
Now, one glance at a breakfast menu and there'll be dishes listed that require a little more expertise than just heating the fry pan. Poaching eggs takes some skill. So too hollandaise sauce, potato rosti, freshly baked sourdough or a berry coulis.
Not surprisingly, anything fresh and fun are popular choices to start the day. Smashed avocado on toast has become a classic alongside the egg and bacon roll. Shakshuka and Buddha bowls are ordered with the same familiarity as pancakes and French toast.
But eggs, in all their shapes and forms, are still the clear favourites.
"Avocado on toast and bacon and egg rolls are our most popular dish by far," Chris at Estratto says. Down at 23Hundred Espresso Bar, co-owner Mandy Johnston says a cooked breakfast is still leading the way.
"I'd have to say probably the baked beans or the savoury mince, both served with eggs and avocado on Turkish or sourdough, are our most popular dishes," she says.
Those eateries serving more out-of-the-square dishes are also being rewarded. Acai, kale, spelt, fermented vegetables and kefir yoghurt are fast becoming part of our vocabulary.
"Right now our spiced scrambled eggs are topping the charts," Bec Bowie says. "Spiced with James and Rose Brinjal Pickle, topped with our buckwheat and coconut curry crumble and accompanied by buttery Baked Uprising sourdough."
And how about lunch for breakfast? The arrival of all-day menus now mean you can have that cheeseburger or salad to kickstart your day.
What about drinks?
Possibly edging out the need for food in the morning is the need for coffee, especially during the working week. With so many speciality coffees on offer around town, is the humble cup of tea getting a look in at all?
"At Estratto, we serve 100 to 1 more coffee than tea," Chris says.
Bec at Estabar confirmed the ratio. "Coffee, by far. In this order generally: flat whites, then cappuccino, then latte, then long black."
Aside from coffee and tea, health tonics and alternative lattes are growing in popularity. You can have a golden latte made with turmeric, or a matcha or dandelion version, green juices and frappes.
"Banana smoothies are jumping up in popularity and our mushroom tonic sales are surprising us," Bec says.
The full-cream milk of the cow variety now has plenty of bedfellows. With skim and soy comes almond, coconut, rice and so many more.
"Plant milk is a big deal of course now, and our house-made macadamia and hemp milk is flowing out the door," she said.
Mandy has found the same down the road at 23Hundred.
"There have definitely been changes based around the types of milk people have in their coffee; we find popular choices to be almond followed by soy and coconut milks," she says.
Who's eating out?
When work begins at 8am or 9am, and you factor in showers, dressing, making lunches, school drop-offs and commuting, it makes you wonder who has the time to eat out for breakfast through the week. Often, cafes will be open from 6am or earlier to give diners that chance for a midweek munch.
"All sorts come in through the week," Chris says. "Where we are on Hunter Street, we get foots and boots, office workers, everyone from students to mums and prams, plus older patrons. It's a broad range, but Friday morning seems to be the busiest for us."
"Our customers range from swimmers, yogis, cyclists, families, business groups, tradies or just our regular customers who come after their morning walk or on their way to work," says Mandy at 23Hundred.
But it's weekends when we have the time to relax and recharge, and for cafes this is the busiest time to brunch, with special occasions and public holidays the peak of the peak.
"Sundays are usually a day where people meet up for breakfast and always the special occasions like Mother's Day and Father's Day, long weekends of course, so the Monday of those," Mandy says.
The plate of the future
Once upon a time fried eggs, bacon, baked beans, chips and toast were the order of the day - and you can still experience this greasy spoon delight at the Embassy Cafe - just ask for the Embassy Special. Operating since the 1940s, it's the last of the many Greek cafes that used to line Hunter Street and it's still getting plenty of attention from those looking for a taste of nostalgia. Or maybe something to soak up the booze form the night before.
Today we have access to such varied ingredients and cultural influences than that of even a decade ago. It's no wonder we are eating dishes inspired from all over the world, or unearthing long-forgotten produce.
"The dish I'm most excited about at the moment are our buckwheat crepes," says Bec at Estabar. "I love them because they're cultured with local wild yeasts, they're made on a gluten-free ancient grain and their taste is earthy and a little sour. I love that they really show off the fruits of the season and showcase our incredible house granola and vanilla ricotta."
"We're into standard stuff, but we do like to play around with them. We're trying dishes without the bread, Mexican and Middle Eastern flavours," Chris says.
Eating locally-sourced food is attracting big attention on the sustainability and flavour fronts. Diet and health is playing a role too.
"Shorter menus focusing on quality over quantity and healthy breakfast options are the current trends we're noticing," Ben Richardson, owner of The Autumn Rooms on Darby Street, says.
And people aren't afraid to be specific with what they want on their plate. A vegetarian big breakfast with a side of bacon? No problem. Bacon and egg roll without the egg? Sounds better! Eggs Benedict without the muffins? Who needs carbs?! We know what we want to start our day, especially after that first coffee.
What's on your breakfast plate?
I eat fried eggs, a mountain of kale and half an avocado for breakfast pretty religiously. - Bec Bowie, Estabar
I start with a Batch Brew and Brekky Greens from the cafe. - Ben Richardson, The Autumn Rooms
Coffee is my breakfast. Don't ask me questions before that. - Chris Nicholls, Estratto
Grain-free muesli at home (lots of nuts and seeds) with Greek yoghurt, raspberries and blueberries. Otherwise eggs, or I go to the café for the savoury mince on toast with eggs and avo. - Mandy Johnston, 23Hundred