Thursday, July 29, 2021

Breakfast, Elevated: The Naked Egg Café features American-style cooking with inspiration from the Southwest and Mexico

Drive past The Naked Egg Café on Pine Grove Road on any given weekend day and you’ll see a parking lot filled with vehicles, some spilling out onto the shoulder.

One of State College’s most popular breakfast and brunch spots, The Naked Egg Café is known for a wide variety of standard and upgraded breakfast items – menu items with a flair and special attention to detail that elevates them beyond the fare you might find at your favorite diner, without elevating them so much that you won’t get your meal at an agreeable price.

Owner Hiya McKenna opened The Naked Egg Café eight years ago, but her original intention wasn’t to create a breakfast spot.

“It was the location that determined what kind of restaurant [it was],” she says. “I was looking to open a full restaurant, but when this space came up, I realized that it wouldn’t work for full-day dining. I changed it to a breakfast place.”

So what makes The Naked Egg Café so popular?

Describing her cooking style as American with a twist from Southwest and Mexican inspiration, McKenna says, “I think one of the reasons is because we care about how the food tastes. Our hollandaise is fresh. We make poached eggs the old-fashioned way. We try to keep everything as fresh as possible. And I’ve got a great staff.”

Southwest-style eggs. (Photo by Darren Andrew Weimert)

Popular menu items include the hash bowl, made with cubed potatoes, chicken sausage (sourced locally from Burkholder’s in Spring Mills; “they make a special blend for us and it’s fantastic,” McKenna notes), corn salsa, garbanzo beans, a few jalapeños, and sour cream, then topped with a fresh egg (sourced regionally from the Lancaster area).

The café’s eggs benedict offerings are also very popular, McKenna says. Options include a traditional eggs benedict, but also a Florentine, a salmon, and a crab benedict. As for McKenna, one of her favorite menu items is The Irish – two scrambled eggs with smoked salmon served with grilled tomato slices and toast. 

McKenna says she can’t name a single menu item that isn’t popular with at least a portion of her diners.

“When I go to re-do the menu or add new items, I try to take away something that hasn’t been selling so great, so, after eight years, everything sells pretty well,” she says with a laugh.

When she does make menu changes, they’re subtle and happen only about once a year, she adds.

For those who need special accommodations or adjustments to their meal, she’s happy to help.

“We try to accommodate everyone. If people have special dietary needs, we do our best to accommodate them,” she says, pointing out her menu’s vegan sausage and vegan burgers, as well as gluten-free options.

But for all of The Naked Egg Café’s popularity, the restaurant wasn’t immune to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everyone, last year, suffered. We’re a small restaurant. We’re 18 tables. During COVID, we were down to 10 tables,” McKenna says. “My staff are terrific and they hung in there, and the customers have been great, too. During this whole time, they’ve tipped generously. It’s been a challenge, but I have to say, everyone in the community and everyone who’s come here have really pulled together to try to make it all work.”

Like many restaurant teams, McKenna and her staff of 18 made changes to their way of business to better accommodate changing diner needs over the last year. Most significantly, the café began offering takeout service, though McKenna notes she has to be careful about when the restaurant accepts takeout orders. The new offering proved more popular than anticipated and, in order to put in-house customers first, the café occasionally stops accepting takeout orders, as it did over Penn State’s May graduation weekend.

Before the pandemic, McKenna says she was considering the possibilities of opening a second Naked Egg location, but, now, she’s keeping her focus on transitioning back to a restaurant experience more akin to pre-COVID normalcy.

Regardless of the challenges, though, McKenna says neither she nor The Naked Egg is going anywhere: “I like what I do. There are trying moments and tough times, but I think, generally, if you enjoy what you do, you’re going to stick with it, right? For me, the restaurant business is definitely challenging, but it’s also enjoyable. This past year has been more than trying, but it is definitely worth it.”

The Naked Egg Café is open daily, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., except Sunday, when the restaurant opens at 8 a.m. and takes last names for seating at 1:30 p.m.

Holly Riddle is a freelance writer.