White Castle's Sausage, Egg, Cheese on Slider Bun ($2.25)
Finding a fast-foodery that will crack a real egg is rare so this won points from the beginning. You can see the yellow and white parts! With the real browning around the edges! It's so real! The freshly-fried egg goes onto one of the slider buns, with your choice of meat.
The sausage is well-salted, but not in a whoa, settle down, kind of way. The bacon had the right crispity-pliant balance.
Our only complaint? The buns. They could have been toasted and buttered, but then again, we gobbled it down too fast to care.
White Castle's Sausage, Egg, Cheese on Wheat Bread ($2.25)
But if we had to choose between breads, we'd definitely go with White Castle's slider buns. The wheat bread here is "eh, limp and lame with a dry taste," said one taster. It's vaguely wheat-looking but not wheat-tasting. It's really just a brown, dull starch square. But hey, we'd rather have a breakfast sandwich with a just-fried egg on mediocre bread than one with a pre-made egg sponge on just about anything else.
So you still win, White Castle.
Wawa's Ham and Cheese Ciabatta Melt ($4.29)
It's massive. Stuffed with scrambled eggs, deli ham, and Swiss cheese, this is no yogurt and granola breakfast. The roll was lightly toasted and by far the best bread out of all the Wawa breakfast sandwiches we tried. Though pretty big for ciabatta, they overstuff it so the ratio is balanced.
There's as much meat in there as in the regular non-breakfast hoagies! And the eggs taste so eggy. Cheese is melted into the scramble, as well as on top. Judging by all the signage hype in the store, this is Wawa's signature breakfast sandwich.
McDonald's Sausage Egg McMuffin ($1.89)
You still got it, McMuffin. Starting with the hockey puck-shaped egg. It has both the yellow and white parts! Always a good sign. The sausage patty is sweet and spicy, and reminds us of the Jimmy Dean brand. The muffin is toasted with nice crispy edges, but still has a bit of puff. It's about as reliable as a food comes.
Starbucks's Sausage, Egg, Cheddar, on English Muffin ($3.63)
Hey, this is pretty good. "A better version of the McMuffin" said one taster, but nearly twice as pricey. Could use a little ketchup, but other than that, solid.
The sage-y sausage doesn't taste overly processed, the cheddar melted nicely, and the muffin has good and crispy nooks and crannies.
Note: Starbucks's egg loaf-thing can be inconsistent. On one it was fluffy with mini air pockets, the other was like a block of tofu.
Panera's Bacon, Egg, Cheese on a Bagel ($3.69)
If you stop and think too hard about Panera's bagel, well, just don't. It doesn't taste like much but in the context of this sandwich, it sort of works (and was better than their ciabatta option). It's pressed, giving what could be a big chewingmonster a flatter, crispier edge instead. The bacon inside had a nice smoky, salty taste—alright, maybe a little too salty, and we like our salt. The sharp cheddar was the sharpest of any breakfast sandwich cheese we tried. So much that it kind of overpowered the rest of the sandwich.
If you like your breakfast sandwiches more like a grilled cheese with a side of breakfast, than here you go. We all agreed we'd buy it.
Cosi's Squagel with Bacon, Egg, Cheddar, and Tomato ($3.49)
With a name like "squagel," you kind of have to root for this one. Sadly, we were a tad underwhelmed. It's a novel idea (a square bagel!) but it's too chewy for a breakfast sandwich and if you're not careful, the egg will "slidle" (that was an Adam Kuban original).
Note: these are both normal bagel issues too. Most of us agreed that, structurally, the squagel had potential, but tasted bland. Next time we want to try the Everything squagel. The sandwich also comes with a tomato which, odds are, will be soggy and pink, so skip that part. But the bacon had good flavor.
Starbucks's Ham, Egg Frittata, Cheddar on Artisan Roll ($3.54)
The ham tastes maple-glazed and what we envision when we read "Black Forest." The cheddar is neon orange, but actually tastes pretty good. And the "artisan" roll, we'd even eat solo—it's like a vaguely sweet dinner roll with a baguettey crust.
"The only one I'd buy," said one taster after trying five from Panera and Cosi. The egg is where Starbucks loses, though.
They just had to go and use one of those pre-cooked egg loaf-things (here we go again). Though it had a nice hit of salt and pepper, and a good fluffy texture, it's still an egg loaf (sad face). Man, would this sandwich be good with a real, just-cooked egg. But we'd probably still buy it.
Starbucks's Bacon, Egg Frittata, and Cheddar on Artisan Roll ($3.54)
We were also big fans of this one. Ditto everything that was said about the ham version. The bacon replacement was reasonably crispy and had good flavor.
McDonald's McGriddle with Bacon, Egg, Cheese ($3.82)
"You got the McGriddle with sau-sage?!" McGriddle enthusiast Adam looked offended (and there might have been an eye roll) when I first strolled in with the sausage version. I learned my lesson and came back with the bacon. Geez, what was I thinking!
Meat aside, there's something about using pancakes as the sandwich buns that's just a big yay. They taste syrup-drenched but not soggy. And you know when you're at McDonalds ordering your breakfast sandwich, but look over and see someone with the pancakes? And you kind of want both? The McGriddle answers all of your prayers. Plus it factors in the genius salty-sweet duo.
Dunkin' Donuts's Sausage, Egg, Cheese on Croissant ($2.79)
We didn't love this one, but after so many vile croissants, it's worth noting that this one was edible. Buttery and flaky, this croissant is plenty tasty on its own. In fact, that might be a better situation. The sausage has a weird after-taste and the egg is a bit rubbery, but the croissant, we finished that.
Panera's Whole Grain Breakfast Power Sandwich ($3.89)
Powah! It's something we all strive to have in the morning. Billed as Panera's healthier option, this one's on whole-grain toast, that actually tastes healthy, not just sweet-healthy. The egg "TASTES LIKE REAL EGG" agreed tasters in all caps, which, as we've learned, can be a big deal for breakfast sandwiches. The thin slice of ham isn't as salty as Panera's bacon, but is more real-tasting. The white cheddar has a nice tang, but there's not much of it, since this is a wee 360 calories (wee at least when compared to the others in the 500s and higher).
Jack in the Box's Supreme Croissant ($2.59)
Even though the croissant was squashed, this was the tastiest and most satisfying of the three Jack in the Box sandwiches we tried (Breakfast Jack, you let us down, man!). The fillings were well-incorporated in the sweet, buttery croissant. And it was flavor-packed from the savory bacon and ham.
Wawa's Shorti Philly Steak and Cheese Breakfast Hoagie ($4.29)
This 6-incher is a breakfast take on the Philadelphia classic. Scrambled eggs, steak, fried onions and copious amounts of American cheese—it's definitely filling and I can't imagine ordering a full-size 10-inch version (they're available in the same sizes as the non-breakfast hoagies: junior, shorti, and classic).
The meat and bread weren't much to write home about. The overly soft roll seemed a little weak for such a jam-packed sandwich, especially when you're in walking distance of a real cheesesteak stand. But not bad.
Breakfast cheesesteaks aren't unheard of at Philadelphia's many food carts and this was as good as most of those.
Dunkin' Donuts Egg White Flatbread ($4.05)
I have been known to order the Dunkin Donuts Turkey Sausage flatbreads, on occasion. Once upon a time, "on occasion" has meant "several meals each week." But since they raised the price, I cut back. Apparently, in my mind, this thing is worth my $3.26 but not my $4.05.
If you eat them within three minutes of their appearance from the reheating oven—which is the only time they should be eaten—the flatbread is pliant and wholesome-tasting and just a little crispy, the cheese is totally melted, and the turkey sausage egg patty is... well, if not particularly eggy, then salty and moist and reasonably tasty. (Wait ten minutes and you have cardboard flanking a cold salty sponge.)
But more to the point, I like the things because the calorie-to-satiety ratio is far and away better than that of most fast food. Most other breakfast sandwiches out there run you double the calories and aren't much more satisfying. For four bucks and under three hundred calories, I get a sizable, melty cheese sandwich that fills me up and keeps me going. Is this healthy in any context other than the fast food? Of course not. But if I'm in a place with unfamiliar food options, or in a food court, or in a Manhattan food dead zone in need of a protein fix, fast, I can rely on Dunkin'.