Egg: Steel-cut Organic Oatmeal ($7)
It's really hard not to order the Eggs Rothko at Egg, but if you're not feeling the namesake food (a rare situation, but possible), the steel-cut oatmeal is one of my favorite bowls in the city. Probably because it's most reminiscent of how I make mine at home (when I have a lazy 45 minutes to spare for stirring steel-cut oats, that is). The poppy, plump oats aren't gluey or soupy—they're cooked just right. It comes with a mini pitcher of cream on the side; pour as you please. Toppings include toasted almond matchsticks, brown sugar, raisins, and tangy dried cranberries.
Farm on Adderley: Steel-Cut Oats with Butternut Squash, Chilies, and Smoked Bacon ($7)
Savory oatmeal doesn't get enough play, but you'll start rooting for it after trying this guy. Available on the weekday breakfast menu only, the steel-cut oats are cooked with tender bits of smoky bacon they make in-house with pig from Fleisher's; all those fatty good bacon juices come along for the ride (and some milk for good measure). Even if you don't get a bacon bite, you'll taste all the rich smokiness in every spoonful. It could pass as lunch or dinner with the bright green chili pieces and soft squash chunks stirred in, but it's also not too savory for a 9am breakfast.
Ted and Honey: Banana Compote and Pumpkin Squash ($6)
This cozy, morningtime-mobbed Cobble Hill coffee shop usually has two flavors. The dessert-ier of the two is the Banana Compote: basically banana bread batter multiplied by oatmeal. It gets a line down the middle of their housemade granola (also for sale by the bag) and just-sliced banana coins.
The Pumpkin Squash is more savory than sweet. Orange cubes of al dente squash sit atop fluffy, nicely cooked oatmeal pooling with maple syrup with a row of roughly chopped pecans (from a farm upstate). The bowl's rim gets a generous dusting of cinnamon. Both win for the most photogenic in the city (which is saying a lot for oatmeal).
Prune: Steel-Cut with Brown Sugar, Walnuts, Cream ($9)
You probably don't wait in an hour-plus line for weekend brunch at Prune just to get oatmeal. But, if you do, it's a great bowl of steel-cut oatmeal. Hearty, chewy, and what all steel-cuts strive to be. The layer of toasted walnuts on top enhances the warm nutty flavors of the milled oat bits; the just-right amount of brown sugar melts into the top layer. It nails the perfect texture and ratio of oatyness-to-sweetness.
Bouley Studio: Oatmeal ($3.95)
To call this oatmeal “creamy” doesn’t quite do it justice. These steel-cut oats aren’t whole-milk, long-cooked creamy; frankly, they taste like they’re mostly half-and-half, with a bit of sugar to boot. If you’re looking for an indulgent, incredibly tasty, fill-you-up-all-day bowl, you’ve found it; if you consider oatmeal a health food, look elsewhere.
Bouley Studio: 130 W. Broadway, New York NY 10013 (map)
Les Halles: Oatmeal with Vanilla and Lavender Syrup ($7.50)
How do you say oatmeal en Francais? Gruau. Rolls off the tongue, oui? The vanilla and lavender agave syrup is what gives it that French Provençal touch.
Yes, lavender. In your oatmeal. Too floral or weird-tasting? Not at all, actually. As you scoop, you think, Whoa, this is unlike any other oatmeal I've ever tried. It's sweet, to be sure, but not in the expected brown sugar way, or in any way that's too syrupy. You may start to picture rolling lavender fields, but it avoids the usual lavender problem of tasting like a bar of soap. The mellow floral kick is a nice change from the usual toppings, and the rolled oats aren't overcooked; they keep a nice bite. Available at both the Downtown and Park Avenue locations.
Noho Star: Steel-Cut Oatmeal Brulee ($10)
“Oatmeal brulee” is slightly misleading. Yes, the bowl of steel-cut oats gets torched, but if you’re expecting a crackly shatter-top, you won’t find it here. Still, the bananas do get a crunchy sugar-sheen, there’s plenty of plump, tasty berries, and the steel-cut oatmeal itself is quite good: no milk here, but well-cooked, pop-in-the-mouth oats that those who like feeling virtuous at breakfast will appreciate.
Liquiteria: Organic Oatmeal with Banana ($5.50)
Caffe Falai: Oatmeal ($6)
Standard rolled oats, but thick and remarkably creamy for a bowl that, the waiter swears, is made only with milk. A touch of sugar sweetens it up just barely; you hardly know it’s there. It’s mom-style, homey oatmeal, but in the best kind of way.
Brooklyn Bagel: House Oatmeal ($3.15, medium)
Around the corner from Serious Eats World Headquarters, Brooklyn Bagel is an always-welcome reminder that some small corner shops still do things just right. Their oatmeal is a perfect example. Their steel-cut oats, with just a little butter and brown sugar, aren't anything unusual, but well-cooked so they're soft but not gluey; they're topped with fruit or, our favorite, a not-too-sweet granola. A huge, hearty serving that'll warm your belly for three bucks.
Whole Foods, Union Square: Oatmeal ($2.50)
At the oatmeal bar at Whole Foods, Union Square, you can get brown sugar, cinnamon, honey, and dried cranberries atop great steel-cut oatmeal: pop-in-the-mouth oats, not at all sloppy or gluey, and in an enormous portion.
Brooklyn Fare: Oatmeal ($3.99)
Head to the front bakery section of this Boerum Hill market. Someone will be flipping omelets to order in the corner and, starting at 8:30 a.m., they'll also start scooping up oatmeal. Not a minute before, and probably not a minute after 9:30—it disappears quickly with the morning rush. Though not the perfect texture (a bit sticky-gloopy) it's a heavy tub's worth. Very filling. Like, it's-noon-and-I'm-still-not-hungry filling. You can doctor it up with golden raisins, almond slices, and raw turbinado sugar. Oh, and when they say "cinnamon?" they mean a whole cinnamon stick. Consider this a choking disclaimer.
Max Brenner: Melting Cinnamon Chocolate Chunks Oatmeal ($8.95)
"Woah." That's all we could say when we saw this one on the menu. It's essentially a deconstructed oatmeal chocolate chip cookie moonlighting as breakfast.
The oatmeal part is very gloopy and unexceptional; it could very well be from a just-add-water pouch. But you hardly taste or notice it under all those melty chocolate crumbles and sugar-coated, roasted pecans. Just when you think it couldn't get any sweeter, they give you a mini-beaker of caramel cream for drizzling. It's like when Mariah Carey reaches her high notes, then goes one whole octave higher. That sweet. If I wanted an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, I'd eat one. But for some reason, this exists too.