Dawnbringer’s Pillowy English Muffins Build the Foundation for Breakfast Sandwich Greatness

This North Portland food cart stuffs sandwiches with the likes of miso–cream cheese–tinned fish, corned beef, and Korean-inspired egg patties.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton March 10, 2023

The Morning Muffin from Dawnbringer: Matiz tinned sardines in olive oil, miso, kale, cream cheese, and scallions.

An English muffin is rarely the hero of a breakfast sandwich. Too often, they’re dry and tasteless, valued for their ability to hold little pools of butter rather than any sort of innate flavor. That’s why Chaz O’Neill, owner of the breakfast cart Dawnbringer that opened in September 2022, decided to perfect them in pursuit of the ideal breakfast, his favorite meal of the day.

A good breakfast sandwich, according to O’Neill, “always starts with the bread—and I’ve always been disappointed with English muffins,” he says. That’s why his are the amalgamation of 10 different recipes, including a little trick he learned from Francisco Migoya, the author of Modernist Bread, via an episode of Martha Stewart. It involves caramelizing grains—in this case, cornmeal—in butter using a pressure cooker. He’s since swapped out butter for olive oil to make the muffins compatible with future vegan-friendly sandwiches, but the effect is the same: a pillowy, craggy, and super-moist English muffin that also crisps up nicely on the griddle.

The Solar Sando features corned beef and a Korean-inspired cabbage egg patty.

Between the buns, combinations are wildly creative. My favorite is the Morning Muffin, which combines tinned fish, kale, avocado, miso, scallions, cream cheese, and scrambled egg. It’s a refreshing departure from the usual greasy breakfast fare, the miso pairing nicely with the fish and the cream cheese balancing out the healthiness of the kale. It’s not just run-of-the–mill canned fish, either—they’re Matiz sardines in olive oil. A close second is the Solar Sandwich, which fuses O’Neill’s Irish heritage (corned beef) with a Korean street snack called gilgeori toast. Like gilgeori toast, it features an egg patty with shredded cabbage cooked right into it, and O’Neill’s version subs out the typical sugar and ketchup topping for maple ketchup. For breakfast purists, the Twilight Tasty is pretty much your classic meat, scrambled egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, but without the conundrum of having to choose between bacon and sausage. Each breakfast sandwich runs a budget-friendly $8, which feels like a steal for the quality and portions you’re getting. Last time I stopped by, I also grabbed the French toast made of English muffins—a surprisingly crackly, toasty rendition topped with corn flakes and grapefruit slices—and a green smoothie, refreshing and actually healthy-tasting with kale, ginger, oat milk, and fruit. Proud Mary coffee, drip or cold brew, is also on offer.

English muffin French toast

Though I found no fault in the English muffins, O’Neill is still working on their next iteration: a pita pocket–meets–English muffin that’ll be just as fluffy with a toasty interior, but engineered to prevent toppings from spilling out. (That’s also why O’Neill prefers scrambled eggs rather than runny fried eggs, to prevent that yolky goodness from escaping.) Vegetarian and vegan options are also in the works. 

Chaz O'Neill and his Blue Heeler, Blucifer, a.k.a. Blue

With a menu like this, it’s no surprise that O’Neill has some impressive kitchen chops; he went to culinary school at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), has worked at food-cart-turned-restaurant legend Nong’s, worked at Jacqueline’s now-closed breakfast project Fairweather, and currently splits his time between the cart and Sweedeedee

There’s a certain scrappiness to the cart that makes it particularly charming. It’s housed in a blue-and-orange converted vintage camper rather than a traditional cart, and the name Dawnbringer is emblazoned on the menu in typical sprawling metal-band font, designed by local artist Sam Klickner. And Spanish tinned fish aside, there’s still a utilitarian aspect to these breakfast sandwiches.

“It’s all about either getting you ready for the day or repairing you from the previous night,” says O’Neill. While the tinned fish sandwich might be a nice start to a busy day, the bacon-and-sausage duo might require a nap afterward; the corned beef and cabbage-egg number could go either way. For now, they’re only available Sundays and Mondays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., but look for Friday and Saturday hours coming soon.

Dawnbringer, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun–Mon, 3441 N Vancouver Ave, @dawnbringerbreakfast