Brunch is good now. So can we stop talking about it and just eat?
— Angelica Frey
“Brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights. How about hollandaise sauce? Not for me. Bacteria love hollandaise. And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order,” Anthony Bourdain famously wrote in his memoir, “Kitchen Confidential,” in 2000. “And how long has that Canadian bacon been festering in the walk-in? Remember, brunch is only served once a week — on the weekends. Cooks hate brunch. Brunch is punishment block for the B-Team cooks, or where the farm team of recent dishwashers learn their chops.”
While this predicament might still ring true, the last decade has seen brunch go, per the LA Times, “from diner food to omelets and egg sandwiches made by James Beard-caliber, white tablecloth chefs.” Blame it on diners’ palates being more refined courtesy of the evolution in food media (which turned from service-like into aspirational) blame it on the competition triggered by all-day cafés, or blame it in an increased interest in global foods, the end result barely matters. “Restaurant staff might still hate brunch service, but the restaurants themselves have realized how much of an impact they can have on business, so they really try and make brunch as amazing and unique as possible,” said former tv producer Jeremy Jacobowitz, who, for the past four years, has been the face behind the Instagram account @brunchboys, which has been his full-time job for the past two years.
In fact, according to NPD research, brunch has grown 22 percent in the industry over a five-year period, as reported earlier this year by the Boston Globe.
Highbrow Meal, Low Price
Portland-based James Beard-award-winner Naomi Pomeroy always offered brunch at Beast, which she opened in 2007. It made sense to us for several reasons,” she told Skift Table. “One is that the restaurant is really beautiful during the morning; I love the way the light comes in. Another reason it made sense for us to have brunch at Beast is that it offers diners a little more flexibility. It is only four courses.”
Courses for brunch? Yes, they’re elevated, and not unapproachable: clafoutis, salad with fish and seasonal greens, a hash made with market vegetables, and petit fours. Pomeroy created it as an entry-level menu, since brunch is generally the first time diners find out about Beast. The menu is less time consuming and less expensive: the brunch food menu is priced at $40 whereas the six-course dinner menu starts at $125. But is good brunch bad for business? “We love our Beast brunch because we get a lot of people who’ve always wanted to dine at Beast and it feels really special,” she said. On the contrary, it’s a smart customer-retention strategy.
Chef Al di Meglio, who is a partner and executive chef at Italian fine-dining restaurant Barano in Brooklyn, determined that creating a brunch menu would serve the restaurant better than a weekday lunch menu, as he maintained that three menus were out of question. As of summer 2018, he started offering a three-day brunch menu, from Friday to Sunday. “For us it was, hey, we have an opportunity to give people an option, and with summer Fridays it worked out better than I thought,” he said. With the entrepreneurial WeWork crowds in mind, he decided to provide wifi and to allow laptop usage. “When I worked at the Ritz Carlton, you‘d get big companies that eat all day long,” he observed, noticing that, of all the work meetings he witnessed, it was the breakfast and lunch gatherings that had had the highest food consumption. “At company meetings, they’re working, sharing, eating and going back at their table.”
This pragmatic attitude did not translate into a pared-down menu. When it came to designing his own brunch menu at Barano, he intended to fill a niche. Di Meglio felt that Italian brunch fare was underrepresented because Italian cuisine is steeped in tradition and therefore not meant to be changed, he included revised and refined Italian staples. His current best seller is the avo & lox pizza, made on homemade sourdough ($18). “It’s a food that’s in the middle,” he said. “If you break it down, like a health nut, you got your avocado, you got your salmon you got a little carbs to start your day… it has everything I want to eat.” As for the drink options, he uses the same vodkas and proseccos he puts in his dinnertime cocktails in his bloody marys and mimosas. “I am not looking to scam people,” he said. “I am just looking to doing really good food.”
This does not mean, though, that brunch is now just a highbrow dining affair — a leisurely, boozy brunch still has its place. BrunchCon, a Los Angeles-based weekend food-crawl festival with iterations in D.C., New York, and Chicago, usually sells out of the 2,500 tickets ($45-$85) released per event. It features offerings ranging from an open bloody mary bar to photo ops and mimosa pong. “Food festivals and brunch are both really popular offerings on the weekend, but no one had ever combined them,” said founder Sarelyn Radecke. “I thought putting together a brunch festival would be a great way for people to extend the ‘Sunday funday’ mentality and to be able to discover upwards of forty restaurants in every city. It could take you almost a year to brunch at as many restaurants as you would discover at BrunchCon!”
And while lining up for samplers of mimosa and bite-sized tastings of glazed bacon might feel like Disneyland during a holiday weekend, Radecke does not share that cynicism. “There has been a steady decline of millennials going to church,” she said. “However, we still want a sense of community. Brunch has become that sense of community.”