Sunday, 13 April 2014

When is Brunch time?

The idea of Brunch on Sunday morning is not a new one, though it is not a old one either, maybe 50 years old at best.
I remember when it started to be introduced here in Canada it was in the mid 1960's previously the idea of the Brunch was introduced by hotel operators in large American cities like New York, Las Vegas and elsewhere by simply offering a stiff drink in the morning like a Bloody Mary  to help you get over the hangover of the night before, they would also offer to extend breakfast time to 11am instead of 9am. Saturday night was devoted to going out dancing or to a show and most likely on Sunday morning people wanted to sleep in and have breakfast later than 7:30am. Also with changing attitudes people started to skip that 10am Sunday morning Church service. So you had to offer something. The Brunch came to replace the Sunday Hotel Family lunch option, to this day many hotels still offer a Brunch Buffet which is borrowed from the Scandinavian Smorgasborg idea. Restaurants in Canada and in Ottawa in particular will get into the act much later, the Brunch stayed the domaine of hotels and resorts at least until the early 1980's in Canada. Today everyone offer brunch options even Asian restaurants.

But what is Brunch? It is not a buffet and it is not breakfast in the classical sense of what a North American Breakfast is with its juice, toast, jam,cereal, fruit, pancake, waffle, bacon, sausage and egg offering. Brunch is suppose to be an offering of dishes which mixes breakfast and lunch together but you are not suppose to find any of the regular breakfast offering on the Brunch menu, at least in the classical sense of what Brunch is and it is not a Buffet offering either despite the fact that many hotels and restaurants do buffet service. One example is the Easter Sunday lunch which in Ottawa has morphed into Easter Brunch Buffet, the reason for this is to save money for Hotel management and maximize profits on liquor.

I remember the first time I had Brunch it was in an hotel in Montreal and it was in 1967, the offering was interesting, I had to get used to the idea that after 11:30am, no one offered Brunch before that time, Brunch started at 11:30 and ended at 3:30pm, it was almost lunch time and the mid-day point. The menu if my memory serves me well, had quiche and omelettes with various vegetable and cheeses, toast was replaced by French baguette served slightly warm, no jam though, other items were a chicken dish, like a pot pie or Vol au Vent, grilled or poached fish and seafood in a creamy sauce, vegetables, rice and roast potatoes. Back then only a green salad was offered, salads tended to be simple side dishes. The adults started with a Bloody Caesar or a glass of bubbly or simply a spicy tomato juice. Desserts in that era, the black Forest Cake and the New York Cheese cake were very popular, there was also French pastries, unlike what passes for pastries today, it was the old fashion European style pastries, you can still see and taste in Europe.

How the idea of brunch has changed, nowadays it's starts as early as 8:00am and no alcohol or stiff drinks are offered. It is basically a breakfast menu, no lunch items are offered and it usually ends by 2:00pm at the latest. Everything on Saturday and Sunday is geared towards the Brunch crowd and the menu concentrate on the usual tired looking Eggs Benedict with a sauce trying to masquerade as Hollandaise, Eggs Florentine has disappeared from menus due to rampant E.Coli in so many eating places or eggs any style, toast and bacon or sausage, freshly squeezed juice from a commercial box and lots of refill of acidy american coffee. It seems that the meaning of Brunch has been lost and replaced with another way to make money without imagination and poor offering.

Far too many restaurants offer Buffet Brunch, I have a personal aversion to all Buffet, especially if it says all you can eat for $ 9.95. To me a restaurant buffet rimes with botulism. If you have been raised as I have in restaurants and hotel kitchens you quickly learn that the food in the Buffet has been prepared hours before it is finally offered to the customers. Of course no customer is made aware of this fact.

This is especially true of salads often made the night before or any cold cuts or cold fish or meat dishes. Eggs are often prepared one hour before and kept warm on a hot plate or lamp, same with any sausage or bacon. Nothing is freshly made unless you accept the word fresh as meaning prepared 5 hours ago or more. As for any desserts, none is made by a pastry chef anymore and all is bought from a large industrial distributor. Buffet allows the owner to maximize profits by offering the lowest quality. Yes even 5 star hotels are guilty of this because there is no standard rules to follow.

This is not to say that you cannot find a nice Brunch menu prepared with imagination but it is becoming difficult. Here in Ottawa almost all restaurants offer a Brunch on the weekends but very few know how to do a classic brunch. Of course they offer what people will go for and buy and it is also a question of educating a palate, unfortunately in a world of fast food and Starbucks or Tim Horton, ignorance is rampant. Also from a cultural point of view having the old fashion Bloody Caesar, a Mimosa or some Champagne to start is not something people do in Ontario where drinking laws are stuck in 1910. We also as a society drink less than in the days prior to 1975.

I remember great Brunch menus in Chicago where we would go with friends back in 1994, the drinks were stiff Minoza made with Orange juice freshly squeezed at the bar, Drambuie, Champagne on crush ice in a big glass. Brunch in a way is a celebration, you meet friends and you have a lively conversation and laughter. Brunch for me remains a Sunday tradition like the Sunday lunch in Italy is a tradition. Saturday has other traditions as do days of the week when you meet friends for lunch.


  1. The best brunches are the ones put on by gay men in their own homes. I love getting invited to those! Note to self -- befriend more gay men.

  2. buffet rhymes with botulism - lol !