I'm glad this issue of the magazine is finally paying tribute to my favorite meal of the week. Brunch. Now that hasn't always been the case. I was first introduced to it when I was an 18-year-old freshman college student in New Orleans. My parents came down one weekend and took me to Brennan's, a restaurant that was famous for brunch and
their specialty, Eggs Benedict.
It was a bad experience, but not because of the food. Brennan's required a dinner jacket to be served, and if you weren't wearing one, they would provide it. I wasn't wearing one, and the only coat they had left at the time was 12 sizes too small. After they squeezed me into it, I couldn't raise or lower my arms. I looked like a starfish. For a few years after that, I mistakenly associated brunch with misery. Not anymore.
The history of brunch is fairly interesting. As everyone knows, brunch is a combination of breakfast and lunch usually eaten right before noon, but it can go as late as 3 p.m. ( Frankly, I think any meal eaten between 2 and 3 p.m. should be called "lupper.") I always thought it was a fairly recent phenomenon, but it actually got its start in England back in the 19th century. In fact, the meal was invented in 1895 by a writer named Guy Beringer, who was inspired to do so by a little problem he was having every weekend. Hangovers. Legend has it that Guy just flat out loved to party every Saturday night. Unfortunately for him and others like him, Sunday church came way too early, followed by the traditional heavy meal. In an article, he proposed getting up a little later and having something lighter to eat, like a small scone and a couple of chicken livers. He even coined the name "brunch" and billed it as a social event so people would have an excuse to imbibe. Plus, he knew it was the fastest way to get rid of a headache and slowly transition back to normal. Pure genius. With one swipe of the pen, Guy Beringer came up with the only acceptable form of morning drinking. It's true to this day. A cocktail at breakfast is still frowned upon, and churchgoers get very upset when you demand another round of communion. I know I'll never do it again. But when it comes to brunch, you've got a green light to start popping those corks.
Now despite its early popularity in England, this culinary tradition didn't really catch on in the United States until Prohibition. Even then, it was viewed as a covert dalliance for the elite and rich college kids who loved reminiscing about things they didn't remember doing the night before. It even became the favorite pastime of the mob, although I can't picture Al Capone and Lucky Luciano cheerfully sipping mimosas together while chuckling over their latest hits. This period also gave rise to the bloody mary, and both of those drinks became major components to brunch.
It started gaining popularity with women when they joined the workforce following World War II and only had Sundays to unwind. It was so much fun, they decided it would work pretty much any day of the week. But Sundays are still the mainstay for brunch. And it's a lot different than what Guy Beringer had in mind. Restaurants have turned this light fare into all-you-can-eat breakfast smorgasbords, complete with their own signature morning cocktails. The atmosphere is usually very casual, and your only concern is which side of the plate to put your cell phone on. It can be expensive, but it's worth it. I've had some of the finest brunches I'll never remember.
So if you see me at one sometime, come over and say hi. And while you're up, bring me a Bellini.