On a recent trip to LA, Alice Sanders had an awakening to what brunch could – and absolutely should – be. Prepare to feel hungry, jealous and excited at the catering possibilities of mid-morning all at once.
I’m gonna hit you with it up top; I don’t think we do brunch right in this country. Sure, a few months ago I was walking around thinking it was OK for fancy brunch menus to have a full English on them; I was happy to see the odd pancake option (although I’ll admit to being slightly enraged to see avocado on toast masquerading as an actual meal. No salmon? No eggs? Are you kidding?).
But then I went to Los Angeles on holiday. I’ve never been to the US of A before and, lordy, didn’t it broaden my brunch horizons. I’d been worshipping a false idol. In LA, I got to kneel at the altar of the true Goddess Brunch and pray.
“Waiters topped up my drink without me noticing and before I knew it I’d had three cups. The entire time I was in America I had jitters and palpitations.”
And kneel I did, every day, sometimes more than once a day – I will not accept a limited concept of brunch. Let me not hear you say: “Brunch must be served only at the hours between breakfast and lunch for it is a portmanteau of those words.”
Brunch is broad, beautiful, and infinite. It will probably combine both breakfast foods and lunch foods, and possibly some pudding foods, for there is a reason it’s called brunch. But hopefully it will not, as Helen Zaltzman points out in the brunch-dedicated episode of her podcast The Allusionist, be cereal on the back of a roast chicken.
Let me offer a quick tour of the brunch landscape in LA, just so you’re clear on exactly what you’re missing.
There are a lot of Mexican style brunches in LA. The first brunch I had was something called machaca, which is shredded beef grilled with onions and tomatoes, with scrambled eggs, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. I had mine with black beans and tortillas. The portion was enormous – enough to feed a small herd of goats for about three to five days. I managed to consume it all.
The beef was succulent: they hadn’t palmed me off with the chewy stuff, just because I was eating the middle child of meals. The whole thing came with an iced coffee that was bottomless. Waiters topped up my drink without me noticing and before I knew it I’d had three cups. The entire time I was in America I had jitters and palpitations.
Other Mexican style brunches I had in LA include breakfast quesadillas – with egg, cheese, and bacon; breakfast burritos – with fried peppers, onions, scrambled egg and cheese; and also a dish called the Eleanor R Special at a place called Millie’s in Silverlake. Eleanor Roosevelt is (perhaps inaccurately) quoted as saying, “A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water, as long as she’s had her brunch first.”
The Eleanor R Special was two fried eggs on top of a pile of cheese-covered rosemary potatoes that came with salsa and guacamole, because in LA the guacamole cascades in waterfalls and the salsa flows in rivers. Oh, and on the side there was an American biscuit, which manages to be both fluffier and more buttery than an English savoury scone.
Pretty much every brunch in LA comes with a free side – so you can order a homemade hash brown or a big bowl of fruit to go with your breakfast burrito.
Another strong category on an LA brunch menu is the pancakes. They come with a staggering variety of toppings both sweet and savoury. My favourite were apple pie pancakes, that had apples and cinnamon cooked into the pancake, and then the obligatory maple syrup to go on top. You can often get a choice of pancake too – regular, buckwheat, wholewheat or buttermilk.
Next, there’s the range of egg dishes with hollandaise sauce. In this country we might see a Benedict and a Florentine, sometimes a Royale. And there are so many other options. Avocado with that? Grilled tomatoes? Crab meat? You want ham AND spinach? No problem, my friend, this is America. And the American dream includes a stronger, faster, bigger hybrid of breakfast and lunch, and it’s covered in cheese.
Then there’s the waffles or French toast section. I went to a cafe in Venice Beach called 26 Beach, which had no fewer than 20 French toast options.
The bread, which I originally thought was brioche, was in fact challah bread, a Jewish bread made with eggs and sugar. It was cut into three huge triangular hunks and fried in egg.
Mine came topped with a perfect white scoop of lemon ricotta and scattered with fresh blueberries and raspberry coulis. It was absolutely delicious. It was in this cafe too, that I discovered that you can eat pasta for brunch. Who makes the rules, I ask you?
‘Pasta scrambles’ combine the classic breakfast ingredient scrambled eggs and the classic lunch ingredient pasta. Mine was called Green Eggs and Ham and came with pesto, black forest ham, peas, roma tomatoes and linguini. It was wonderful and filling without feeling heavy. Perfect brunch fodder.
There are a few other notable dishes you can commonly ask for in LA at brunch-time. Steak and eggs is one of them. You can order steak for the first meal of the day and nobody bats an eyelid. Another is fried chicken.
“Let me not hear you say: ‘Brunch must be served only at the hours between breakfast and lunch for it is a portmanteau of those words.’”
I have to confess, I never had fried chicken for brunch, but my friend and colonic champion ordered a brunch that was fried chicken, bacon, melted cheese, gravy (American style – a white sauce made from milk and meat fats), a fried egg and a biscuit. I daren’t contemplate how many calories were packed into that power plate, but I’d warrant it’s enough for you to hike up to the Hollywood sign and do a chin up or 500 on one of the Os.
In London, and indeed the rest of the UK, we do not have the range, the quality or the giant portion sizes of American brunches. If I want a full English I’ll go to a greasy spoon and get the whole thing plus a cup of tea the colour of porn star fake tan for a fiver.
I want to see something more adventurous than that on a brunch menu. So, I’m starting a quest, a brunch pilgrimage to find the best brunch in Britain. I want a brunch without limits, physical or conceptual. I want to worship at the altar of the true goddess Brunch, here in my own city. Hallelujah, amen.3635 Views
Alice Sanders is a freelance writer. She writes articles, audio description for the visually impaired, and fiction. She also performs with comedy improv troupe The Pioneers. @wernerspenguin