The End of Brunch: What Defines This Strange Weekend Meal?
Alcohol is a Key Ingredient of Brunch
I am happy to report that the Age of Brunch is over. Just about anyway. Oh, all the folks blithely enjoying their weekend mimosas and eggs Benedict think that brunch will always be in fashion. After all, it has been more than 100 years since Punch magazine declared in 1896, “to be fashionable now, we must brunch.”
And brunch we do. From sunup to sundown every weekend, in New York and cities across America, people are going out to brunch. They’re engaging in it, and enjoying it. But can someone please tell me exactly what the heck brunch is?
The simple answer, according to the OED, is that brunch is a combination of breakfast and lunch. The dictionary informs us that the word itself was coined by a Mr. Guy Beringer in Hunter’s Weekly in 1895.
But neither Mr. Beringer nor the OED really explains what makes brunch brunch, as distinct from breakfast or lunch. Is it the food? It’s not the food. Eggs, for example, a brunch staple, are also breakfast food. They are prepared for brunch exactly the same way as for breakfast. Brunch favorites—burgers and salads—are also served at lunch and dinner. If brunch were a true combination of breakfast and lunch it would combine the dishes as well, e.g. eggs with hamburgers. That indeed is a dish I’ve enjoyed, a regional Rhode Island specialty hamburger patty with a fried egg on top. But I ate those on my half-hour lunch break in Portsmouth. That clearly was not brunch because I was on deadline. I had a schedule, I had somewhere to be after I ate, unlike folks enjoying brunch, which is a meal that in theory can stretch to infinity—or at least Monday morning. Is it the time? Yes, it’s the time, to a certain extent. Brunch is characterized by a sense of leisure.
And yes, it has to be on the weekend. Saturday or Sunday with a long day and lazy evening stretching out in front of you.
For me, as a boy growing up on a farm, those long lazy days were non-existent. Even on weekends, there was always work to get back to. So you can understand my bafflement about brunch.
I’m quite sure my Dad, a lifelong farmer, never ate brunch. He probably never spoke the word “brunch.” That’s not to say he wouldn’t like brunch. He would appreciate any excuse to eat. On the farm, my father routinely ate a second breakfast around 10 a.m. As I recall, it was pretty much the same as the first breakfast (or as he called it “breffist”—peanut butter on white bread, folded, dunked in his coffee. These days, you probably won’t find peanut butter on the brunch menu, unless it’s tucked into a crepe or incorporated into some brunch dessert
Does the eater define brunch? To a degree.
Do Real Men Eat Brunch?
My father was a real man, a regular guy. I believe that a regular guy couldn’t care less about brunch. If he’s at brunch, nine times out of ten he’s there because his girlfriend suggested it. However, he does like the idea of having permission to start drinking in the morning. If that requires ordering a hamburger and calling it brunch, so be it. Girls like brunch. Guys will do what girls like. Straight guys do anyway. And gay guys just plain like brunch.
So just because I am a brunch idiot why do I posit that brunch has reached the apex of its ascendency?
Go to the epicenter of the brunch world, the restaurant Pastis in the Meat Packing District of New York. If brunch wasn’t invented there, it should have been. And you will suppose, from the long lines and the high prices, that brunch has never been more popular. Folks will wait hours to paying seventeen bucks for a couple of eggs—the very same eggs that are eleven dollars during the week. That’s a six dollar surcharge for the privilege of calling them brunch. You’ll find l’oeufs on the brunch menu at Pastis, as well as their salades and garnitures. But you won’t find the French word for brunch. Why? There is no French word for brunch. The French do not need a magic word to justify spending all day in a café eating and drinking.
Unrest in the Land of Brunch
But look around at the outer reaches of Brunchville and there are signs of unrest. There’s something brewing besides coffee—and that something is trouble. First there was Permanent Brunch, a restaurant in the Lower East Side that promised brunch all day, every day. It seemed like a sure thing. It shuttered soon after opening. Why? Once you experience brunch on a Tuesday at 6 p.m. you realize it’s not so special anymore. It’s not hard to figure out that anything permanent cannot be special. (See marriage.)
But a worse sign of the coming brunch apocalypse is offered by Meat Hook butcher shop in Williamsburg. It’s fitting that the home of the hipster is also home to the first ironic brunch. At the Meat Hook, they’ve set up a single table in front of the counter, where for $50 a head guests get to enjoy a “tasting menu” that might include a slice of leftover pizza with Miller High Life, saltines with chocolate and coffee, schnapps and beef jerky followed by lentil soup.
Well, it does meet the main criteria of brunch: alcohol. Plenty of it. But seems to me that once brunch becomes ironic its days are numbered.
So if you’ll excuse me, it’s the weekend, and I’m going out for a late morning meal. I’m in the vanguard of the next fashionable thing. Eggs over easy, home fries and bacon. And a big mug of coffee. I’m calling it breffist.
And for me, that will be the end of brunch.