The Diversity of Brunch

The many faces of brunch are a reflection of the many different cultural backgrounds, traditions, and agricultural landscapes of which this country consists. Fortunately, our country’s culinary paradigm has reaped the benefit of this diversity. We have no boundaries, and as such our brunch creations need not be confined by any traditional concepts of what a dish ought to be. We are pioneers of the food frontier.

Brunch is making a notable comeback both in terms of its popularity and the ways in which it is being reinvented, recreated, repurposed. A buffet containing scrambled eggs, pancakes, and fruit salad is no longer enough. The upside to having a buffet of this sort is that it has, in the past, offered high-volume food, resulting in high-volume business hours. The demand, however, has shifted. Instead, people are looking for a high-quality meal. They want to have an enjoyable experience, a special occasion, to which they can invite family and friends, and bring their kids.

This provides business owners a great opportunity; you can increase your number of peak business hours. Many restaurants see their highest financial profit during the dinner rush, between 5:00-9:00 p.m. If you create a popular brunch scene, you can double your hours of peak revenue during the weekend. Needless to say, the success of this venture depends on the creativity of your menu, good marketing, and proper staffing, among other things.

The diversity of brunch begins with the versatility of the egg. You can fry it, bake it, poach it, and scramble it. You can turn it into a quiche, frittata, omelet, souffle, or custard. The egg is the Optimus Prime of transformable food. The traditional ingredients of brunch fare are capable of accommodating an endless variety of combinations, techniques, and surprising twists. Eggs are baked in avocados, bread bowls, bacon bowls, hash brown bowls and added to loaded baked potatoes. There’s French toast muffins, French toast bakes, apple pie pancakes, crème brûlée French toast, cream cheese-filled everything. Is this starting to sound like a Billy Joel song? Adopt a “sky’s the limit” approach and you might find yourself creating an inventive new dish, or even a budding industry trend.

For example, when you deconstruct the concept of the elusive and mouth-watering Benedict, it becomes clear that the dish can accommodate a multitude of creative twists. There are versions of Benedict that substitute the Canadian bacon for fresh crab meat and avocado, prosciutto and truffle, or smoked salmon. You can surprise your guests by creating an outside-the-box version of this classic dish. For example, try making a potato pancake, topping it with German sausage, the egg, and a mustard Hollandaise. Or make it deliciously Mexican: use a corn muffin as your base, top with black beans, poached egg, and salsa. This Ranchero Benedict is delicious!

Brunch is a great opportunity to utilize some of the menu items that didn’t sell the night before. Let’s say, for example, last night’s burger special didn’t sell the way you’d expected it to. Utilize that excess inventory for today’s brunch. Make a breakfast burger by adding a fried egg and plenty of bacon. Use the meat to make a stuffed pepper with egg and cheese. Turn it into a quiche. Wrap the meat into a freshly made croissant or create a bread boat stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese and the hamburger meat.

Perhaps you have some tomatoes that are approaching their expiration date. Try making a baked breakfast tomato a la Florentine—cut the top off of the tomato and scoop out the interior. Then stuff it with ham, sauteed spinach, and onions.
Bake it in the oven, then top it with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. Virtually any dish or ingredient can be transformed into a brunch item. Creating a unique brunch menu is as easy as opening your mind and taking a look at the ingredients that are already in your kitchen.

Baking eggs is a practice that is not commonly used in the brunch scene, which is unfortunate because this technique lends itself to a myriad of flavor combinations. Everyone is familiar with quiches and souffles, so let’s put those on the back burner for the moment. Let’s focus on the concept of cracking an egg onto a savory creation and placing it in the oven. There aren’t many foods that are not heightened by the addition of an egg. Sauté mushrooms in a brandy cream sauce, place a spoonful into oven-safe ramekins, crack an egg atop, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. The same can be done with just about any meat/vegetable combination—artichoke hearts with truffle cream, caprese ingredients (tomato, mozzarella, and basil), creamy tomato sauce with spicy pork sausage, ratatouille, zucchini boats, portobello mushrooms … In any case, bake until the whites are cooked but the yolk is still apt to run. As with any over-easy to over-medium egg, it is recommended to serve a slice of toasty bread on the side for dipping.

Let the latest harvest guide you in this creative venture. Right now pumpkins, apples, and squash are plentiful, easily accessible, and low-cost. Include these ingredients in your dishes and you have the added bonus of having created a “farm
to table” brunch invention. Try making pumpkin pancakes, sided with brown sugar bourbon bacon. For a creamy topping, combine some of these fall flavors with mascarpone or Greek yogurt, or make ice cream with them.

Hash browns can be made with sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, and they can be either savory or sweet. For a savory version, combine your diced and pan-fried sweet potatoes with caramelized onions, goat cheese, fresh rosemary, and a balsamic glaze. For a sweet version, toss your chopped potatoes in melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a touch of salt. Finish by baking them in the oven to create a crispy caramelized effect. Apples are another ingredient that can adopt a sweet or savory persona, and can certainly be added to either of these dishes.

It seems that the magic of this midday meal is that it defies concrete categorization. Brunch is not breakfast and it’s not lunch. It’s not a party per se, but it is certainly a celebration. Its essence lies somewhere in between. It is this very lack
of an exact definition that makes it a breeding ground for imagination and creativity. It is the “Twilight Zone” of meals.