Sunday Brunch, Or the License to Drink Before Noon
The appeal of brunch lies in the spin put on the predictable.
It starts with Sunday morning, which never fails to arrive. From there the activity menu options include simply sleeping in; getting up early with the kids or the cows; lolling in flannel sleepwear with coffee, putting on running shoes and actually running, and dressing up for religious observances.
But since the New York Times declared Sunday a two-meal day in 1939 with the rise of its popularity, brunch has been pulling eaters in coastal America from their divergent activities back to the table with the overt promise of pre-noon cocktails, some kind of riff on eggs benedict, a hearty hash and a stack of something sweet oozing with something even sweeter.
According to Farha Ternikar, author of Brunch: A History, this could-be-breakfast-could-be-lunch meal appeals to many because it “lends itself to informality and leisure, culinary indulgences, and comfort food."
That is not to say that brunch cannot be a high-end affair, after all the concept originated as a meal taken by the English aristocracy after a hunt in the late 19th century and first made its mark stateside with the wealthy. One of the most celebrated brunches in the area is served at SALT Kitchen and Bar in the Wentworth by the Sea Marriott Hotel and Spa in New Castle, where the jazz, champagne, ice sculptures and buffet flow freely for special occasion meals.
But on more casual Sundays, chefs in New Hampshire favor brunch because – other than the edict that bacon and eggs must be on the menu — there are no hard and fast rules of what should be served between 9 am and 3 pm on Sunday. This free-for-all let chefs push their own creative agenda on traditional brunch items, support their local food system via a seasonal menu, and cut back on food waste with specials that deliciously combine what’s still left in the fridge after a busy Saturday night but before next week’s deliveries arrive.
“What I find most liberating about cooking brunch is that it frees you up from that big piece of protein anchoring the plate,” said Brendan Vesey, chef at The Joinery in Newmarket. Now, Vesey’s menu’s got fried chicken on a biscuit with sausage gravy, smoked pulled pork hash, and a burger topped with bacon and eggs, so there is certainly no shortage of protein. But the brunch mentality lets him highlight The Joinery’s Southern flare as he weaves sweet potatoes and cornbread into eggs benedict, slips pimento cheese and greens into his omelets, and tops waffles with pecans and ice cream.
There are few limitations on how local ingredients can be highlighted – even in the dead of winter — on a brunch menu, contends Patrick Soucy, chef at Applecrest Farm Bistro in Hampton Falls. His fall/winter menu featured ricotta griddle cakes filled with blueberries, frozen ones from the farm’s bumper crop last year, a red flannel hash with beets harvested in late fall and local beef butchered in-house, and a featured pastry – a Pop-Tart play – with beach plum (from the coast) and loganberry (from the White Mountains) filling and goat cheese frosting.
According to Mark Segal, chef at Tino’s Greek Kitchen in Hampton, the balance of any brunch menu comes down to three things: the authenticity of the regional cuisine the restaurant espouses, what’s available in the chef’s proverbial back yard, and what customers really want to eat.
Of course Segal has an omelet on the menu, a Greek one with artichokes, onions, oven roasted tomato, fennel, black olives, feta, and lukaniko sausage. And there’s Eggs Benedict, but the Canadian bacon is swapped out for Ouzo-cured salmon. His take on hash includes warm root vegetables, crispy chickpeas, smoked almonds, feta cheese, charred romesco sauce, and a fried egg.
Segal likens brunch to the Mediterranean tradition of having supper in the middle of Sunday afternoon. “It’s a long, relaxed meal that people stop their busy lives for, and some time travel a distance for, because it’s a communal experience, one that sustains you on a couple of levels for the business ahead.”
And if the communal experience of brunch doesn’t relax you, there is always the license to drink before noon.