We all love brunch, but did you know that the idea is a fairly recent development in our eating history? It’s a popular concept that has evolved in my lifetime – a delicious and widely celebrated fourth meal in addition to the trinity of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
A mix of breakfast and lunch, brunch menus usually revolve around eggs, pancakes, and waffles, in addition to sandwiches and salads. These dishes bridge the gap between breakfast and lunch and seem appropriate for late morning or early afternoon eating – particularly on Sunday.
My father was one of the early pioneers of brunch in Fairfield County. He saw his Sunday afternoon family dinner business at The Silvermine Tavern eroded by the flood of popularity for pro football and outdoor activities. Sundays were no longer devoted to church, a big family dinner, and a day of rest.
His idea was a brunch buffet with a wide range of breakfast and lunch dishes drawing on the heritage of New England cooking – all-you-could-eat bounty and generous variety. Starting in 1970, the buffet caught on and was a leader in the changing trend to brunch. It was named “Best Brunch” in the county and state for many years. Other large restaurants including The Red Barn in Westport and later The Brewhouse in South Norwalk joined the buffet brunch trend
Smaller restaurants that lacked the space and resources to mount a buffet got in on the action with served brunch menus offering egg dishes and other brunchy fare served a la carte. There are only two brunch buffets still going locally, as far as I know: the lavish, sophisticated spread at Winfield’s at The Greenwich Hyatt ($59) and the more country brunch at Stamford’s Long Ridge Tavern ($26). The others have all perished, victims of the trend to smaller restaurants and the declining popularity of buffets.
Brunch these days is a merger of breakfast and lunch. Restaurants offer their usual menu, an add-on menu of brunch entrees, and an array of juice-based cocktails to wash it all down. Covering a wide range of price and style, brunch can be innovative new-American cuisine or gussied up diner food. There are many brunch options including organic, gluten free, and gastro pub, as well as French, Italian, Indian, American and just about any other cuisine you can think of.
We were at the Sign of the Whale in Stamford for brunch recently. The high-ceilinged industrial-chic space is in the Harbor Point development down by the waterfront. Floor to ceiling windows, high energy sound levels, an extensive drinks menu, and delicious food make this a brunch destination for millennials, young families, and couples of all ages. The rooftop bar with views of Long Island Sound had a vibrant crowd enjoying the great spring weather.
The extensive and tempting seafood-focused gastro-pub menu is supplemented by enticing brunch offerings. Try the Lobster Waffle ($17), fresh lobster over a cornmeal waffle with a hollandaise-like butter sauce. Crab Eggs Benedict ($14) is another shellfish riff on a brunch classic. If you’re going high-protein, Steak and Eggs ($15) – sliced grilled steak and fried eggs served on a wooden cutting board with mustard sauce – is the way to go.
Worthy starters from the regular menu include Ahi Tuna ($12) well-spiced and presented on a bed of avocado, Crispy Calamari ($14) presented in its own miniature fryer basket, Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($9), darkly caramelized and tossed with sriracha and honey-ginger sauce, and the Chopped Kale Salad ($12) with orange, avocado and toasted sesame dressing. In fact, I could make a case for sharing a bunch of these appealing small plates and then jumping right to dessert.
Drinks have always been a part of the brunch experience: Bloody Marys, Mimosas, and sparkling wine are expected. At the Sign of the Whale you can dress your own at the Bloody Mary Bar, displaying an impressive array of hot sauces, pickles, olives, fruit, tomatoes, and peppers. Go as hot and spicy as you like. Shrimp or bacon can be added on too.
There’s no lack of local brunch options. Sugar and Olives in Norwalk, The Spread in SoNo and the Valencia Luncheria on Main in Norwalk are all on CTbites list of Best Brunches. Connecticut Magazine recommends Bernard’s in Ridgefield and The Schoolhouse in Wilton. Yelp adds Oak + Almond and the SoNo Baking Co to the top picks.
I recall seeing a cartoon – Hagar the Horrible, I think – that suggested that the next dining trend might be Lupper, a combination of lunch and supper. I don’t think it will catch on like Brunch.