There’s a whole new world of brunch at some of our best local restaurants. It’s not just eggs benedict and fancy pancakes added on to a few other stalwarts from the regular menu. Brunch menus these days have expanded to reflect the personality of the restaurant, the skill of the kitchen, and the wide ranging interests of all of us who like to eat out.
As I look back, I can see that the trend toward increasingly sophisticated brunch offerings has been sneaking up on me for some time. But the point was driven home on a recent Sunday at Harlan Publick at the Ironworks in SoNo. A group of us had been invited to sample their brunch menu. I was bowled over.
Delicately pink house-smoked salmon ($13) peaked out from under a tangle of arugula and capers. A knob of cream cheese, some thick-cut toast points, and a sprinkle of chopped egg rounded out the picture-perfect plate.
Sweet red and golden beets were tossed with goat cheese, asian pear, almonds, and baby arugula dressed with a sherry vinaigrette for a refreshing salad made hearty by a perfectly grilled chicken breast (22).
There was a little break in the tasting as everyone oohed and ahed over the brunch bread basket (10). House made cornbread and biscuits were piled high along with croissants and monkey bread from the award winning Wave Hill bakery. I overheard compliments about the quality of the jam and butter on my left.
The flow from the kitchen resumed with the appearance of a brace of sunny-side eggs atop a platter of smoked turkey hash (15) with sweet potatoes and quinoa. Everyone stopped to watch as the egg was pierced and the bright yolk flowed into the hash.
A brunchy waffle with smoked maple syrup (17) was transformed with a topping of crunchy fried chicken. Meaty crab cakes (27) came with a crisp and refreshing celery root and apple slaw and irresistible Old Bay chips.
As I peeked around the corner at the copper-topped bar, the mixologist was scorching a cinnamon stick with a blowtorch. When it was good and smoky, he clapped a glass on top. A maple old fashioned (12) was mixed with a generous measure of Bulleit bourbon, maple syrup, and a muddled orange then poured into the now cinnamon smoke scented glass. Even cocktails at brunch have gotten spiffy.
The industrial chic space was filled with couples, families, and gatherings of friends, all chatting and enjoying their brunch. The decibel level in the high-
ceilinged space was pretty good by today’s standards. Our table of eight was able to keep up the conversation.
Oak and Almond on Main Ave in Norwalk is another popular brunch spot that has taken the menu beyond the usual suspects. Yes, there is a benedict, but on a house made biscuit with smoked salmon standing in for the ham. The french toast is made with Wave Hill brioche and the pancakes flavored with ricotta and lemon.
But the bulk of the O & A brunch menu draws on their excellent rustic Italian cooking and wood fired oven. Charred octopus, wood-fired chicken wings, bacon and egg flatbread, and wood-grilled steak and eggs all stretch the boundaries of brunch.
Peaches Southern Pub at 7 Wall Street in Norwalk sends you on a brunch trip below the Mason Dixon line. Dig into some pulled pork country hash, biscuits and gravy, country fried steak, or Savannah shirred eggs and you may start talking with a drawl. There is, of course, fried green tomatoes, pickled deviled eggs, and those irresistible crispy hot-honey fried chicken skins. You end up a long way from New England.
Just about everywhere, brunch has become a culinary adventure. And why not? Check in at Washington Prime or The Spread in SoNo, The Terrain Garden Cafe in Westport or Sugar and Olives on the Norwalk-Westport line for more original takes on brunch.
A table mate at Harlan Publick confided that he considered their burger to be the best – a stellar bun, flavorful mix of beef in the grind, perfectly cooked, and graced with a memorable cheddar-ale sauce. I can’t wait to come back and give it a try – but not at brunch.