What would you rather do – go out for brunch or rake leaves? Brunch, of course! A nice brunch can set up the day for football, fun, or even provide nourishment for some afternoon yard work, if you must.
We recently had a progressive brunch through some of Norwalk’s most acclaimed restaurants. Organized by Norwalk Now, our tour took us from SoNo to Wall Street, tasting brunch specialties from the area’s most creative chefs.
To work up an appetite, some of our group took a pre-brunch bike tour along the Norwalk River. Riding high-tech electric bikes from Pedego, they enjoyed the luxury of hybrid power assist. The riders returned in high spirits, energized by the fresh-air and marveling at the ease of the bikes. The cool-looking colorful bikes are available to rent at 50 Water St.
Our brunch stops included Washington Prime and The Spread in SoNo, plus Peaches Southern Pub on Wall Street. Each of the three restaurants brought their own style to creative brunch menus – brunch that has moved beyond eggs benedict and omelettes.
Bacon looms large on all menus these days, particularly at brunch. At Peaches Southern Pub on Wall Street, Chicken-fried Bacon, breaded and fried to a crispy golden brown, is served over creamy shrimp grits with a fried egg on top, combining a southern style-innovation, a southern classic, and a dependable fried egg!
Washington Prime brings its meaty personality to good old bacon and eggs. Grilled slab bacon – thick, smoky, and seductively rich – on its wooden cutting board comes with eggs any style and old-fashioned home fries. There was considerable competition in our group for the last bite of bacon.
French Toast at The Spread is made with eggy brioche and almond paste, then topped with fresh berries. At Washington Prime it comes with candied walnuts, rum-roasted bananas, and a chocolate drizzle.
Cooks in the south are known for frying almost anything, pickles, chicken, and even the apocryphal Twinkie. The Elvis, at Peaches, is clearly in that tradition. You can see the influence of a croque monsieur, french toast, and a sweet tooth, along with our current fascination with bacon. Peanut butter, thick-cut bacon, bananas foster, and maple syrup are sandwiched between two slices of batter-dipped Texas toast and then dropped in the deep fryer. Sounds over the top, I know, but it was undeniably popular with the gang.
Poutine – that Canadian mess slathered over french fries – has joined the brunch lexicon. At Washington Prime it’s made with braised shortribs and dressed with a fried egg. Peaches puts their Tabasco cheese version over crisp tater tots.
Mussels are a specialty at Peaches. For brunch they’re steamed with jambalaya broth and andouille sausage. Shirred Eggs with tasso ham and spinach; fried green tomatoes; and roasted brussels sprouts with a ginger honey glaze all spring from the restaurant’s southern roots.
The Spread, one of the most innovative and awarded restaurants on the SoNo scene shows its cutting-edge style with three breads: squid; goat cheese and ricotta.
Washington Prime can’t escape it’s steakhouse roots. The brunch burger included a fried egg. The centerpiece of carne rancheros was a sublime sliced strip steak. Seafood here was also memorable with a beautiful raw bar selection (perfectly opened Copp’s Island oysters) and killer shrimp and grits.
All three places have brunch fried chicken, with biscuits at The Spread and with waffles at the others.
You can’t have brunch without drinks. Bloody mary’s and mimosas are standard, but bartenders today are going way beyond those. A seemingly alcohol-free grapefruit concoction at Washington Prime was refreshing and perfectly brunchy. The Spread offers a make-your-own bloody mary bar with bacon, olives, vegetables, salts, and lots of hot sauce options.
Peaches goes down south with an okra-tini (vodka with pickled okra and brine), bourbon sweet tea, a Sazerac, and my favorite, the rosemary maple bourbon sour.
As our brunch marathon was winding down, I wished I’d taken the bike ride. Some exercise and fresh air would have set me up for the time at the table. Say what you want about the many pleasures of brunch, it’s not particularly light and healthy. I guess I could rake the leaves to work it off, but what about football and a nap?