Popular hybrid meal provides time for relaxation

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Mike Boyle, center, and Cassandra Hoffman, right, eat brunch at Chez Zee with Hoffman’s daughter, Madyson, Sunday afternoon. Many restaurants in Austin specialize in late Sunday brunches to make the transition from weekend relaxation to weekday hassle an enjoyable experience.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

On Sundays, brunch isn’t just a meal, it’s a way of life. The meal is a true hybrid that blurs the lines between breakfast and lunch with menu staples such as fried chicken and waffles, steak and eggs, and signature cocktails such as mimosas and Bloody Marys. Whoever said you couldn’t have the best of both worlds has obviously never had a drink before noon or a pancake for lunch.

Although the exact origins of brunch are still a mystery, many food historians point to writer Guy Beringer, who allegedly first printed the meal portmanteau in Hunter’s Weekly in England in 1865. In Beringer’s article, “Brunch: A Plea,” he suggested England replace its traditional post-church Sunday dinner with “a new meal, served around noon, that starts with tea or coffee, marmalade and other breakfast fixtures before moving along to the heavier fare.”

“By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers,” Beringer wrote. “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

While we may never know if Beringer got the brunch he always dreamed of in England in 1865, surely a quick glance at a modern-day brunch in Austin would make him proud.

If the only thing you knew of brunch was its soundtrack, which buzzes with laughter, the clinking of champagne glasses and music, you probably wouldn’t visualize bright sunshine, much less a family-filled restaurant. Yet, brunch has taken on a lively social context.

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill’s chef and owner Larry Perdido serves up an all-you-can-eat southern style brunch every Sunday morning and is proud of the group-friendly atmosphere his restaurant draws every weekend.

“Brunch is the last weekend dining experience that one can share socially before having to wind up to go back to school or work,” Perdido said.

Food writer for the Austin American-Statesman and breakfast lover Addie Broyles adds that weekends are inherently social and perfectly crafted for party-like dining experiences. “Brunch is a way to carry on the fun of the night before into the next day,” she said.

Paul Freedman, a professor of history at Yale University, attributes the last century’s decline in church attendance, combined with an increased rate of urbanization, to the popularity of brunch.

“For people who work in offices, Saturday tends to be a day of errands and Sunday for relaxation,” Freedman said.

Chef Matt Janiec, who has worked at the Z’Tejas restaurant for 12 years, has noticed a trend among brunch customers who linger and order the extra cocktail they might not have allowed themselves on a weeknight. “It’s a slower paced meal because for lunch and dinner everyone is in a rush to go somewhere,” he said. “For brunch, it’s a time to sit with friends and family and just be.”

Different restaurants in Austin have catered to the growing brunch scene in town while adhering to their restaurant’s particular food genre. Janiec and his team at Z’Tejas infuse typical brunch staples with their signature southwestern spin by taking a brunch basic like French toast and resting it on an unexpected bed of prickly pear syrup. Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill transports customers to a simpler time, with turn-of-the-century style buttermilk biscuits with chipotle cream gravy and a classically southern mint julep cocktail.

Spokesperson for Chez Zee, Sharon Watkins, said eggs are a key ingredient on a brunch menu. “We poach eggs, fry them, make omelets and Mexican preparations as well as plain scrambled,” she said of the 500 to 800 plates Chez Zee typically serves during brunch.

Another key ingredient to any great brunch lineup is the drink menu stacked with an array of champagne cocktails as well as a Bloody Mary. From Moonshine’s Scarlet Mimosa that replaces typical orange juice with pomegranate juice to Z’Tejas’ simple yet satiating screwdriver, brunch encourages day drinking that society normally deems inappropriate on a weekday.

Broyles believes the variety of brunch menus among restaurants fits perfectly into Austin’s eclectic food scene, which brims with more and more self-proclaimed foodies everyday.

“We’re pretty fluid in our eating habits,” she said. “We can go from chips and salsa to migas to quiche to mimosas and brioche pretty easily. We’ll take it spicy, boozy, indulgent or wacky, as long as it’s good.” 

Printed on Friday, February 17, 2012 as: Good Eats: Sunday Brunch Scene