i just heard in passing that on Q this week they’re going to be talking to Alexander Nazaryan about his New York Daily News anti-brunch piece. seeing how i just last week won Literary Death Match Montréal reading my own “Against Brunch,” i thought it timely to post that piece here. ironically, yesterday i had pretty much the best piece of toast ever off a brunch menu in Montpelier,Vermont, but in my defence, it was 2pm and i was at a bar. if you ever have the chance, do hit up the Three Penny Taproom. i had a Flemish sour (Rodenbach Grand Cru) that kicked my whole ass. and the toast was really something.
UPDATE: that dude on Q was a nitwit.
or “Hardened Nightbirds Fondly Cherish All Its Subtle Charms”
from Food & Trembling (Invisible Publishing 2011):
I don’t like brunch.
You can save your sharp intakes of breath, brunch-lovers, because however much this offends your brunch-loving sensibilities, it is but a statement of preference. I do not hate you for what you do, and it is only slightly down my nose that I look at your late-morning/early-afternoon dining activities; one could even argue, as will be demonstrated, that I may simply suffer from a case of sour grapes.
Where to begin? It is only fair to start with brunch itself, as it emerges onto the historical stage, and work up to my own engagement therewith. “Brunch” enters the OED in the supplement to the ’71 edition, which puts the birth of the word in 1900, although popular accounts trace it to a few years earlier, coined by Guy Beringer in a rag called Hunter’s Weekly:
Instead of England’s early Sunday dinner, a postchurch ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies, why not 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. It would promote human happiness in other ways as well. 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.
– “Brunch: A Plea” (1896)
Put thusly, I would have to be hard-hearted and hopelessly contrary to speak ill of brunch, but it is less the idea of the thing than the way it has been institutionalized that chafes me. If one of the functions of brunch is to spare the fast-living the hardships of the usual breakfast/lunch rigmarole, as indeed many have suggested to me, arguing that preparing one’s own food is the last thing they wish to contend with upon awaking into a hangover, I counter that the last place I want to be in the early hours of my day is standing in a lineup with a bunch of yahoos, or still worse, surrounded by a hundred or so of such yahoos (and probably a couple of babies as well. Babies!) amidst the uniquely brunchy din of scraping chairs and clattering dishware. Oy.
Further, and I don’t mean to flatter myself, I have yet to experience an (inevitably nine-dollars plus) omelette in a restaurant that surpasses one I could make for myself in approximately ninety-nine seconds at home, and I don’t expect that when I do, it will be found at “brunch.” This has as much to do with the qualities inherent in the omelette itself as with the exigencies of running a brunch setup. The power and the glory of an omelette, in my estimation, reside in the ability to eat it mere moments after it has been slid from pan to plate, only so many moments as are required to for the residual heat to finish cooking the interior to silky but fragile perfection. If I am in the mood for something spongy, browned, and sweating, I will take it as a tortilla with maybe some olives, half drunk off two-euro Spanish red, or alternately in a bathroom stall of an Ibizan nightclub, thank you very much.
But I am not one for big breakfasts these days. This is an admission which usually allows the brunch-lover to mitigate the psychological distress caused by my public brunch-dissidence, by allowing my argument of What Is Wrong With Brunch to be eclipsed by the consideration What Is Wrong With Me. For it seems to be evidence of some frailty of spirit to be avowedly ‘into’ food, but not at all times a hopeless glutton. Most days I would be not only contented with, but elated by a good croissant and an espresso, or, if I am feeling concerned about continuing to live, a couple of fried eggs and a piece of toast.
Time was, I couldn’t get through the day without a mess of fried tofu or beans (I continue to be a fan of maple beans), some rice or quinoa, sweet potato mash, toast, and some kind of stewed or steamed green; but those were different, and if you couldn’t infer from the menu, vegan, days, and I no longer require such hearty fare to launch myself into the world.
With some exceptions (and it is here that I think to myself, as I have been doing increasingly of late, that I am becoming such a goddamn nominalist that I am bound to make someone sick, one of these days). For it is specifically “brunch” with its modern trappings that I disdain; I am all for putting off breakfasting (or for that matter, rising) until midday, I love a good portmanteau, and I appreciate the convivial atmosphere; gathering, bright-or bleary-eyed, tails bushy or between one’s legs, to face the dawning, mocking, day in fine company. What I loathe is putting all these things together only to be met by some abominably restricted menu that forces me to eat honeydew and refuses me spaghetti. I may prefer a light breakfast as far as proper breakfasting goes, but where breaking the fast is concerned, I am happy as a clam to take lunch, even dinner, or hell, clams, for the purpose. Indeed, I’d rather lunch for breakfast than brunch, any day.
I could perhaps trace this dislike of brunch back to my adolescent years of principled/practical miserliness, an outright antagonism toward restaurants, and the veganism that reduced every brunch menu to plain toast or fried potatoes. I certainly shut myself out at an early age from the social pleasures of brunch that many folks have by now had many years to fashion into an emotional investment in brunch as a ritual; so, sour grapes? Maybe. I recall as a child going to a hotel brunch with my father, brother, and grandmother and being astonished to enter this enchanted, improbable realm where one was permitted to have, in abundance, waffles covered in syrupy strawberries, chocolate, and whipped cream without having to consume even a single vegetable by way of gaining entry, but I don’t think that I ever had the presence of mind to catalogue that as a first experience of “brunch,” as opposed to “buffet” and those excesses it inevitably encourages.
I am not saying “Do not invite me to brunch,” but if you would do me the kindness of suggesting a late breakfast or early lunch in its stead, I promise to do my best to suppress whatever frown or disapproving curl of the lip is awakened by the brunch menu that likely ends up greeting us, and content myself with my Bloody Caesar and soft-boiled egg, if only they will be so obliging.
(I may also try to smuggle in a grapefruit. Would that weird you out?)