In the world of food, brunch is like a limited-access daytime seductress coming out only on weekends but in tempting and lavish excess. Brunch is more verb than noun, and brunch is as much about the time it takes up as it is about the food itself. Sunday is brunch's best day it's a lazy day, a day of rest, a day for letting go and frittering away half the afternoon around a table with friends. Brunch is best when it starts out as a late breakfast and creeps into the lunch hour, as gossip of the week is passed around. Beverages are an integral part of the meal, and they are usually of the high-maintenance variety: Lattes replace standard coffee, fussy Bloody Marys are filled with all manner of pickled vegetables and fruity Mimosas sport nips of candy. Brunch fare should be neither distinctly breakfast nor lunch standards but a seamless hybrid of both, with items such as steak and eggs a juicy, red slab of meat set alongside prim morning eggs.
Food historians have traced brunch to Britain in the late 1800s. The word 'brunch' was first introduced by journalist Guy Beringer in Hunter's Weekly, and it probably originated as a meal that took place after the wealthy came back from morning hunting excursions during weekend estate parties. It didn't take hold in America until the 1930s and only with the upper class, who could enjoy such a frivolous meal. Brunching is now part of our weekend psyche, and a variety of restaurants offer this weekend repast. The following are my critiques from some recent indulgences.
Most humdrum brunch
802 Virginia Drive
This is my least favorite and the least festive of the brunches I sampled. It's too quiet and cramped to really let loose with friends on a Sunday morning. And that's the problem Logan's offers brunch only on Saturday. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and are in the mood for a decent-tasting quick bite, it's worth a pop inside. Just don't expect to linger for hours in jovial company. The menu is not creative though it does change often, offering a cut-and-dried mix of breakfast and lunch dishes. There are always a few egg concoctions, a sandwich or two, quiche and soup. I love Logan's soups, so that's always a good choice. I've also had great homemade quiches, including fluffy broccoli and cheddar in a rich, buttery crust ($8.50). Their version of the breakfast sandwich "sunrise" ($8) was pleasing, with a heavy helping of scrambled eggs, cheese, spinach and ham on a croissant. Serious coffee drinkers take note: Logan's makes a sorry espresso. My husband's iced latte came out the color of cream of mushroom soup. It took two extra shots before he could even taste the espresso drowning in the huge glass of milk.
A downtown affair
Westin Grand Bohemian
325 S. Orange Ave.
Situated in the swanky Westin Grand Bohemian hotel, this mouthwatering brunch buffet is a powerhouse on the downtown scene. The food stock is set up in the Klimt rotunda, a grand, domed room that is reminiscent of Victorian greenhouse atriums. Amidst the dizzying array of breakfast and lunch treats, diners can grab a plate and chow down on a selection that ranges from fresh oysters at the raw bar to an omelet creation of their own design. I especially enjoyed a heaping plate of applewood-smoked bacon and the Boheme's own distinct version of eggs Benedict. A tab of $39.95 buys the whole array of delectables plus a glass of champagne. Espresso is extra and is passable. The dessert table, located just outside the rotunda, was a disappointment. Creative and delicious, it used to be my favorite part of the brunch here. But over the years the sweets, just an assortment of uninspired petits fours, have become boring and hotel-y.
Most anticipated brunch
900 E. Washington St.
I've always loved chef Jephanie Foster's cooking, but the atmosphere and front of the house at Blue Bistro needed help when I first visited. Conversely, the food at Rocco's in Thornton Park sorely lacked, but the space was great. When Rocco's closed, I eagerly awaited what would take its place. Wonder of wonders, one of my culinary prayers was answered when I heard through the grapevine that the folks at Blue were taking over the Thornton Park space. Even better, they will be offering Saturday and Sunday brunch. They won't be up and running until March at the earliest, but I'm including it here because I think it's worth keeping an eye on. They're planning what sounds like an eclectic menu of comfort food with a modern twist. I can't wait to see what Foster does with chicken-fried chicken or shrimp and grits. Also in the works is a plan for what they call a dim sum-style brunch, where they'll come around with carts or trays of quick bites to precede the dishes ordered from the menu. Mimosas, sangria and Bloody Marys will abound. The coffee is to be taken seriously. Follow the progress at www.midnightblueorlando.com.
Best brunch for a special occasion
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
1 Grand Cypress Blvd.
Sunday brunch at La Coquina has been a tradition for 20 years strong. This grand buffet at the posh restaurant inside the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress absolutely takes my breath away. From the moment you climb down the Vegas-looking stairs and walk through an ornate wrought-iron tunnel to enter a dining area that overlooks an idyllic pond, you know you're in for something special. The food is top-notch as it should be for $55 per person.
The buffet is set up in a nook of the kitchen usually occupied by a chef's table. All the entrees are chef-inspired creations that beautifully meld breakfast foods with lavish tastes from other meals of the day. We're talking lavender-scented pheasant alongside poached eggs drenched in rich hollandaise. But before you even get to the serving station, feel free to inundate yourself with the grazing items they put out on the tables three kinds of caviar and nine types of cheese (including Ossau Iraty, a strictly AOC sheep's milk cheese from the French Pyrenees that can't be found anywhere else in town). Unlimited champagne and fresh-squeezed orange juice for Mimosas, as well as a decent espresso, top off this meal in style.
Best all-around brunch
290 S. Park Ave.,
When talking about the fare at Luma, I tend to gush. Being food-obsessed, my new favorite topic of conversation is this Winter Park restaurant. For brunch, they have an a la carte menu that covers an inspired range of desires. Chef Todd Immel chose dishes that run the gamut from a scrumptious homemade yogurt ($7) with texture so creamy it's mystifying to sautéed codfish with a perfectly crisp crust and silky white flesh. A testament to the freshness of the ingredients and the innovation of each menu item is that it changes quite often, which makes dining there pleasurable and adventurous. I brunched on the cod with salsa verde and white beans on one visit, only to go back a few weeks later and enjoy cod in sherry sauce. Instead of getting hooked on a dish at Luma, one gets hooked on their style. Other of my brunch favorites have been luxuriant French toast ($11) made from brioche and topped with mascarpone spiked with bananas and maple syrup. This may sound over-the-top for breakfast, but Sunday brunch is no time to be prudent. Lighter fare has been offered, though, in the form of a tasty niçoise salad ($12) and a chicken-salad sandwich ($12) imbued with the essence of truffles. The espresso's just right, and the atmosphere is casual enough to promote lingering.[email protected]