Brunch Drunk Love: The Hungover Origins of Your Favorite Meal
A recent Top Chef episode challenged the chef-testants to combine breakfast and lunch dishes to fuse elements of two meals into one. To 21st-century diners, the so-called challenge wasn't an impossible task to be mastered only by the most talented culinary geniuses, but rather an accessible execution of a favorite weekend pastime: Brunch.
While it seems that brunch has surged in popularity in the past decade, with everything from ramen to pizza becoming brunch-ified (put an egg on it!), the origins of brunch run long.
Just a year after eggs Benedict was created in New York City (1894) and long before the rainbow bagel and red velvet pancakes, Englishman Guy Beringer officially dubbed the hybrid of breakfast and lunch, brunch, in an 1895 article he wrote for Hunter’s Weekly. The essay, titled '”Brunch: A Plea,” urged Beringer’s fellow Brits to scrap the traditional post-church Sunday meal traditionally loaded with heavy meats and dense pies and to instead create a new, more fun (especially for those who had a debaucherous Saturday night) meal uniting lighter breakfast items with more substantial foods, according to a 1998 New York Times article.
Unfortunately, Beringer’s legendary menu-changing column for Hunter’s Weekly (which went out of print shortly after brunch was dubbed a legitimate term) is not available on the internet, but the Times quotes Beringer, "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."
Not only would this meal be a chance to swap stories from the previous night’s transgressions (or lack thereof), but the pastries and all around enjoyable fare would be soothing to a hangover. The term brunch, however, took a while to win over the residents of the United Kingdom. Would an earlier brunch be more of a breakfast while a later brunch constitute more of a traditional lunch? In August 1896, the British periodical Punch published an article titled "Fashionable and Seasonable," debating the concept of brunch, as a trend and a meal:
Brunch v. Blunch! According to the Lady, to be fashionable nowadays we must 'brunch.' Truly an excellent portmanteau word, introduced; by the way, last year, by Mr. Guy Beringer, in the now defunct Hunter's Weekly, and indicating a combined breakfast and lunch. At Oxford, however, two years ago, an important distinction was drawn. The combination-meal when nearer the usual breakfast hour, is 'brunch' and, when nearer to luncheon, is 'blunch.' Please don't forget this.
The term "blunch" was indeed forgotten, though it took almost 30 years for the inception of the long-lasting brunch to cross the pond into the United States.
Coinciding with Prohibition and the raging late-night, booze-fueled parties of the rich, brunch became a way to eat off your hangover (and maybe enjoy some more Champagne) in 1920s America. Overlapping with the now-popular Sunday meal came the advent of the Bloody Mary, which was either created at the notorious New York speakeasy 21 Club or Harry’s American Bar in Paris.
Thanks to alcohol being taboo, drinking in broad daylight following a night of drinking became even more popular at this time. Easy-drinking cocktails like the Mimosa, Bellini and Greyhound were popularized. As Farha Ternikar writes in her book Brunch: A History, “By the end of Prohibition, the upper class had incorporated daytime drinking into their lives,” though there was still a stigma for the middle class, especially women, to drink during the day. Working women, however, were encouraged by newspapers and cookbooks to relish in weekend breakfasts, unlike the rushed morning meals of the weekdays, and prepare a lavish feast at home, i.e., a brunch, with the extra time to relax on weekends.
Thus, brunch became not only a social event outside of home activity, but also a way for homemakers and professionals alike to unwind and enjoy some carefree eggs and pancakes before the start of another busy week.
As the taboo against day drinking faded, brunch still remained an activity of the privileged classes, those with extra weekend time and disposable income to spend money on pricey brunch cocktails and lavish French toast creations. A 2015 dive into brunch’s divisiveness (and deliciousness) by the Washington Post, however, didn’t find a strong correlation between a state’s median income and its population’s interest in brunch. The strongest demographic correlation, looking at age, income, region and religion, was between Jewish people and brunch: States with the highest Jewish populations brunched more. While this can’t be interpreted to mean Jewish people are brunching more or have an affinity for brunch more than other cultures, Eastern European Jewish culture is responsible for some of the finest brunch foods known today: Bagels, lox and blintzes all hail from Ashkenazi Jewish culture, long predating Beringer’s 1895 proclamation of brunch as a legitimate meal.
Today’s chefs are notoriously dubious about brunch: It’s time-consuming (eggs must be cooked to order) and adds another shift for workers who may be tired from Saturday night’s shift. Because of the extra labor involved—this isn’t just another dinner shift—restaurants often launch brunch menus months or even years after opening. Lady’s NYC, a trendy Brooklyn pizza and homemade pasta restaurant that opened in December 2016, added brunch at the end of February for two main reasons: Finance and fun.
“Rent in New York City is high and any chance for a restaurant to make money can't be ignored,” Lady’s chef Aaron Harsha said of the decision to add brunch. “[And] brunch is fun. You don't have the same restrictions you have at dinner and you get to be a little more playful.” Harsha said he had no hesitations about “doing brunch” at his restaurants, although “getting it going is always a trying process.”
How do you craft a brunch menu? “You have to make sure there is something for everyone, and at brunch, that means eggs,” said Harsha. His own creation, baked eggs with butter-roasted tomatoes, braised chicken and polenta is exactly what he wants when hungover. Who wouldn’t?
Whether you’re brunching among friends at the trendiest breakfast-lunch mashup spot in town this weekend, or cooking up a one-pot bacon-egg-potato casserole from a Pinterest board of brunch recipes, you can thank a drunk Englishman for your favorite meal of the week. Bottoms up.