I hate brunch. There, I said it. (Good thing I’m not the restaurant critic on the Montreal Gazette’s dining-out team.)
Armed with nostalgia and a selective memory, people wax poetic about leisurely mornings in cute cafés with impeccable food — freshly baked bread toasted just right, homemade jam, perfectly roasted coffee, hand-squeezed orange juice and eggs so golden you’d think the hen had a side gig hosting a Gwyneth Paltrow video series on Zen living.
But when was the last time you actually loved a restaurant brunch? The last time you didn’t just shrug and say it was “all right” as you downed your second bloody mary or chewed a cold, soggy piece of toast? Plenty of things are all right. Checkers are all right. The Alouettes are all right. But you don’t leave your house on a weekend in search of mediocrity.
Why I hate brunch
1. The food. Is it breakfast food or lunch food? Sweet or savoury? Make up your mind, brunch!
2. Brunch is essentially meal robbery. Why would you want two meals instead of three? No marketing firm would use the line “Brunch: two-thirds the fun!”
3. Lineups. Spending your relaxing weekend waiting in line is not relaxing. Even worse: waiting in line for mediocre eggs, because …
4. … eggs are a big deal, and they’re usually as tasteless as they are ethically questionable. There exist, I’m told, amazing eggs that were grown under happy chickens, with yolks cooked to a subjectively perfect 62.5 C. But more often they’re woefully under- or over-cooked (though my heart goes out to poor brunch chefs with the Sisyphean task of pleasing everyone).
5. By the time you arrive at the restaurant, you’re starving — a problem that’s compounded when you have to wait in line (see No. 3) — which means you’ll inevitably overindulge on a swirling mass of carbohydrates and bacon grease.
6. Sugar. Even if the orange juice is freshly pressed and the sparkling wine is top-quality (which it probably isn’t), all those pastries, jams, syrups, compotes, potatoes, bread and drinks — with or without alcohol — make for a day spent swimming through mental goop. Not the Paltrow kind.
7. Intolerances. I admit I’m probably jaded because I feel left out. I’m gluten and lactose intolerant, I don’t feel well after consuming eggs or anything caffeinated, and I avoid pork and beef unless the animal lived a better life than I have (e.g., anything from Larrys). So there’s not much on a brunch menu that I can eat. Even 100-per-cent buckwheat crêpes are no fun without syrup, chocolate, ham or cheese. At least I’m not a vegan at a non-vegan restaurant. Would you like some toast with your toast?
8. The fruit conundrum. You obviously don’t want that mini-ramekin of under-ripe pineapple and oxidized apple, but if you don’t eat it, it’s straight into the garbage (or, optimistically, the compost).
9. Price. Two eggs, some toast and a sorry excuse for fruit for $17? Have you broken down those food costs? Jonah Kimmel has. The former chef of Arts Café, home of some of the city’s best benedicts, breakfast sandwiches and shakshouka, says: “Brunch rarely generates the same amount of additional sales (read: alcohol) as any other service, so the price point increases.” Restaurants have salaries, rent and operational costs to pay, sure, but throw in an entire pineapple and you’re still better off staying home and frying up your own feast for less than $4 a person.
10. Kitchen Confidential. Brunch menus are “a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights or for the scraps generated in the normal course of business,” Anthony Bourdain wrote in 2000 in his restaurant tell-all. Hollandaise? “A veritable petri dish of biohazards” that could be sitting at room temperature for hours, he wrote. Well, there goes the meal.
If you don’t enjoy waiting forever, watching your (or someone else’s) kids screaming, or the couple at the table across from you fighting after a few too many Bellinis (which you wish had some real goshdarn peach in them), then make brunch at home. Put some bread in the toaster. It knows how toasted you like it. Make pancakes. Consider buying an immersion circulator if you always over- or under-cook your eggs. Then sit and enjoy as long as you like. Nobody’s rushing you to pay so they can clean for the next guest. You’re the next guest. And you can have anything on the menu.
Five worthwhile Montreal brunches
If you’re eating out, there are some options that won’t lead to disappointment.
1. The stacked French toast at Leméac (1045 Laurier Ave. W.; restaurantlemeac.com). Now that’s a thing of beauty.
2. Tacos from Tacos Frida (4350 Notre-Dame St. W.; tacosfrida.ca). Savoury and satisfying, with nary an egg in sight.
3. The salade niçoise at Le Tartarin in Jean-Talon Market. It’s hearty, cheap and comes with homemade soup. And it’s brunch, not lunch, because people nearby are having crêpes and smoothies.
4. The Outremont Première Moisson’s demi-ficelle with butter and homemade blueberry jam, to be dipped in a small pot of rich, thick and dairy-free chocolat chaud à l’ancienne. The first morning meal I ate in Montreal, pre-intolerances, more than a decade ago. Not all locations offer it; the Outremont branch is at 1271 Bernard Ave.
5. The traditional Turkish breakfasts at Mirazu (5215 St-Laurent Blvd.; restaurantmirazu.ca). There’s a $17 tahin pekmez (the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of Turkey, featuring juicy grape molasses on brioche with tahini, walnuts and pistachios), and $20-per-person sharing platters that include olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh white kaymak cheese plopped in a bowl of honey through which you drag toasted breads (preferably simit, but Mirazu’s hand-rolled, all-you-can-eat pafik flatbread will do), and menemen — scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions and heaps of olive oil. It’s just like in Istanbul — city of hospitality, food overindulgence … and brunch-lovers.