We recently did Sunday brunch with a few friends. During the planning session, we worked out a kind of brunch formula (maybe framework is a better name?) that we realized we’ve been operating under but hadn’t articulated. We decided to write it down, and will likely continue to operate within this framework for future efforts.
Everyone that joined us for this particular brunch was associated with our favorite restaurant, Mise en Place. Dave is the GM and wine manager, Bill is a lead server, Nate is the bar manager (featured in Esquire magazine, btw), and Neal is the maitre’d. Nate’s awesome girlfriend Mary and Neal’s partner (of an amazing 32 years!) Jim rounded out our eight, which we think is the perfect number. We think that it’s the right number for conversation (the chats get unfocused with more), and fits perfectly around the table.
We don’t particularly set out to impress the folks we have over (we’d much rather spend time with friends than guests), we simply want to share with them great food and wine. Even so, it’s particularly liberating to have the Mise folks over, because there’s no temptation to even try to impress. They eat food from a world-class chef every day. It would be a fool’s errand to try to be splashy.
SUNDAY BRUNCH FORMAT
Brunch nominally being a combination of breakfast and lunch, that’s where we started. We simply then added the things we thought rounded out the presentation. I suspect that most of the time we’ll serve brunch buffet-style, as it’s a less formal affair. Folks can sample everything in whatever order they want. One of things we tend to pay attention to is making foods that can last for a few hours. We have a couple of warming dishes and small crock pots, but we’ve leaned toward things that we don’t mind leaving on a plate.
Breakfast Dish: The strong contender for breakfast is the egg dish, whether it’s something straightforward like scrambled eggs (with stuff in them) or a little trickier, like quiche. I suppose at some point we might slide into waffles or pancakes.
Our choice for this one was riffing off of the Vegetable Gouda Cheesecake we’ve done before to great success (starting a dish with 3 bricks of cream cheese usually helps ensure that success). This time, we did it with sautéed fennel, leeks, sausage, and Gruyere. Recipes for this and the dishes that follow will come in the next few days.
Lunch Dish: This can be pretty broad. Think of the kind of things you can have for a traditional lunch, and there you have it. I think we’ve mostly focused on sandwich-like things, but it can also be meat or fish preparations or even stews and soups.
This time we chose to make again smoked turkey and celery root remoulade roll-ups, like we did for our Drink the Allocation Party last year. It’s basically a celery root slaw stuffed into thick slice of turkey, rolled up and sliced. They went pretty quickly.
Vegetable: This is mostly salads and slaws, although there’s some room for things like roasted asparagus (which seems a quite popular brunch dish) or a vegetable sauté of some kind.
We went back and forth over this for a while, debating a panzanella, or a chilled roasted vegetable with some vinaigrette dish, but settled on a Greek Village Salad, which is basically Greek Salad without the lettuce.
Fruit: Generally the simplest of everything we put out, a fresh fruit plate is always a great addition. It’s something that can be picked at for the entire afternoon without worrying about it wilting or getting too cold or too warm.
It’s fresh strawberry season here in Florida, so we had some of those, some pineapple chunks, fresh watermelon, and mango.
Bread: This is anything from biscuits to scones to muffins to fancy breads with stuff in them. We generally make sure that the bread doesn’t repeat what we’re doing if there’s a bread in any other course (like we wouldn’t do biscuits if biscuits and gravy were the breakfast choice).
I had a hankering for cinnamon scones, so we made them and served them with both fresh homemade whipped cream and honey butter.
Miscellaneous: The “other” choice is for stretching out into something that we want to try but might not fit into another category, either something we have a strong desire to make or something that’s been a hit previously. It’s where we can get seriously creative.
The choice here was savory palmiers with goat cheese, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes ,and pesto, which we love but haven’t had in a while. They went really quickly.
Dessert: Rich and heavy, or airy and light, there is quite a bit of freedom in sweets. It’s all about setting the kind of tone you want.
This time, it was mostly about the strawberries. We did a deconstructed trifle, simply making a dark chocolate cake, soaking the strawberries in Grand Marnier (instead of Amaretto), and using the same whipped cream that was available for the scones.
Drinks: We go back and forth about brunch drinks all the time—do we try to pair something with the courses, or do we just open something that we want to drink? We lean toward the latter because of the buffet-style serving, but we end up with a fair number of happy coincidences as well, as we open a number of things and let folks pair up with what they’re currently eating. For non-alcoholic stuff, we always have some fruit juices and V-8, and the coffee machine is primed to make both regular coffee and espresso. When folks ask if they can bring something, we usually tell them that a bottle of something they’d like to share is the right choice.
We went a little overboard this time. We knew we wanted to open the one magnum of 2008 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir that we had stowed away for a special occasion (and what’s more special than brunching with friends?). Mary and Nate brought “breakfast beer,” an offering from Cigar City Brewing, which is brown ale with vanilla, cacao, and espresso added. It was far lighter than you might imagine, and an interesting way to start off a Sunday morning. Neal and Jim brought four bottles of a favorite Chardonnay, the crisp and light 2010 from Block 577 (we drank three of them), which went really nicely with several courses. Then it got kind of insane. Dave and Bill showed up with a box of wine (and not boxed wine), to include 2009 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2009 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah, 2008 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella, 2009 Jiménez Landi Méntrida Ataulfos, 2010 A.P. Vin Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard, 2008 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Durell Vineyard, and 2006 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo, the latter being the only one we didn’t consume. We finished the day in the Whisky Room, sipping some 1927 Pedro Ximenez Solera. Fortunately, designated drivers had already been nominated, so everyone made it safely home.
Formatting the brunch menu provides us with a nice structure for ensuring we have a broad selection of dishes, a breadth of types of foods and tastes, and makes it far easier to plan a menu. We hope that you can use it (modified to suit your own tastes, obv) to help make the brunches you make equally memorable.