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If there is any subject that divides the U.S. besides politics, it’s brunch. A good number of Americans view it as incomplete unless it’s preceded by the word “bottomless.” Others see it as the world’s most social meal, an opportunity to eat runny eggs, bacon, and day-drink spicy Bloody Marys with an afternoon to recover, or to prolong the party.
The year’s biggest brunch holiday is Mother’s Day. The National Restaurant Association reported that 92 million Americans dined out last Mother’s Day; one-quarter of them went to brunch. (In fact, Mother’s Day is the No. 1 sales day for local restaurants around the country, according to the small business software company womply.com, with venues experiencing a 64 percent increase in sales.)
New York is a famously brunch-obsessed city, and many regard Bubby’s as the best location in town. Chef and owner Ron Silver opened the flagship location in Tribeca in 1990, offering only breakfast and lunch. “My first customer was Isabella Rossellini; my second customer was Blondie [Debbie Harry], and my third was Cindy Lauper,” recounts Silver. “The next day, my first customer was [John F. Kennedy Jr.]”
Bubby’s remains a brunch destination for such people as Chrissy Teigen, who recently took husband John Legend there and applauded its chicken and pancakes.
Mother’s Day is certainly the biggest brunch day of the year for Silver and his wife Melissa: They serve about 950 guests in Tribeca and 995 at their Highline outpost (about 100 people more than on average Sundays).
Experts that they are, the Silvers hereby offer a list of don’t-dos to help guests avoid trouble at brunch.
Unless you’ve set an alarm so you’re sure to be the first inside when the doors open, you probably won’t sit down immediately at the best brunch spots, which often do not accept reservations. “Our average wait for brunch between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. is 45 minutes. We offer seasonal refreshment: hot cider in the winter, maple water in the spring, pink lemonade in the summer. But if you’re hung over, that waiting time feels multiplied. So bring nuts.”
Also, it is widely acknowledged that conversations overheard while waiting in line for brunch are, in technical terms, “the worst.” Ron says not to torture yourself: “Noise-canceling headphones are necessary.”
In his 2000 memorial Kitchen Confidential (Bloomsbury USA, 2000), Anthony Bourdain freaked out a generation of brunch-goers by ranting against the meal, including such observations as “Bacteria love Hollandaise” and worries such as “How long that Canadian bacon has been festering in the walk-in.”
Ron says the attitude is outdated. “It’s so freaking stupid to judge Eggs Benedict like they did 20 years ago. It’s an incredibly beautiful dish: perfect, oozing eggs with warm, buttery, lemony Hollandaise cut into a perfectly crispy piece of cured pork and toasty English muffin. People should be able to eat that dish now without being judged by a dusty association. If you’re worried about the Hollandaise sauce, you probably shouldn’t be at that place, period.”
Cheap-to-prepare brunch menus have become ubiquitous as restaurateurs look for ways to cash in on the country’s love of breakfast food. (There’s even a website to cater to our national obsession: Extracrispy.com.) But this doesn’t mean that a trendy Italian restaurant has a destination brunch. “I don’t like to go to a brunch place without a recommendation from a trusted source,” says Melissa. “I also check Instagram accounts to see the ‘personality’ of the restaurant. Seeing photos of the food and the space is surprisingly useful.”
Ron has an additional set of criteria: Know the playlist. “I would personally stay away from a place that calls out their EDM [electronic dance music] brunch,” he says.
“You should never have to decide between eggs and pancakes,” says Melissa. “Have both. Pancakes are a perfect ‘for-the-table’ dish. It’s one of the few times you can have your dessert in the middle of the meal.” (Writer Lindsay Robertson has laid out an excellent case on behalf of pancakes for the table, or PFTT, over at Marie Claire.) In fact, pancakes are a Bubby’s best-seller; the James Beard version has been on the menu since the place opened, and Bubby’s now sells the mix online.
Just because you love poached eggs, fried chicken, bacon, kale, maple syrup, and chipotle aioli does not mean a dish featuring all of the above has your name on it. “If I have a brunch rule, it’s ‘Stay simple,’” Melissa says. “If I have no idea where I am at brunch, I don’t look at specials, I look at the section with two eggs, over easy, with toast and bacon.” Brunch is a time to play it safe and focus on the fun.
Beyond going with what’s simple, it’s good to have a baseline dish by which to judge all venues. (Helpful when pronouncing: “They have the bestavocado toast.”) For Ron, that dish is huevos rancheros. “You’re seeing it on more menus, with kitchens putting their own spin on it, making a good salsa, sourcing decent tortillas. We make a good one at Bubby’s, with green rice, tortillas from Queens. Corny tortillas are key.”
“I have been cooking brunch for a living since they invented eggs,” says Ron. “What makes brunch great is the smell of coffee and bacon and pancakes when you walk in—the light, the music, the people with messy hair. Brunch is relaxed. There’s a reason we don’t have pitchers of bloody marys. We make nice ones, and we have a flight of mimosas with fresh-pressed juices. But if you’re going to brunch because it’s an extended happy hour, you are not getting the most out of it, believe it or not.”
Some—a lot—of brunchers will disagree with Ron. Bottomless bloody marys or mimosas can represent one of the best drink deals in town. But while they will stave off your hangover for a while, whatever alcohol is being used in the mix is guaranteed to make your headache worse in the long term.
Moreover, you will never walk out of the place having paid just the advertised price for an all-you-can-drink meal. First, if you’re spending all that time to consume extra cocktails, you are likely also ordering additional food. Second, restaurants aren’t serving bottomless anything to be generous. If they’re losing money on cocktails, they’re saving it on food preparation. Those are the kind of places you might want to think twice about ordering the Eggs Benedict.