My Name Is Jason and I Used to Hate Brunch
Brunch has undergone a renaissance in the Twin Cities. Food critic Jason DeRusha picks his top spots for brunch this year.
Photo by Jason DeRusha
I was a card-carrying member of the "I hate brunch" club. This 2014 New York Times article called "Brunch Is For Jerks" summed up most of my feelings: too crowded, too drunk, too much crappy food. My bigger issue was that the brunch menus in town were not representative of the food served at the restaurant for dinner. Everyone had an eggs benedict, a huevos rancheros, an overcooked omelette. Brunch is home of the "put an egg on it and it's breakfast" school of thought. And midday Saturday/Sunday is a good time for me (as someone who has a job outside of food writing) to sample new restaurants.
But something changed recently. Restaurants started caring about brunch. More than just bottomless mimosas (why do people ruin good champagne with all that orange juice, anyway?), these menus were made to capture the spirit of the restaurant.
It started, for me, with Saint Dinette. You can get a lot of the regular menu during Saint Dinette's brunch (the bone marrow, dumplings, bologna, the octopus, and cheeseburger), which makes you feel like you're really experiencing Saint Dinette. But there's also a killer bagel with lox, legit beignets, and a salted-caramel French toast.
Then Bellecour's brunch took it to the next level. Again, much of the regular menu is here: oysters, fish towers, salads, and that French onion soup, which may be the city's best value at $6. But the main brunch plates feel like Bellecour. Breakfast foods and French bistro go together fairly seamlessly, but the Florentine eggs (poached with spinach, smoked ham, and served in grilled bread), the bacon and gruyere quiche lorraine, and the duck confit crepe with madeira mushrooms and fried duck egg are all swoon-worthy. Plus Diane Yang's incredible basket of pastries from the patisserie.
Martina/Photos By Jason DeRusha
2018's best new restaurants also are bringing us the best versions of brunch. Martina might be the chart-topper: Some of the best dinner food is here (are we sensing a theme in what makes me happy?), but it feels different in the beautiful light of day. The lobster toast with fried egg, tarragon, and celery is worth every bit of its $22 price tag. Charred-avocado wheatgrass bruschetta takes avo toast to the next level with pickled shrimp and shallots. And get the side of potato churros, inspired by McDonald's hash browns. And the cocktails! Marco Zappia's drinks are as beautiful as they are delicious.
Hai Hai Fried Chicken/photo by Jason DeRusha
Hai Hai is also new, and brunch tastes like Hai Hai! Which is awesome! Yes, some things on the menu are just dinner items with eggs on them—the fried-rice cakes, the crispy rice salad—but there's also a fabulous fried potato hash with an incredible lime-leaf tofu sauce. Plus, the Viet meatball banh mi, the Thai fried chicken, and the papaya salad all reflect the spirit of the restaurant.
Hai Hai drinks/photo by Jason DeRusha
For drinks, too: the Bloody Mary is amazing—elevated with the pleasant funk of fish sauce.
Grand Cafe donuts and avocado toast/photos by Jason DeRusha
Grand Cafe was always a favorite brunch spot of mine, but chef Jamie Malone has made it one of the best brunch spots in the Upper Midwest. The chicken-liver brioche donuts might even be better than the famous dinner version on the cover of Food & Wine magazine. The avocado toast is glorious, and the brown-butter dressing on the spinach salad is insanely good (also on the dinner menu). We loved it so much we already have a reservation to go back with another couple soon. It's light and lovely and beautifully composed and full of flavor—just like Grand Cafe at dinnertime!
That's the key! These five brunches all feel like their restaurants, instead of brunch as an afterthought. It's about a smartly designed menu with a nod to daytime hours and sensibilities. I've been converted from a hater to a lover: Here's to more fantastic brunches!