Cure the Brrrr of January With Brunch

Popular places like Hopscotch, Aunt Mary’s, Grand Lake Kitchen, Boot and Shoe Service, Flora, Portal, and Brown Sugar Kitchen serve brunch on Saturdays, too.


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Chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen.

File photo by Stephen Loewinsohn

As winter’s first full month, January brings outdoors chills, gray skies, soggy sod, and an occasional case of the cold-weather blues. But it also brings the NFL playoffs and no better time to sleep in and eat out late on weekends.

The word brunch is a portmanteau, a $50-dollar linguistics term for combining two words—in this case, breakfast and lunch—to form a single concept. According to Wikipedia, “Brunch originated in England in the late 19th century and became popular in the United States in the 1930s.” If you think brunch seems mundane, consider the alternative, which would have been lunfast.

Brunch has conventions, but no absolutes. Sundays were the original and traditional choice. But today, popular places like Hopscotch, Aunt Mary’s, Grand Lake Kitchen, Boot and Shoe Service, Flora, Portal, and Brown Sugar Kitchen serve on Saturdays also. While spots like Tamarindo and Cosecha serve on Saturdays only. And other eateries are beginning to offer weekday brunch.

Another convention is the split between buffets versus menu offerings. The former emulates cruise ships and Vegas casinos: endless steam tables and hotel pans offering a bounty of dishes, punctuated by omelet and carving stations. The latter offers a selection of breakfast and lunch dishes—often at restaurants not serving breakfast.

Classically an after-church event—or a rationalization for a Silver Fizz or Bloody Mary before noon—brunch is a preferred way to celebrate special occasions: a birthday, a baptism, or an anniversary.

My earliest brunch recollection from the early 1950s was every Mother’s Day when Dad sprang for an elegant—and somewhat pricey—meal in the East Bay hills. The place was a noted Berkeley wanna-be, trapped in the body of an Oakland landmark.

Since 1915, the Claremont Hotel has provided elegance and panoramic views, alongside barons of beef sliced by toqued chefs in white jackets. Initially, male customers wore coats and ties, with women attired in hats and white gloves. Attire has changed, but the fine-dining elements and prices remain at this granddame of East Bay hospitality at Meritage.

In years past, Alameda jokingly was called “the island of the newly wed and the nearly dead.” Demographics have changed, and Alameda provides destination dining for gourmands. For a south-of-the-border approach, try the brunch buffet at Otaez, on Webster Street, where dual food lines feature American fare on one side and Mexican/Tex-Mex on the other—including unlimited servings of a rich menudo, for those who appreciate this breakfast soup and hangover cure.

For an Asian brunch twist, consider dim sum at an Alameda powerhouse, East Ocean Seafood Restaurant. What appears to be a meager Webster Street storefront opens into an elegant dining area, banquet rooms, and fresh seafood tanks. See for yourself. While you are on Ninth Street in Oakland’s Chinatown, Peony Seafood Restaurant offers dim sum in elegant surroundings. Both serve daily from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

On the Contra Costa County side of the Caldecott Tunnel, there’s a new American sleeper in Walnut Creek. The name may not be a household word, but the location should be: In the former Bing Crosby’s at Broadway Plaza, Corners Tavern offers value-priced food and drinks at happy hour and now lures customers to Sunday mornings for unique American offerings, in both the bar and dining room.

 

This report appears in the January edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Jan. 17, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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