Image: Cookshop
Cookshop
Even if it weren’t located in one of New York’s trendiest neighborhoods — far west Chelsea, a neighborhood of art galleries and artsy condos straddling the Hudson — Cookshop would still be turning customers away on late Sunday mornings
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updated 10/4/2007 1:10:50 PM ET 2007-10-04T17:10:50

Do real men do brunch? No! Unless, of course, they’re really hungry. That’s the thing about America’s favorite hybrid meal — it’s the perfect occasion for men, women and children to put aside their petty differences and chow down. A family affair, sometimes: “There are two reasons to have brunch,” says Michael Ruhlman, judge on the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef and author of the forthcoming "The Elements of Cooking." “To show a hangover who’s the boss, or because your grandmother’s in town.”

Brunch is that weekly culinary grail of the weekday warrior, who unwittingly or not, counts down the days from Monday to when she (or he) can trade in a bowl of Cheerios and instant decaf for a purple broccoli frittata with Vermont white cheddar and basil pesto, along with a Bloody Mary or two. The man who coined the term was the Brit Guy Beringer; writing in Hunter’s Weekly in 1895, he called the meal “cheerful, sociable and inciting ... it puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

Cheerio to that. But according to Vern Lanegrasse, the New Orleans native known to L.A. radio audiences for years as “The Hollywood Chef,” it was England’s favorite enemy, the French, who brought brunch to New Orleans well before the 19th century, even if they didn’t label it as such. “The French had the idea for a larger meal during the day on Sunday instead of fussing over another big dinner,” he says. Something to consider over Eggs Sardou at Brennan’s, the seasoned chef’s Big Easy brunch favorite and a restaurant that channels well the spirit of New Orleans’ high-calorie heritage.

Traditionally brunch is on Sunday, but there’s no hard and fast rule. Just ask Ruhlman: “Brunch is a good excuse to eat and drink in the middle of a week day,” he says. “It’s a meal with great potential. Some of the things served at brunch are among my favorite things to eat, like Eggs Benedict, or a perfectly-made quiche with bacon and onions, and of course, Bloody Marys. With Eggs Benedict, you’ve got a fatty, salty piece of meat with eggs in an egg-based, fat-laden hollandaise sauce — it’s the start of a good day as far as I’m concerned.”

For Andrew Knowlton, restaurant editor of Bon Appetit, ambience is key: “A good brunch spot should feel like an extension of your own home,” he says. “And for New Yorkers, Prune in the East Village is just that — it’s tiny, warm and one-of-a-kind.” He singles out Prune’s 10 spins on the Bloody Mary, including the Bloody Caesar, a mix of gin, clam juice and a pickled egg “that is just what you need after a late night on the town.”

A restaurant may have a special brunch menu, which tends to be the case on the upscale end of the dining spectrum, or it may serve breakfast late into the day, turning that meal into brunch by default. You can’t have brunch at McDonalds, but at a diner like Du-Pars in Los Angeles, let no one get in fork’s way. Then there’s the five-star diner, which aptly describes New York’s Norma’s, where, according to Steven Pipes, GM of the Parker Meridien Hotel of which the restaurant is a part, “from about 11 a.m. on every day, it’s pretty much about brunch.” Norma’s famously fanciful breakfasts — consider a Caramelized Chocolate Banana Waffle Napoleon — are served daily until 3 p.m. On weekends Norma’s fills up fast with a hip crowd of Manhattanites who never fail to be enticed by Chef Emile Castillo’s creations, starting with his ever-changing array of complimentary frozen fruit “smoothie shots.”

Image: Deluxe Chocolate Bar
The Langham Hotel
The Deluxe Chocolate Bar gained a loyal following over the years at Boston’s Le Meridien Hotel, which became the Langham in 2003.
What about Boston — can it do any better than the bean and the cod? Well, the Athens of America gets downright decadent Saturday afternoons when the chocolate bar opens at the Langham Hotel. A 19-year Boston tradition that’s tastier than any tea party, the Deluxe Chocolate Bar in the Café Fleuri sees Pastry Chef Alejandro Luna trot out more than 125 chocolate desserts, including chocolate crêpes, cakes, fresh baked cookies and doughnuts, milk chocolate passionfruit tarts, chocolate mousse, chocolate fondue waffles and more. (Traditionalists could also opt for the Langham’s terrific Sunday Jazz Brunch.)

Over in Cleveland — you heard correctly, Cleveland — Chef Doug Katz whets diners’ appetites for smokin’ hot brunches at his restaurant Fire. Think braised pork crepes with crème fraiche, Argentinian pepper relish and fried egg, or housemade pancetta with French brie, poached apricots and baby arugula flatbread, or keep it simple with lemon soufflé pancakes with blueberry compote. This is one of The Next Iron Chef judge’s Michael Ruhlman’s top picks.

Jill Davie, Chef de Cuisine at Santa Monica’s Josie as well as co-host of Fine Living TV N

Image: High Cotton
Maverick Southern Kitchens
Genteel Charleston is arguably a southern version of its northern colonial sister, Boston, but one thing that’s sure to bring consensus is the Lowcountry-style Sunday brunch at High Cotton.

etwork’s Shopping with Chefs and Next Iron Chef challenger, is hard-pressed to name just one favorite brunch spot in the City of Angels, but two that rate high on her list include BLD and Joe’s. The former “is a neighborhood kind of place that has an amazing braised shortrib sandwich and delicious plates of cheese and charcuterie (assorted cold cuts like cured Italian speck),” she says. But for a more classic-format brunch that “you dress up more for,” Davie says Joe’s in Venice is the place, where you can’t go wrong by the Maine peeky-toe crab hash with poached eggs, peppers and rosemary mustard sauce, but where her favorite is “the Rösti potato pancake with scrambled eggs, gravlax, crème fraiche, and caviar.”

Delicious as that sounds, no mention of brunch on the West Coast would be complete without something special in San Francisco. For Andrew Knowlton, it’s the Ferry Building Marketplace: “There isn’t a better one-stop spot to assemble the ultimate food-lover’s brunch,” Bon Appetit’s restaurant editor says. “On Saturdays, when the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market is held,” he adds, “you can get scrambled eggs, Hobbs bacon, and tomatoes on an Acme baguette.” And on Sundays? “Not to grab an order of the sugar-coated beignets and a cup of hot chocolate at Boulette's Larder,” Knowlton declares, “would be a crime.”

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