By
Travel & Leisure
updated 1/27/2012 3:19:36 PM ET 2012-01-27T20:19:36

If everybody’s working for the weekend, then brunch is our reward. Unlike grab-and-go breakfast, the best brunches are drawn-out, indulgent meals in good company that inspire you to shake off those covers and then linger over another round of Bloody Marys.

British author Guy Beranger got it right back in 1895 when he set forth “Brunch: A Plea” in a Hunter’s Weekly article suggesting a late-morning meal instead of the traditional, post-church dinner. “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” he wrote. “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.”

America’s best brunch spots deliver that kind of pick-me-up first and foremost through their food, whether it’s reinterpreting classics, highlighting regional flavors, or simply churning out the most delectable comfort dishes around. But atmosphere counts, too, as does the approval of locals. In San Francisco, that can mean satisfying cravings for fresh goat cheese on toast with lavender oil, while a New Orleans spot specializes in Cajun-inspired fare like hearty sweet potato and duck hash with a cornbread waffle. Other brunch restaurants even rethink the Pop-Tart.

“I think it’s fun to be creative with dishes other than what’s offered on our dinner menu,” says Kim Leali, a sous chef at Chicago ’s Publican, which is decorated with corpulent hog portraits (its message seems clear: pig out). “At brunch, I’m not afraid to mix it up with a Korean or Moroccan-based dish.” That means adventurous diners can bypass the quiche or gingerbread for braised lamb with fried egg, golden turnips, house-made flatbread, and piri-piri.

Yet not all chefs look forward to brunch time. In his nonfiction book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain, a former line cook, called brunch “punishment” for the B-team cooks (whose supervision is at a minimum) and a “dumping ground” for the week’s leftovers. For diners, it’s the possibility of crowds or a long wait that can be the biggest brunch turnoff. But these brunch haters remain a vocal minority pushing against the tide of enthusiasm expressed by Beranger and by present-day fans on sites like iheartbrunch.com and brunchlove.com.

In their celebratory spirit, here are the coast-to-coast spots most likely to cheer up everyone in your brunch party.

Locally sourced comfort food is the name of the game at this chic Atlanta hotspot, with a vibe that will simultaneously make you feel like you’re in an inviting family dining room and a hip lounge. Expect satisfying dishes like breakfast corn dogs (made with sausage and served with rich truffle honey mustard); french toast bread pudding; or the “ultimate pancake”, stuffed with sausage, smoked bacon, and scrambled egg.

Standout Dish: If you’re here, go for the glory and order up the “Big Nasty”. What can you expect? A fried chicken breast topped with eggs, bacon, and cheddar cheese, all sandwiched between brioche bread. —Joshua Pramis

Copyright © 2012 Amex

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