Brunch started out in such a simple and utilitarian fashion: On the weekends, why stress about waking up super-early to eat breakfast? Why not sleep in and combine two of the three daily meals into one leisurely meal?
The meal, which some say came into being in late-19th-century England, was popularized in the United States in the 1930s. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Hollywood celebrities, training their way across the nation for work, stopped off in Chicago for a late-morning meal. With most restaurants closed on Sundays, hotel dining rooms embraced the opportunity and turned the Sunday one-off into a weekly ritual, offering lavish meals paired with cocktails like the bloody mary and the mimosa.
Today brunch is so popular, it's used as a verb, as in: "I'm brunching at this new spot in Wynwood." Most restaurants in Miami offer brunch, but to score in the brunch game, you have to offer more than eggs and bottomless mimosas.
Michael Beltran, who offers brunch at his Coconut Grove restaurant Ariete (3540 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove, 305-640-5862; arietecoconutgrove.com), says a brunch must be creative — and fun. His advice for fellow chefs: Care about brunch and don't phone it in. "If you're just going to have the salmon Benedict, don't do that. And learn how to cook eggs. Egg cookery is an art. You should pay attention to the egg, because it is incredibly delicious. Also, don't source lousy eggs."
Beltran, who says he could eat breakfast for every meal, understands that a good brunch should include the best of breakfast and lunch. And, although there are standard items on most brunch menus like avocado toast and a burger, the menu should be true to the restaurant's general style of dining. For instance, Beltran offers a frita Benedict. "I used to hate Benedicts, then I turned my favorite burger into one. They're amazing, but they'll make you super-sleepy. But it's the weekend, so it's perfectly acceptable to go home and take a nap after."
The Ariete chef, who is working on a brunch menu for his other restaurant, Navé, says the best part of brunch is that it's enjoyed by everyone. "The truth is, if you have a good brunch, you tap into a whole different part of the community you might not have before. During the weekend, we'll get families in when we open and then at 2 p.m. for bottomless mimosas and a great time."
Phuc Yea (7100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-602-3710; phucyea.com) partner Aniece Meinhold likes her brunch in a beautiful outdoor setting. "We live in Miami and there's something about being in the open air and having a glass of Champagne or a cocktail in my hand that's so enjoyable."
The restaurateur calls brunch more of a sensory experience than one purely about the food — although that plays a large part in the afternoon. "Obviously, food is important, but this is a time to be with the people that I love. I have a tendency to go to places that are lively and fun — like Novikov, Mila, or Bakan."
Meinhold wants brunchgoers at Phuc Yea to have a complete experience. "We focus on all aspects of the restaurant," she says. "More than ever, people are leaving their houses because they want to be entertained."
To Meinhold, that means creating the right playlist, adjusting the lighting in the dining room just so, and offering carefully crafted cocktails — and dollar oysters. ("Have a cocktail and throw back some oysters while you decide what you're going to eat.")
Phuc Yea's brunch plays like a "best of" of chef/partner Cesar Zapata's career greatest hits, including biscuits made famous at Zapata and Meinhold's former restaurant The Federal, fried chicken báhn mì (a brunch-only offering), in addition to Phuc Yea's regular dinner menu. Meinhold says brunch has become playtime for people who can't — or won't — go out and party at night. "Brunch is a time for 30-plus-year-olds to celebrate," says the restaurateur. "Day drinking is a thing for full-fledged adults."
Celebration is the key word at the R House (2727 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-576-0201; rhousewynwood.com) weekend drag brunch, says partner Owen Bale. "You walk in the door and there's this excitement and this celebration vibe. There's something about the performers that make you welcome. Everyone's coming to have drinks and great food and enjoy."
Bale and his partner, Rocco Carulli, took great pains to make sure the drag brunch could take place safely during COVID-19. They increased the outdoor space and mandated masks and social distancing for customers and performers alike.
That doesn't stop the fun, though.
"The afternoon is about total escapism," says Bale. "You're watching these fantasy beings portray Ariana Grande and Gloria Estefan. You're transported into another world. This is a full-on show — and there are so few of those right now."
Carulli and Bale have also introduced a new family-style brunch menu that includes items like a croissant breakfast Cuban sandwich, pulled pork and scrambled eggs, cayenne fried chicken, carne asada, quinoa salad, and guava French toast. The brunch, offered for $50 per person, includes unlimited mimosas and options for vegans. "It's a massive upgrade in quality and sophistication," Bale promises.
Sophistication is the word of the day at Osaka Nikkei Miami (1300 Brickell Bay Dr., Miami; 786-627-4800; osakanikkei.com). The lofty — and pricey — brunch features dishes specially created by chef Juan Alfonso Urrutia for the weekend meal.
"Sunday brunch has become a ritual for diners," says the chef. "My goal was to create a menu that hit all of the right balancing notes brunchgoers seek out, by offering a solid mix of breakfast-style items with a hint of Japanese and Peruvian influence."
A prime example is the avocado brasa, a charred avocado with poached eggs and aji amarillo hollandaise. It's a creation that elevates the classic avocado toast to unsurpassed heights.
In the end, a memorable brunch is a meal that feeds more than the stomach while allowing friends to get together to break bread, says Urrutia.
"We are committed to stimulating your senses in various ways. This includes the look of a dish, the smell, the taste, the textures and the interaction as a whole with the ambiance and the staff. As a chef, I learned early on that it is essential to offer a feast of all of the senses and not just the palate."