Brunch was big in the ’80s, overhyped in the ’90s, maligned in the aughts. But now chefs are making it truly great.

By Kate Krader
Updated May 23, 2017

Brunch was big in the ’80s, overhyped in the ’90s, maligned in the aughts. But now chefs are making it truly great.

I've always gone out for brunch for reasons that had more to do with spicy Bloody Marys than with food. I obsess endlessly about where to eat dinner; at brunch, all the menus seemed the same.

Now, brunch wins my award for Most Improved Meal. Chefs had already rethought burgers and fried chicken and all the other comfort-food standards; likewise, they’d made breakfast-for-dinner a trend. Bringing that ingenuity to brunch was logical for restaurants that take comfort food seriously. “I spent 99 percent of my career working in fine dining,” says Lincoln Carson, whois making killer pimento cheese muffins at Superba Food + Bread in Los Angeles. “When you’re trying to garner Michelin stars, you have no interest in brunch.”

These days, brunch is everywhere, at places as diverse as the ambitious Italian spot Nico Osteria in Chicago and Manhattan’s groovy Caribbean hangout Miss Lily’s. It’s even become a meal that chefs look forward to. At Puritan & Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Will Gilson works the egg station every Sunday, making outstanding breakfast sandwiches on scallion biscuits. “At night I don’t cook; I finish all the plates,” he says. “At brunch there’s no sous vide and no immersion circulators. I can have more fun. And I see customers in the daylight; it’s a whole new world.”

Reinvented Benedict: Reuben Benedict
This spin on eggs Benedict from Josh Habiger at Nashville’s Pinewood Social has all the beloved elements of a Reuben sandwich. Besides corned beef, sauerkraut and rye toast, he makes a Thousand Island–style hollandaise sauce.

Reinvented Biscuits: Ham-and-Cheddar Scallion Biscuit Sandwiches
“Scallions are so great with eggs,” says Will Gilson, chef at Puritan & Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He adds them to the biscuits he fills with ham, cheddar and fried eggs; they’re one reason the breakfast sandwich is so good.

Reinvented Pancakes: Coconut Pancakes
For brunch at Miss Lily’s in Manhattan, chef Adam Schop sprinkles a little shredded coconut onto the pancake batter as it cooks on the griddle, so the coconut gets nicely toasted. The finished pancakes get a layer of extra coconut before serving.

Reinvented Granola: Candied Ginger, Coconut and Quinoa Granola
“Quinoa gives granola a nice, unconventional little crunch,” says Amanda Rockman, pastry chef at Chicago’s Nico Osteria and the force behind many of the hotel restaurant’s great brunch dishes. She serves her granola with creamy ricotta; plain yogurt is great, too.

Reinvented Muffins: Pimento Cheese Muffins
At Superba Food + Bread in Los Angeles, brunch prep starts at 2:30 a.m., when the bakers arrive. Some of the most popular items are these muffins, into which chef Lincoln Carson bakes a nugget of pimento cheese. This version features the pimento cheese ingredients mixed in, so you get cheesy, peppery flavors in every bite.

Reinvented Quiche: Roasted Brussels Sprout and Gruyère Quiche
Seasonal quiche is a favorite on the new brunch menu at Cakes & Ale in Decatur, Georgia. Among chef Billy Allin’s winter favorites is this one, packed with brussels sprouts and cheese.