Let's Do Brunch

Let’s Do BrunchMixing fine food and fellowship, brunch is the hottest meal on the Emerald Coast

By Lori Hutzler Eckert 

While breakfast is often heralded as the most important meal of the day, brunch should be considered the most pleasurable. Bridging breakfast and lunch, this combined repast is as much about savoring food as it is about enjoying time spent with friends and family on a relaxed weekend morning.

Exactly who is to be credited with defining and naming brunch is a continued discussion for food historians, although all seem to agree the origin was in England during the 1890s. One popular assumption claims the term was slang, coined by university students. Yet another theory states the first reference to the meal was in Hunters’ Weekly, noting a feast enjoyed by game sportsman returning from a hunt late in the morning, ready for a hearty meal.

By the 1930s, brunch became a menu offering in America, but it was found mostly in luxury hotels. The meal was intended for the privileged class, as it consisted of a lavish spread requiring much preparation and expense.


On the menu

Its beginnings aside, the brunch menu gained its popularity by offering fairly consistent fare, a melding of items that many foodies consider to be the best of both derivative meals. Traditionally, brunch has included fruit, pastries, a variety of hot and cold meats and eggs prepared in almost every imaginable fashion.

(Coincidentally, eggs Benedict, a dish that is often the most favored of brunch entrées, was also created in the 1890s.)

Today’s brunch is often enjoyed on Saturday or Sunday, as an hour or two reserved for lingering indulgence. Add live jazz entertainment, a popular musical accompaniment to brunch, and a morning cocktail, and the experience can pleasantly last well into the afternoon.

On the Emerald Coast, brunch has become a popular draw for many restaurants. Tina Ivanchukov, who owns Big City American Bistro with her husband Jim Garrison, said they decided to offer brunch service two years ago as an option to their regular lunch and dinner menus. Ivanchukov, who believes that brunch is a growing trend locally, said, “I know that we keep getting busier and busier on Sundays, consistently.”

She said their success with brunch is also, in part, due to a wide selection of items. “Our brunch gives people the variety they are looking for. For one set price, there are so many choices.”

Big City American Bistro’s brunch – named Best Brunch in the 2006 Best of the Emerald Coast awards – features a dozen salads, two soups, fish, pasta, vegetables, quiche, bacon, sausage, pancakes, an omelet station, a meat-carving station, about 15 desserts and more.

Added to the exceptional menu, Ivanchukov said the Big City staff strives to enhance the experience of brunch, focusing on the social aspect of the meal, and not just the food.

“Brunch makes people feel special. Your day is free, you have no obligations and you are not being rushed.”

Executive Chef John Carey, who oversees all the food and beverage services at the Hilton Sandestin Golf Beach Resort & Spa, including brunch at Sandcastles restaurant, agrees that this mid-day meal is meant to be leisurely enjoyed with others.

“Brunch is like a comfort-food thing. People don’t appear to be in a hurry at all. They get together and come to brunch to catch up and enjoy the day,” he said.

Brunch is served at Sandcastles every Sunday and features a vast offering of traditional foods as well as some specialty dishes and Gulf Coast favorites, such as herb-roasted pork loin with a wild-mushroom and Madeira sauce, cream-of-artichoke soup, shrimp scampi, several vegetables and salads, and the hotel’s most popular dish, shrimp-and-crab-stuffed grouper.


Make it over easy

Variety, such as the menus offered at Big City American Bistro and the Hilton Sandestin, are a hallmark of brunch; however, creating the meal at home can be greatly simplified and still offer an elegant and enjoyable experience.

Whether preparing brunch for an intimate gathering or a large celebration, keeping the selection down to three or four menu items is key for success. A smaller menu allows for the food to be fresh and the host to spend time out of the kitchen, as Chef Carey pointed out.

The next step is determining the serving preference. Brunch can be served seated, or buffet-style, which is quite common. But just because the meal is served on a sideboard, doesn’t mean it has to be casual.

Fresh flowers, cloth table covers and napkins, crystal stemware, china and silver serving pieces are acceptable for a brunch buffet.

For the menu, Ivanchukov suggests keeping the selection understated with a traditional slant. “I would suggest quiche, because you can do different twists on quiche,” she said.

To the quiche, a simple French egg recipe served in a pastry shell, add bacon and spinach, ham and chèvre cheese, or mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and Swiss cheese. The savory pie can even be made ahead, frozen and then baked shortly before guests arrive.

Complete the menu with warm muffins or croissants, a tossed green salad with a sweet poppy-seed dressing or a citrus-based vinaigrette and bacon or sausage and the simple but tasty meal is set.

Complement the food with a variety of beverage options, such as coffee, chilled fruit juices and sparkling water. And for a more festive brunch, consider adding the choice of a spicy bloody Mary or sophisticated champagne drink, mixed with fresh squeezed orange juice or a high-quality cranberry juice.

To end the afternoon on a sweet note, serve an uncomplicated dessert, such as mixed berries over angel food cake with fresh whipped cream, a selection of cookies or a basic chocolate fondue with strawberries and cubed pound cake.

Crab Stuffed Grouper
(Sandcastles at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa)

4 7-ounce grouper filets
1 pint heavy cream
4 ounces butter
4 ounces flour
12 large peeled shrimp, cooked
1 cup crab stuffing*
2 ounces lobster base*
3 ounces sherry wine

Heat butter in a heavy pan, add flour and cook on low for 8 minutes. Slowly add cream and sherry wine, whisking until smooth. Add lobster base and salt and pepper to taste.  Season grouper with salt and pepper and top with crabmeat stuffing. Bake at 400 degrees until tender. Top with cooked shrimp and sauce.
*Recipes for lobster base and crab stuffing can be found online, or both items can be purchased at specialty food stores.

(Big City American Bistro)

3 eggs
1½ cups heavy cream
2 ounces ham
3 ounces cheese, shredded
¼ cup chives, chopped
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

In large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until scrambled. Add the heavy cream, stirring to combine. To the mixture, add the remaining ingredients, again stirring to combine.
Pour the egg mixture into a 9-inch unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and slightly puffed and cracking on top. Lest rest until warm and serve.