And the beginning is breakfast. Or, if you're in a New York weekend, brunch.
I always used brunch to refer to a breakfast/lunch amalgamation (see also: linner) held in between the times you would usually eat those two meals. The in between is important - that's what makes it brunch. You can have brunch at 10:30am, or 11am, or 11:30am. You cannot, however, have brunch at 1pm. That is lunch, even if you're eating breakfast food (which is not to say you shouldn't do that - all day breakfast is possibly the sweetest phrase in the English language to me).
Lots of New York restaurants, however, proudly offer a weekend brunch, right next to a sign announcing they open at 1:30pm. I've been noticing this pretty much since the day I moved here, and it's been bothering me for about as long, so the other day I made a point of asking a born-and-raised American about it (I did look for a born-and-raised New Yorker but they're really hard to find) and he kindly explained it all.
Apparently, in New York, brunch now bears no resemblance to the two words that it stems from, and is no longer a replacement for both your breakfast and your lunch. Rather, it is a fourth meal, something that fits comfortably between breakfast and (a late) lunch, or even after both if you're really dragging your tail. It also often acts as a kick-off for the forthcoming night, with mimosas (Buck's Fizz to the rest of us) setting the scene for the alcohol that is to follow. It's still a beginning, just not as I know it.
That made limited sense to me, but I smiled and nodded regardless and walked off, knowing I wouldn't be changing my brunch habits. They had worked for me for the last year and a half, after all.
And then two things happened that really underlined the sense in the New York brunch theory to me. Two brunches, in fact, the first falling in the last few days of 2011, and the second in the first few of 2012. They both started out similarly - H1 and I leaving our apartment with nothing more than coffee in our bellies, ready to set foot into the big wide world and eat some brunch - and continued in similar veins, with our usual, reliable, delicious brunch spot bypassed due to its extremely rude and random choice of Christmas opening hours.
On the first occasion we were with two friends, in for the week from London, and all four of us were quite ready to eat. Turned away by choice one, we moved to choice two, then decided the line was too long, and moved swiftly on to a place we had always noticed but had never tried before - Friend of a Farmer, in between Gramercy Park and Union Square. It's on an adorable street in a great area, is always packed, does good coffee and great eggs. It was fabulous, and our built up hunger let us enjoy it even more. You don't have that sort of hunger if you've already eaten breakfast, and hence, you don't get the same level of enjoyment.
The second occasion, however. Oh, the second occasion is quite another story. Buoyed by the success of our last attempt at trying something new, and lured by a Groupon deal, we bypassed all three of those brilliant brunch spots that we're so fond of, and made our way to the East Village. Home of Hype Lounge. Hype Lounge is a bar and restaurant, and to be fair, it may well deserve the hype in the wee hours. At 11am (aka a suitable brunch time) however - not so much. The decor looked cool, but it was a little dark. Really quite dark. So dark that we couldn't see our food, which may have been planned. The coffee was awful. The smoked salmon made me nervous, so much so that I stopped eating it. The eggs were watery. The fruit was...squishy...and not in the way fruit should be. We should have gone elsewhere, but we were hungry, because our brunch was the beginning. If we had already eaten, that wouldn't have happened.
But if we had already eaten it would not be brunch. I really can't stress this enough.
I've taken away three lessons from this.
1. When it comes to brunch, I'm right, and the rest of New York is wrong.
2. When it comes to something as important as brunch, don't try new stuff unless you really have to - and even then, tread carefully.
3. Always carry protein bars in case of brunch-based emergency.
I respectfully suggest that all readers apply them to their own hybrid meal situations and issues, and if in New York, eat at Friend of a Farmer. You'll never regret it.