Best of New Orleans

Best Way to Enjoy Brunch


Sunday brunch at Atchafalaya provides people-watching entertainment along with your eggs and cocktails. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Sunday brunch at Atchafalaya provides people-watching entertainment along with your eggs and cocktails.

There are a lot of brunch haters out there. I am not among them, but from many conversations I've had on the topic, I've gleaned the main reasons people take umbrage with brunching. It's expensive. It's unhealthy. The music is terrible (I agree with that). Many are simply offended by the concept: They see it as a fake in-between meal invented by restaurants to rob you blind via bottomless mimosas. For some foodies, it's a declasse culinary combination on par with Asian fusion cuisine. For that reason I reference an episode of The Sarah Silverman Program, in which the town's newly elected mayor bans brunch. Silverman, against the mandate, says brunch is harmless because it's just "the combination of eggs and 11 o'clock."

  In New Orleans, it can be more like noon or 2 p.m., depending on the previous night's activities, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu would never ban brunch (that would be his "Chocolate City" moment). Because even people opposed to the concept would agree that brunch in New Orleans is, at the very least, quite entertaining. For those who remain vehemently anti-brunch, I recommend you at least try it: Just go to the restaurant, order your granola and scrambled egg whites or whatever you nonbrunchers eat, and sit back and enjoy the circus.

  A recent trip to Atchafalaya epitomized the spectacle that is the New Orleans brunch experience. The little cottage on Louisiana Avenue with a giant cast-iron pan stuck on its side may seem quaint, but I learned that brunch there can get raucous. Upon entering the place — no easy feat on a Sunday — it's easy to see why things get rowdy: There is a buffet-style bloody Mary bar with all the fixin's.

  More of a mimosa person myself, I ordered mine and waited what seemed like an hour for my table. Waiting, while excruciating for one whose mind is focused on poached eggs and hollandaise, is a crucial aspect of the drunk-brunch experience. An empty stomach combined with several breakfast drinks and — if you're waiting outside — the intense New Orleans heat causes an almost hallucinatory state of daytime drunkenness rarely achieved outside of Carnival season.

  Although I was pretty inebriated by the time I sat down to eat that day, I was in far better shape than some other diners. I spotted a woman in a floral sundress violently puking in the neighboring house's front yard. It was 2 p.m.

  The Uptown location of Surrey's Cafe & Juice Bar, whose original Garden District restaurant seems to have a long line permanently parked out front, got it right by setting up shop next to a bar. Le Bon Temps opens early in the morning to serve non-wheatgrass drinks to the brunch crowd, and one morning I spotted another woman in a floral sundress tumble out of the bar and onto Magazine Street. It was 10:30 a.m.

  Brunch eateries that are BYOB are deceptively raucous. Since cheap Champagne tastes decent when mitigated by fresh-squeezed OJ, diners stock up, and that's where the trouble starts. Bringing your own cheap stuff is a great way to save money that can be put toward $16 egg dishes, but just make sure you don't inadvertently spray the entire dining room with bubbly upon opening the bottle, as I did during a meal at EAT New Orleans.

  Other brunch places where you're bound to find a convivial crowd include Dante's Kitchen, Coulis (also BYOB) and both locations of the Ruby Slipper Cafe (where your mimosas come in single- or double-size). And of course there's all those fancy Brennan's restaurants.

  Even if you're the type who prefers a tall iced coffee with your eggs Benedict rather than a bloody Mary or mimosa, New Orleans brunch is worth experiencing to witness the hardcore brunch crowd. They are the hair-of-the-dog daytime drinkers who, after brunch, will probably take a power nap and head straight to the bar to watch the Saints game. Some people go to church on Sundays in New Orleans. Others go to brunch.

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