Did you watch the “Portlandia” segment busting the (organic pork) chops of Portland’s precious brunch brigade? You know, those shade-grown-coffee-sipping hipsters standing in line for hours to eat marionberry pancakes at the hottest place in town.
Dinette’s Melissa Nyffeler did. And it cracked her up. “It’s not about what’s waiting for them inside,” insists the chef, who introduced Sunday brunch at her Capitol Hill bistro in January. “It’s all about waiting in line.”
Nyffeler is used to seeing lines around her block. She’s upwind from the quick-to-sell-out bakery Crumble & Flake (“It’s bringing more people to the neighborhood with brunch and coffee in mind”) and down the street from Seattle’s breakfast classic, Glo’s. “Now that’s a brunch place,” she says. Diner-style. Meat ’n’ potatoes. There, “you know what you’re getting into.”
But what are you getting into at dinner-hour darlings like Dinette, whose brunch menu might play big in Portlandia? In other words, what are the cool kids doing for brunch?
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How about Scotch eggs wrapped in hormone- and antibiotic-free sausage? (Yes, it’s house-made.) Or a “Truffled Eggwich” stuffed with thin-sliced crepes, frisee and lemon aioli? “It’s not all offbeat,” notes Nyffeler, whose skillet frittata sports ham and cheese — along with organic-dandelion greens.
This isn’t the first time Nyffeler’s opened for brunch. She briefly ran a one-
woman-show out of Dinette’s diminutive bar, catering to “the late-riser drinker-crowd” — mostly restaurant-industry types. This latest iteration should appeal to a broader audience. What’s more, “It’s good for dinner business to create something new, to draw more attention to Dinette,” she says. “We’ve been around 7½ years. We’re not the new kid on the block anymore.”
Dave Sanford was the new kid on the block when his communal-table subscription-based Belle Clementine made its debut just over a year ago. Brunch was always on his agenda, thanks to the proximity of the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market.
“We love doing brunch,” says Sanford, whose farm-to-table focus informs his weekly changing menu — a three-course $20 prix fixe posted on a blackboard above the open country kitchen. A nonalcoholic beverage is included (French press-pot coffee? Tonnemaker apple juice?), and if you need something stronger, you’re covered. That said, “Our customers aren’t so much the hair-of-the-dog folks,” Sanford admits.
Here, what you see is what you get. And what you got on a recent Sunday was a pair of warm, sweet-potato muffins with whipped cinnamon-
butter, a “winter salad” with beets, arugula and watermelon radish and a heritage-turkey-confit Benedict topped with Stokesberry Farm eggs (chicken for the poached, duck for the hollandaise). The English muffin’s homemade, but you knew that.
“Not having a choice might push people’s boundaries a little,” says Sanford.
For pushing the brunch boundary, you might want to check out Maria Hines’ latest, Fremont’s Southern Italian Agrodolce. There, she’s serving spaghetti made with house-milled flour, Skagit River Ranch provides the meat for the sauce and the fried egg served on top hails from Stiebers Farms.
Doesn’t she have enough to do without catering to the brunch crowd here as well as at Tilth in Wallingford and Ballard’s Golden Beetle? Honest to a fault, she explains, “The staff hates working brunch, I hate working brunch, and I ask myself: ‘Why am I doing brunch?’ If you’re a neighborhood restaurant, you do it.”
Mark Fuller agrees. That’s why it didn’t take long for him to add brunch to the agenda after opening his Northwest-centric Spring Hill restaurant in West Seattle, where he honed in on his Hawaiian roots by offering porky-punctuated saimin noodle bowls at brunch.
When he rebranded the place last year as Ma’ono Fried Chicken & Whisky (oh, yeah — call ahead for that chicken, brunchers), he rounded out the sunny-side menu with a highbrow translation of lowbrow Loco Moco: that’s Anson Mills cheesy grits under house-made Portuguese sausage and fresh pineapple and young coconut upping the rice-with-a-burger-and-egg ante. It’ll take plenty of bottomless mimosas ($12) to wash down that bad boy.
And where do these chefs head on a busman’s weekend? It turns out even the new mavens of gastro-brunch are not immune to the pull of the traditional.
Fuller’s always on the lookout for a great eggs Benedict. For that he heads to Tom Douglas’ Lola.
So does Dana Tough of the Coterie Room (where, speaking of eggs Benedict, you should not miss the smoked Dungeness crab with bacon hollandaise, perched on a perfect potato patty).
His business partner Brian McCracken prefers the Georgian in the Fairmont Olympic. (Fancy!) “There’s not too many places in Seattle to get that kind of elegance,” says McCracken, who helps himself to pastries at the jewel-box dining room’s brunch buffet.
So, will the dynamic duo serve brunch at their new place, The Old Sage, when it opens this spring next to their popular Pike/Pine boozery Tavern Law? “We’re debating about that,” says Tough. “Café Presse is hard to compete with,” cracks McCracken.
Nyffler agrees. That’s where she goes to brunch when she’s not behind the stove, “Because sometimes I just want eggs, a salad and a glass of wine.”
For his part, Dave Sanford admits, “Every once in a while, it’s great to have a greasy-spoon breakfast.” For that he suggests Chace’s Pancake Corral in Bellevue.
Talk about a greasy spoon. Maria Hines would head straight to Ballard’s Hattie’s Hat. “It’s really dark in there, and if you’ve pulled a late-nighter, it’s a smooth transition into the next day.”
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times food writer: firstname.lastname@example.org