Dave’s Food Blog — Absolutely Perfect Brunch

I referred to the Bellwether in my first post. Yes, it’s one of the Eater 38 most essential restaurants in Los Angeles (and the only one in the San Fernando Valley). Yes, there are enough items on the dinner menu that I can order to keep me happy, even on the evenings when I’m there because it’s my neighborhood bar. Dinner is always interesting, the staff is great (like Scratch, they don’t mind that I’m still there when all the other customers have left), and the restaurant has at least one really charming eccentricity: the sound piped into the men’s room is the Who’s Quadrophenia on a constant loop. As good as dinner is, the weekend brunch is superlative. So good that it gets Bellwether included in Eater’s 16 Hottest Brunch Restaurants as the only one in the San Fernando OR the San Gabriel Valley. Here, copied and pasted, is the menu, and every dish I’ve had so far has been excellently prepared and very satisfying:

SHARE SOME BREAD

Morning Pastries, Choice of Guava Cream Cheese Croissant; Pain au Chocolat; Vanilla Kouign Amann; Market Fruit Crostada
 Dutch Baby, Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Powdered Sugar
 Roasted Plum Toast, Whole Grain Bread, Fromage Blanc
 Brioche French Toast, Thick Cut, Apple Butter, Maple Syrup
 Avocado Toast, Brioche, Fried Egg, Aleppo Chili
 Smoked Salmon Toast, Rye Bread, Crème Fraiche, “Everything” Mix

SHARE A SIDE

Roasted Fingerlings, Thyme, Rosemary, Garlic
 Housemade Breakfast Sausage, Sage, Black Pepper, Maple Syrup
 Neuske’s Bacon, Maple-Bacon Jam
 French Fries, House Hot Sauce, Chive Crème Fraiche
 Tempura Cauliflower, Thai Chili, Mint, Thai Basil, Lime, Nam Pla

SHARE YOUR BRUNCH

Yogurt and Granola, Strained Yogurt, Orange Blossom Macerated Berries, Honey, Mint
 Wedge Salad
, Neuske’s Bacon, Mycella Blue Cheese, Marinated Tomatoes
 Frittata, Arugula, Gruyere, Shallots
 Benedict, Hollandaise, Ham, Honey Biscuits, Poached Eggs
 Grain Bowl, Black Quinoa, Buckwheat, Kale, Poached Egg, Avocado, Toasted Almonds
 Eggs “in Purgatory”
, Baked in Spicy Tomato Sauce, Calabrian Chili, Ciabatta Bread, Pecorino
 Nashville Hot Chicken Sando, Pimento cheese, Green Tomato Chow Chow
 Ploughman’s Burger, Branston Pickle, Cloth Bound Cheddar

I’ve had almost everything on the menu (the kitchen was kind enough to substitute smoked salmon for the ham on the Benedict.) Excellent, excellent, excellent. You’ll notice it has everything you’d expect on a brunch menu — benedict, smoked salmon, other egg dishes, sandwiches of interest, even the cauliflower from the dinner menu. Yet there’s no way you wouldn’t recognize this specifically as a brunch menu, and that leads me to a reflection on the history of this midday weekend meal.

There are several stories of how brunch became a weekend tradition. The Smithsonian observed in 2011 that its origins are hazy but that the word itself (I don’t really have to explain that it’s a mashup of breakfast and lunch, do I?) first appeared in print in a British hunting magazine in 1895 to describe something lighter than the traditional English hunt breakfast for “Saturday-night carousers”. It appeared in print on this side of the Atlantic in 1896 but it doesn’t seem to have reached any kind of mass appeal until the 1930s

From Chicago it quickly spread to New York where, in 1939, the New York Times declared Sunday a two-meal day. Some people think that the brunch menu owes its origins to New York as well, particularly to the New York Jewish delicatessen, given how great a part smoked fish plays on the menu, and because one of the origin stories points to the fact that these delis were closed on Saturday and brunch was the Jewish alternative to Church, but other accounts consider brunch as a way for Catholics who have fasted before Mass to break their fast afterward. By the 1990s, brunch spread to Saturday morning as well. As for the origin stories, the Washington Post did some demographic research into Google searches for brunch; they found it correlated to income and urban population (of the ten states that ranked highest, only Illinois and Pennsylvania were not either on the Atlantic of the Pacific Coast), but that it correlated most strongly to a state’s Jewish population (the most searches? New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Washington, D.C.). Naturally, searches spike twice a year — Easter and Mother’s Day.

The proprietors of the Bellwether have Italian roots, which clearly show up in the Eggs “in Purgatory” and the Frittata, but Benedict and Smoked Salmon Toast are now, I guess, universal tastes

The bar menu is also fairly typical — mostly fruit juice/hard liquor combinations — but you’ll see two drinks with “infused” Vodkas, habanero and thyme.

JUST DON’T SHARE YOUR COCKTAIL

Mama Betty’s Bloody Mary, House Infused Habanero Vodka, House Mix, Bacon Salt, Mini BLT
 Pimm’s Cup, Pimm’s #1, Seasonal Fruit, Cucumber, Mint, “Lemonade”
 Mimosa, Anselmi Il Ceppo Prosecco, Fresh Squeezed OJ
 Smoked Salty Dog, House Infused Grapefruit Gin, Fresh Grapefruit, Smoked Maldon Salt Rim
 French 75 Nouveau, Anselmi Il Ceppo Prosecco, House Infused Grapefruit Gin, Lemon, Simple 
 Margarita, Dulce Vida Blanco Tequila, Triple Sec, House Sweet and Sour
 Thyme Is On My Side, House Infused Thyme Tito’s Vodka, Elderflower, Lemon, Raspberry
 Easy Like Sunday Michelada, Tomato Juice, Lime, House Carrot-Habanero Hot Sauce, Lager
 Add a Float of House Infused Habanero Vodka

I included the drink menu because the bar is integral to the whole brunch process. The first time I went to brunch, I ordered the Eggs “In Purgatory” because I found it the most interesting dish on that iteration of the menu, and, since I sometimes defer to the bartender when I have too many appealing alternatives on a list of cocktails, I asked what went with it and was rewarded with a Pimm’s Cup. The combination was great. The Mimosa went really well with the Dutch Baby, the Thyme is On My Side was great with the frittata and the roasted fingerlings. The Michelada? It explains why a drink like that exists in the first place. GREAT with the smoked salmon toast. But really. Brunch is about a Benedict and a Bloody Mary. This is always an inspired combination, particularly when you’re being served the perfect Bloody Mary. Now, I pretty much decide what I’m going to drink and then figure out what on the food menu goes best with it.

Here’s the perfect Bloody Mary. A little gussied up, but that doesn’t detract from anything.

What occasioned this blog at this time is that three weeks ago, the Bellwether introduced a new promotion for the fall. The drinks on the menu are priced in the $11–13 range. Now, for $15, you can get a bottle of a méthode Champenoise wine, Domaine St. Vincent Brut, bottled in New Mexico by a French winemaking family, the Gruets, with six ounces of orange juice and six ounces each of two fruit purees: strawberry, white peach, guava, Morello cherry, blueberry, and cassis. What you see there is white peach (for a DIY Bellini) and guava purees. I HAD to try this at the first opportunity I had.

What would you order with this? I figured another type of classic — the Brioche French Toast with apple butter and maple syrup.

And the Nueske’s bacon with maple-bacon jam. SPICY maple-bacon jam.

This is what the counter in front of me looked like all set for brunch.

I started with my ersatz Bellini and a few bites of the French toast with butter and maple syrup, the way one normally begins brunch, and then I had a bite of the bacon with some maple-bacon jam — the spiciness was welcome on a Sunday morning — and I thought to myself “have I ever had a better brunch than this?” and the answer came back very quickly: NO! I went on with a guava mimosa, but by this time I was spreading the maple-bacon jam on the French toast — delicious, and a wonderful combinations of tastes — eggy, buttery, picante. For my last mimosa I used what I had left of the purees and added the maple syrup, which acted just like a simple syrup in the drink. Just wonderful. The bartender and I discussed our fantasy football teams, and, two hours later, I left a very happy diner. Cost? $35 before tip. MEGA reasonable, given the amount of food and drink.

I don’t know how often I’ll do this (the $15 bottle with the three juices/purees), but I just don’t see myself not going to Bellwether for brunch at least one day of the weekend. With a brunch like this within an easy walk of my apartment, why not?