Walking through the streets of downtown Asheville on a chilly Sunday morning, it’s hard not to be tempted by the smell of fresh-roasted coffee wafting from inside cracked doors. Outside, eye-catching rows of sandwich boards line the sidewalk.
“Lobster omelette; local eggs,” reads one. “Fresh-squeezed pomegranate mimosa,” reads another, adorned with a colorful chalk-drawing of a tasty-looking drink. “Breakfast pizza with chorizo,” boasts a third.
There is no doubt that Asheville loves its brunch. But what exactly is brunch, and why is it taking over Sunday mornings? Everyone seems to have a loose idea of what “brunch” means — half breakfast, half lunch with relaxation and a mimosa. And maybe that’s fine, an unstructured definition for a casual and unstructured meal.
“For me, it’s the epitome of Sunday morning,” says Brigett Bolding, general manager at Sunny Point Café. “You get to sleep in; you don’t have to get up and rush to make breakfast. You can go somewhere because you’ve got the time.
Customers come in to open their eyes after a late night on Saturday, sip on some coffee and plan out their day, Bolding adds. It’s a time to eat a filling meal before deciding which hiking trail to explore.
Carson Lucci, owner of Over Easy Café, agrees. “Being that it’s a weekend and a daytime activity, it’s easier for people to get together and talk about last night’s thing,” she says. “It’s almost therapeutic, because, you know, you’re there with your friends — or you’re there alone interacting with the staff. You get this socialization and this sense of, ‘I did something today!’ right off the bat.”
Lines out the door are nothing new at local spots like Sunny Point, Over Easy and Tupelo Honey, but now it seems Sunday brunch is popping up wherever you go.
“I was worried about it at one point, because I was like, ‘Oh gosh, we’re going to lose all this business,’” Lucci says. “But there are so many people that are out looking for brunch on the weekends, so I’m grateful that [there are plenty of places that serve it]. I only have 42 seats in my restaurant. I can’t serve everyone downtown, and either can Early Girl or Mayfel’s. I don’t feel like we’re competing with each other, because we’re doing different styles of brunch. Everywhere is really unique.”
“I’ve found myself thinking, ‘Where am I going to go?’” says Josephine Woody, one of the owners at Isis Restaurant and Music Hall, which has been serving brunch for a little more than a year. “There are so many good brunch spots here — Market Place just started a brunch, Limones, Cúrate. There are the ones that just, for some reason, you don’t think of” earlier in the day.
And it’s nice to have a variety to pick from in a town like Asheville, because, Woody says, “No one wants to wait in line when you’re hungry — or hung over and hungry. I’ll start eating my arm if I have to wait 45 minutes,” she says with a laugh. “You can never have too many options.”
Jess Reiser from Burial Beer Co., which recently started hosting jazz brunch on Sundays, agrees on the wait. “We have kids, and whenever we try to go out to brunch on weekends — if we don’t get there by like 9 or 10 a.m., we just can’t, because the wait is too long. In our childless years, it wouldn’t have mattered,” she laughs. “But now it’s kind of a deal-breaker. So we wanted to open [Burial] up [at noon] for families who might not get that early start.”
Chef Peter Pollay at Posana Café sees locals and tourists alike dine in for Sunday brunch. Posana, well-known for its dinner menu, began offering a brunch right after opening, after seeing the demand downtown. “We love our brunch in this town,” he says. “It’s just like one of those casual meals. You just go out — you can pick anywhere — have some coffee, read the newspaper, have some good food.
“There are really no expectations. Like if you’re going out to dinner, there’s expectations about what you’re supposed to talk about, how you’re supposed to talk, if you’re on a date or not. But for brunch, you just go eat, hang out, have good conversation and start your day at a leisurely pace.
“We just kind of want to be a part of someone’s weekend,” he says. “Make it nice and relaxing to rejuvenate people and get them ready for the daily grind again that usually starts on Monday.”
Brunch is becoming such a staple of Asheville weekends that even the bars are interested in being part of the morning.
DeSoto’s in West Asheville, though it functions primarily as a bar, has also joined in for Saturday chicken and waffles and Sunday brunch. “I have fun with it,” says co-owner Sabrina White. “I see a recipe or get an idea from a book, and I just go crazy with it. We decided to do a little twist and make a chicken-and-waffle sandwich, add an egg and cheese. The weirder the better, I think, in this town.”
White also mentions DeSoto’s “breakfast stack,” which changes weekly. Think pot roast, gravy, fried egg, cheese, a leafy green and a slice of bacon stacked on top of a cathead biscuit. “It’s probably six inches off the plate,” White adds, laughing.
“[DeSoto] just seems like a good alternative if you don’t want to go to the usual spots,” White says. “I mean, like, if I’m hung over, I want to be in a darker spot; I don’t want to be around noise as much. It’s just a different atmosphere. Like, ‘OK, I’m just going to chill in here for a couple hours and hide from the world.’”
And when most people think brunch, barbecue and Italian aren’t exactly what come to mind. But Luella’s Bar-B-Que offers its own spin on Sundays, and Strada downtown gives brunch an Italian twist. “When we approach brunch, we come at it from the traditions of Southern cooking,” says Jeff Miller, owner of Luella’s. “While we are a barbecue restaurant, we try to bring a flair to that to make it work for something like brunch.
“Smoked meats and heartier flavors go well with a lot of the sweet stuff that’s associated with brunch. I would not have suspected that pork, potatoes and collard greens would taste good with scrambled eggs. But it actually is remarkably awesome.”
Luella’s usually offers live music (primarily gypsy-jazz) to go along with the ambiance of the Sunday morning meal — as do a plethora of other Asheville establishments.
In the future, the Woody family, who collectively owns Isis, would like to see brunch accompanied by a live gospel choir. “It doesn’t feel like you’re going to step on toes if you’re talking. Just a loud, musical brunch so you can rejoice like it’s Sunday church, but for the sinners.”
“Not that we’re sinners,” she quickly adds, laughing. “But you got your mimosas and your bloody Mary’s. It’s like sinners’ church.”
On that note, alcoholic beverages have somehow become an integral (although not necessary) part of the essence of brunch. “Well, Asheville’s got a pretty huge music scene,” says Bolding at Sunny Point. “And a lot of times when you’re going out and seeing music, there tends to be drinking involved. So when people can get out for the morning, they want that something to sort of take the edge off.” And, she says with a smile, “Having a drink at noon definitely signifies a nonwork day. I mean, you can say, ‘I don’t have to do anything critical today because I had a drink at noon.’”
Pollay at Posana agrees. “Of course, we all have some responsibilities afterward,” he says. “But hopefully nothing too pressing. You have the day off, and you can enjoy it. You don’t have to get ready for something else; you just go out and enjoy the company you’re with.”
And the company is a huge part of what makes brunch special.
“That’s really what it is,” explains Teri Siegel, owner of Avenue M on Merrimon. “It’s just feeding the neighborhood and paralleling what Asheville wants, which is no different than what I personally want. We try to have a little something for everybody, so that if you’re a vegetarian, and he’s a meat eater, then everyone can be happy.”
So what exactly is brunch, food-wise? Is it breakfast? Is it lunch? “Well that’s why they call it brunch, right? It parallels both,” says William Dissen, owner of Market Place on Wall Street. “On the weekends, we have folks staying out late and starting the day later — they may want more breakfast items. And then you have folks out and about and shopping that are interested in something a little more middle-of-the-day lunch-oriented.
“So I think that’s kind of the beauty of brunch, is that you have the best of both worlds,” Dissen adds.
And though there are enough restaurants in Asheville to sample a different place every Sunday, Woody at Isis explains, “You find your favorites, and that’s your comfort zone. You want it every time you go. I have my one spot where I can get my fresh-squeezed mimosa. Nothing too complicated — nothing should be complicated on Sunday.”
Brunch is a meal that lends itself to holiday gatherings, both as a leisurely follow-up to Christmas morning gift opening or a nourishing recovery from a festive New Year’s Eve. Here, local chefs offer some recipes to help make brunch at home as tasty as brunch on the town.
Sunny Point Café’s carrot hot cakes
(enough for 4 to 6 hungry people)
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
4 cups peeled and finely grated carrots
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Whisk together eggs, milk and butter in a large mixing bowl. In a second bowl sift the salt, baking soda, baking powder and flour. Stir the sugar, carrots and cinnamon into the eggs and milk then add the dry ingredients and mix
together until just combined. Preheat a griddle over medium high heat, lightly oil and add batter to pan in small batches being careful not to overwhelm the pan so it stays hot. Eat as you cook or hold in a 200-degree oven and serve topped with cardamon cream cheese and warm maple syrup.
Cardamom Cream Cheese
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine on low speed using a paddle attachment until just combined.
Continue to page 2 for recipes from the Market Place, Posana Café, the DeSoto Lounge and Strada Italiano.