I’ve always had mixed opinions about brunch. It always seemed a little too haughty taughty to me. I always considered myself more of a Sunday morning sausage, bacon and eggs kind of guy. But when I learned that the term “brunch” was first used back in 1895 (in a publication called Hunter’s Weekly) to describe a Sunday meal for “Saturday-night carousers”, I thought maybe I was the ideal candidate for brunching. Besides, without brunch, there would have been far fewer eggs bennies and mimosas in my life. And they are two of my favorite things, especially when the second is washing down the first.
Though I think I remember the word from when I was in my teens (probably from a high school English teacher asking the class who can give us an example of a portmanteau), I don’t think I actually did (you don’t eat you do) brunch until I was in my twenties. I was trying to figure out why when I remembered that, growing up in roll up the sidewalks Toronto, most restaurants were closed on Sundays and those that were open had to stay dry on The Lord’s Day until maybe the early seventies.
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from another Canadian, Lloyd Monteith, who had lived through those years before sparkling wine had been suitably introduced to orange juice. Lloyd and his wife Cathy were going to be in San Miguel de Allende and wanted us to join them for brunch and they also wanted me to recommend where.
I thought about it for a few seconds, emailed Ximena de Léon Campomanes at Restaurante Marsala and asked her to send me a copy of their Sunday brunch menu. A few minutes later it was in my inbox and I forwarded it to Lloyd and Cathy.
“Menu looks amazing,” was Lloyd’s reply.
It was the guy I most want to be in my next life, Anthony Bourdain, who said, “Brunch is not a trend. It’s a profit center”, and, for too many restaurants, that’s all it is. Plus you can imagine the lack of enthusiasm from a chef and their staff who, after finally getting the last water mark off the last glass around midnight, have to be back at around nine to start baking muffins.
Different restaurants treat brunch very differently. Marsala treats brunch very seriously.
For many restaurants, the brunch menu is just an extension of the regular menu. If there’s a burger on the regular menu, you can bet there’ll be a burger on the brunch menu.
At Marsala, I don’t think there’s a single item on their printed brunch menu that’s served at any other time in the restaurant. And, except for having to make a decision on only one dish, I like the choices. A lot.
Creating a brunch menu isn’t an easy task. You’ve got to have breakfasty dishes. You’ve got to have lunchy dishes. And you’ve got to have something a little different, a little bordering on the exotic.
Marsala restaurant has eight regular menu items, one late addition, and one very special added attraction. And with just ten dishes, I think they nail it.
Brunch starts with a small buffet table stocked with unsweetened, Greek-style yogurt and cereal; a selection of perfectly-ripened fruit; organic honey, fresh bacon and cheddar biscuits, and chef Marcela Bolaño’s legendary pork and pistachio pate.
On another table sit the ingredients for mimosas and marys. Don Day’s Wife is even more of a mimosa aficionado than I am. She will tell you brunch without a mimosa is called breakfast. She will tell you a good mimosa should be 75% bubbles and 25% OJ.
Don Day’s Wife pronounced Marsala’s mimosa, “a very good mimosa” and “perfect for almost anything on the menu”.
The restaurant replaces ham and eggs with lamb and eggs. It’s spiced with a middle eastern blend of herbs; sided with jocoque, the fresh cheese that brings fond memories of buttermilk; and it’s topped with Marsala’s superb house-made pita.
The waffle has the somewhat expected maple syrup but the very unexpected duck confit.
Eggs Benedict are there, stapled onto the corner of the menu as though they were a late edition that no brunch menu could do without.
More original and even better are poached eggs swimming in a pasilla chile sauce topped with Oaxaca cheese and sour cream and speared with two potato-truffled flautas.
For those who like their brunch to be more like lunch, there’s Lloyd Monteith’s choice, a roast beef sandwich with a generous amount of melted Havarti and caramelized onions.
On the side is a memory of many seventies business lunches, a bowl of au jus for dipping (or for taking artsy-fartsy photos with your iPhone).
Ever since José Manuel shuttered his Sea Market in Mercado Sano, fresh stone crabs have been a rare sight in San Miguel. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw what topped a pail of ice in Marsala.
“I have them shipped in every Thursday from Ensenada”, chef Marcela told me.
The restaurant prices them at a peso per gram and the average claw weighs in at about 100 grams. Both mustardy mayo and melted lemon butter are served on the side.
Good friends, good food, delivered by efficient servers, in a charming courtyard and washed down with those mimosas and the intoxicating music spun by noted San Miguel DJ, Martha…I couldn’t think of a place I’d rather have been in this town in the middle of that Sunday.
Back in the first paragraph, I shared that the word “brunch” first appeared in Hunter’s Weekly back in 1895 but I didn’t share what the author, Guy Beringer said.
“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting.” Beringer wrote. “It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
I also haven’t shared what Lloyd and Cathy Monteith said.
“That was one great brunch”, said Cathy. “I would definitely come back to Marsala. I’d tell my friends. I’d bring my friends here.”
So would I.
Marsala is located at Calle Doctor Ignacio Hernández Macías 48 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open on Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 1:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Sunday brunch is served from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.