Scrolling through Instagram’s hottest food accounts, you might think brunch has morphed into a full-on food phenomenon. It’s not your imagination. Trending hashtags like #brunchvibes, #brunchallday #brunchsohard, #brunchlife and even #brunchoutfit number in the tens of thousands. A recent keynote on breakfast by Datassential revealed 31 percent of restaurants are offering breakfast items for dinner.
Recipe: Pork chili verde breakfast torta
In addition to the impromptu “anytime” aspect of brunch-style menu items, another plus is the something-for-everyone factor, already part of onsite dining’s DNA. Want something savory? Step right up to the made-to-order omelet station. Got a sweet tooth? Sink it into strawberry shortcake pancakes and waffles with sundae toppings. Or in the mood for some clean-eating, healthy options? Right this way to power breakfast bowls and highly Instagrammable fruit-and-granola smoothie bowls.
Getting on the brunch train now can be a very smart way to spotlight fun, creative, craveable menu items anytime, anywhere. And a brunch-themed event is instant way to set a friendly, casual mood.
Here’s how chefs are brunching it up.
Brunch for community
There’s something about the casual-gathering vibe of brunch that makes it perfect for school officials to hang out with students. That’s an annual tradition at Phillips Exeter Academy, in New Hampshire, where Principal Lisa Macfarlane flips buttermilk pancakes and interacts with kids.
“Dining services sets up its hearth oven station, turning it into the ‘International House of Exeter Pancakes,’” says Michael Como, unit manager, Elm Street Dining Hall. “It’s one of the most fun events of the year.”
The pancakes are far from plain at this event: In addition to locally sourced maple syrup, there’s blueberry syrup, strawberry syrup, chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles, maraschino cherries, Oreo crumble and local whipped cream. On the savory side, the main hot line features carved prime rib with a wild mushroom demi-glace, scrambled eggs with chives, roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce and roasted potatoes.
At Barren County Middle School (BCMS), in Glasgow, Ky., a brunch for lunch event was perfect for showing off the school’s farm-to-café program, which includes an on-campus greenhouse and carpentry group.
“The brunch theme was selected with consideration to the available local produce and farmed goods,” says LaToya Drake, nutrition, wellness and compliance liaison at BCMS, who helped the children prepare the brunch, which included local apple crisp, a breakfast casserole with local cheese and sausage, biscuits with local honey and potatoes with herbs from the school garden.
“The children really enjoyed our brunch for lunch theme meal,” Drake says. “Many stated that it was nice to have something different and that the food was more flavorful.”
For brunch, that flavor factor can be summed up in two major categories.
Sweet and savory: The pillar flavors of brunch
Choosing between waffles and eggs Benedict is one of the biggest #brunchproblems out there. Savory and sweet flavors tempt in deliciously different ways at brunch.
Executive Chef Fernando Tinoco with Sodexo for North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C., is a master at finding a brunch balance.
A made-to-order omelet station veers strongly toward the savory with diced ham, veggies and cheese. And students are definitely fans of the specialty waffles, branded with the university logo and then topped with whipped cream, sprinkles and other candy-shop dreams come true.
And even the name of a new brunch-centric concept at Binghamton University’s MarketPlace location says it all: Cakes & Eggs. Two menu items perfectly illustrate a great brunch menu’s sweet-savory yin and yang: the everything bagel sandwich and the French toast sandwich.
Play hard, brunch harder
This past football season, Miami Dolphins fans got a cool new brunch-tastic concept to visit during games, the O-B House, which specializes in oven-baked pancakes, both sweet and savory, like a golden, buttery corn pancake that looks kissed by the Florida sunshine. In section 146, this concept serves big (8-inch) pancakes in a crossover collaboration with local favorite restaurant of the same name.
The O-B House concept also offers brunch-all-day libations like bloody marys, mimosas, mango bellinis, and to help soak up all those drinks, “the technical knockout” sandwich, a classic “head off your impending hangover” choice with two oven-baked eggs with cheddar, thick-cut bacon, fresh tomato slices and butter lettuce.
And when they’re not on the field, football players like to brunch, too.
According to Philadelphia Eagles’ senior chef manager with the Flik Hospitality group Jason Buniak, Tex-Mex breakfast tacos are a hit with the players, and the ultimate “must-have” menu item is a hybrid of great Chinese takeout and classic breakfast food: breakfast fried rice.
Diner food chic
There’s something so comforting, cool and iconic about American diner food. The pancakes, the ham, the toast, the grits, the hash browns…diners throughout the years have loved diners because they serve breakfast/brunch all day.
Taking a cue from that constant, The Diner in Rathbone Dining Hall at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., serves breakfast and brunch classics at every meal, including made-to-order omelets and fried eggs, and also some interesting signature items like marmalade French toast, breakfast burritos and breakfast flatbreads.
Another fun detail about eating in diners is choosing a jelly for your toast from the sticky little carousel on the tables. At the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., the experience is upgraded, with local, small-batch blueberry jams from Jan’s Jams in little jars. The flavors are sophisticated: blueberry citrus, spiced blueberry-local honey, blueberry-pineapple and more from the “designer jam” company.
Another facet of brunch, beyond the sweet vs. savory debate, is the healthful choices. Between New Year’s resolutions and upcoming beach season, some diners will be looking for guilt-free options while still living that #brunchlife.
At Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Sodexo Executive Chef Sarah Falls has put together a power bowl with the protein power of eggs, bacon and the hearty flavor of roasted grape tomatoes. And at William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Va., smoothie bowls are a way to incorporate colorful, fun ingredients that are also full of antioxidants and probiotics (berries and yogurt).
Brunch to go
According to Datassential’s Breakfast Keynote, 57 percent of consumers say all-day breakfast is important. And 60 percent say grab-and-go options for that all-day breakfast is important. Breakfast sandwiches are a natural for this. Using everything bagels is a good way to keep it current, since “everything” spice has been identified by several trend trackers as hot new flavor this year.