The concept of brunch — before the invention of the mimosa, the bacon-infused Bloody Mary and the historic pairing of chicken and waffles — originated in England in the late 1800s. This hybrid meal may have started out as an excuse for a little “hair of the dog” after a long Saturday night, but it’s now well-established as a weekend ritual involving over-the-top comfort food and cocktails before the sun is over the yardarm.
In her carefully researched book, Brunch: A History, author Farha Ternikar points out an essential difference between breakfast and brunch: “Brunch can include both breakfast and lunch fare because at brunch there are no rules.” Which is why ordering spiked coffee or fruit juice with Champagne along with your frittata, French toast or eggs Benedict doesn’t raise an eyebrow.
Ternikar traces the origins of brunch in America to both New Orleans and New York City, as early as 1896. She points to now defunct Begue’s in New Orleans as the first place to serve brunch on this side of the Atlantic, making it the “original brunch city.” Pain perdu (“lost bread” or French toast) and Oysters Rockefeller, along with mixed drinks and coffees, were all popularized at Begue’s. But in New York, as Tenikar notes, “. . . fine restaurants and hotels began advertising lavish Sunday brunches where Manhattan’s socialites and upper crust could mingle and dine, and between the 1920s and 1950, brunch in New York was a meal for the elite. Who else had the time and money to spend on this decadent meal?”
During the Prohibition years, from 1920 through 1933, the sale of alcohol was illegal in this country. However, the same elite crowds who dined at the Waldorf Astoria and Delmonico’s had the wherewithal to obtain alcohol to serve in their private clubs or in their homes. The juice-based cocktails — mimosas, for example — were made with Prohibition vodka or sparkling wine. According to many sources, the mimosa originated in Paris in 1925, the invention of Hôtel Ritz bartender Frank Meier. Another brunch favorite, the Bellini, came along in the 1930s. Created at Harry’s Bar in Venice, it consists of Prosecco and peach purée or nectar.
As for the Bloody Mary (also known in some places as a Bucket of Blood or a Red Snapper), it originated at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in 1921. Did Harry’s bartender Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot name his creation after Queen Mary I, a waitress named Mary or his girlfriend? No one really knows for sure. Whoever it’s named for, this brunch staple’s reputation as a hangover cure continues to ring true for many.
In the East Bay, there is no shortage of restaurants that serve brunch and the accompanying cocktails mentioned above. Here is a sampling of places in Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville that offer both the usual, usual with a twist and unique brunch-time cocktails:
LIMEWOOD BAR & RESTAURANT Limewood at the Claremont Hotel doesn’t serve cocktails specific to brunch, but the bar is open and your bartender will make drinks to accompany your choice of breakfast or brunch entrée. Personal recommendation: The Mimosa, $10. Brunch hours are 10:30 to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Limewood Bar & Restaurant, 41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley
REVIVAL BAR + KITCHEN The menu at Revival lists a House Bloody Mary ($10) with vodka, organic tomato juice, Worcestershire, lemon, lime, fresh horseradish, spices and the option to add tequila or mezcal for an additional $2. Other signature drinks include the Café Caribe, with Don Q rum, Amaro di Angostura, a shot of espresso and cream, shaken over ice ($10); an Irish coffee, with bourbon, coffee and whipped cream ($10); and a Napa Valley Mimosa, with Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro, orange juice and sparkling wine ($8). Brunch hours are 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Revival Bar + Kitchen, 2102 Shattuck Ave., (at Addison), Berkeley
SAUL’S RESTAURANT AND DELICATESSEN Saul’s has a bartender on duty at all times, so if you need a Bloody Maury (vodka or gin, Mendocino tomato juice, hot sauce, horseradish, cracked pepper, celery salt and Worcestershire, $9.95) to go with your blintzes or your bagel, you’re in good hands. Other cocktail options are the Celery Tonic (celery, vodka, lemon, and simple syrup, $8.75), the Campari Klutz (tonic, dry vermouth and lime, $11) and the Greyhound (fresh grapefruit juice and vodka, $9.75). Personal recommendation: the Greyhound. Breakfast is served 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, 1475 Shattuck Ave. (at Vine), Berkeley
TIGERLILY At Tigerlily, you’ll find the Michael’s Pollen (High West double rye, ginger, honey, lemon, allspice dram and bee pollen, $12), and Breakfast at Hemingway’s (Silver rum, grapefruit cordial, maraschino liqueur, lime, cucumber and sparkling wine, $12). The Harvest Mimosa punch bowl (for three or more) is $34; a single is $9. The Peach Pool (Silent Pool gin, Giffard Crème de Pêche, Marqués de Cáceres Satinela and tangerine juice, $12) also comes as a Peach Pool Chalice for two ($20). The Bloody Mary features fresh pickled veggies ($12). Brunch hours are 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Tigerlily, 1513A Shattuck Ave. (near Vine), Berkeley
CHOP BAR Jack London Square’s Chop Bar serves breakfast every day and brunch on the weekends. All the drink specials are $6, but you can add bacon to the Bloody Mary (New Amsterdam vodka and house made mix) for an extra $2. Other options include the 4th Street Sour (Four Roses bourbon, orange and lemon), the Ginger Greyhound (New Amsterdam vodka, grapefruit and ginger beer), and a Black and Stormy (Mt. Gay Black Barrel rum, lime, Federation Low Boy Oatmeal Stout and bitters). Brunch hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Chop Bar, 247 4th St., #111 (near Jackson), Oakland
DISTRICT Over in Old Oakland, District offers a Bottomless Buffet on Sundays, with bottomless mimosas ($38) and without ($22). The menu lists a number of specialty brunch cocktails, including: mimosa options (orange, cranberry, pineapple, grapefruit, guava or peach), a District Bloody Mary (vodka, house made Bloody Mary mix, pickled veggies and chili spiced rim, $10), Strawberry Rain (Rain cucumber vodka, strawberry puree, Nature’s agave, lime and soda, $11), Hot Toddy (Four Roses bourbon, Nature’s agave, lemon and cinnamon, $10) and a Michelada (Pilsner, house made Bloody Mary mix, lime and chili spiced rim, $8). Brunch hours are 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sunday. District, 827 Washington St. (at 7th), Oakland
GRAND LAKE KITCHEN Brunch is served every day at Grand Lake Kitchen. Here, cocktail offerings include bellinis (bubbles and fruit of the day), mimosas (bubbles and orange), Cypress (bubbles and grapefruit) and a Kir Royale (bubbles, cassis and a twist), at $8 each. The Bloody Mary with pickled vegetables, the Champagne Cocktail (bubbles, brandied cherry, sugar cube, bitters) and the Michelada (beer, Bloody Mary mix, house fermented hot sauce, olive, lime and salt) are all $9. The signature Boozy Slushies (Pimm’s Cup and Salty Dog) are both available for $10. Personal recommendation: The Hot Swiskey Cider, made with rye, Swedish punsch, pressed apple cider, a secret blend of spices and orange oil, $10. Brunch hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., daily. Grand Lake Kitchen, 576 Grand Ave (near Euclid), Oakland
LAKE CHALET The drink menu at Lake Chalet boasts special brunch cocktails covering the classics: Hangar 1 Bloody Mary (pepper infused vodka with house mix and all the fixings, $12.95), Orange Juice Mimosa (fresh orange juice and sparkling wine, $11.95) and Irish Coffee (Jameson, Baileys Irish Cream, whipped cream and coffee, $9.95). Sipping one of these while overlooking Lake Merritt elevates the brunch experience. Personal recommendation: the Irish Coffee. Brunch starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Lake Chalet, 1520 Lakeside Dr. (between 14th and 17th), Oakland
NIDO KITCHEN & BAR Nido offers sangria (red wine, cranberry, orange, spiced simple syrup and “house secrets,” $9), and a Picosa Paloma (tequila, clarified grapefruit, lime and serrano syrup, $10), in addition to an Esponita Blanca (Cimarrón Reposado tequila, mezcal, coffee liqueur and horchata, $11) and a Pimms No. 444 (gin, mezcal, blood orange liqueur, Earl Grey tincture, lemon and ginger beer, $11), all fitting accompaniments to the menu, which is inspired by the cuisine of Mexico’s central and Pacific coast. Personal recommendation: the Picosa Paloma. Brunch hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Nido Restaurant & Bar, 444 Oak St. (at 5th), Oakland
SHAKEWELL In the Lakeshore district, Shakewell offers The Café Olé (Don Modesto Reposado, Kahlúa, orange liqueur, coffee, steamed milk and cinnamon, $12) and the Morning Glory Fizz (gin, absinthe, lemon, orange blossom water, egg white and Cava, $12). You will also find the mimosa here, made with Cava (the sparkling wine produced in Catalonia, in keeping with Shakewell’s Mediterranean cuisine) and orange juice, by the individual glass ($11) or bottomless ($24). Brunch hours are 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Shakewell, 3407 Lakeshore Ave. (between Longridge and Trestle Glen), Oakland
HONOR KITCHEN & COCKTAILS Emeryville’s Honor Kitchen & Cocktails goes the extra mile with their Bloodies: they list four variations, including the towering Bloody Hell Mary ($12.95), which consists of bacon-washed vodka, bacon salt and a bacon twist garnish. The Bloody Bourbon is made with Four Roses bourbon, house bloody mix and chili tincture bitters ($12.95). Mimosa fans may order the bottle service for $24.95 (a carafe of fresh orange juice and a bottle of sparkling wine). Other offerings include the Honor Brunch Punch (updated daily on the chalkboard) for $10, the Ramos Gin Fizz (gin, lime, orange flower water and egg white, $12.95), and the Keeping with the Irish (Jameson’s Irish whiskey, French roast coffee and fresh cream, $10.95). Personal recommendation: The Ramos Gin Fizz. Brunch hours are 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Honor Kitchen & Cocktails, 1411 Powell Street, Emeryville