Editor's Note

The Portmanteau That Ate Itself

By James Ross Gardner February 9, 2015 Published in the February 2015 issue of Seattle Met

“So what’s the deal with brunch?” we were all asked in 1996, the year of our lord, Jerry Seinfeld. In a now legendary episode of the comedian’s groundbreaking sitcom Jerry’s girlfriend (played by Janeane Garofalo) continues her question: “I mean, if it’s a combination of breakfast and lunch, how come there’s no lupper or no linner?” 

And so it has gone for brunch since forever. The bane of chefs (“The ‘B’ word is dreaded by all dedicated cooks,” per Anthony Bourdain), of harried wait staff, of that friend of yours, the “foodie” (her term), who eye rolls her disdain every time you even hint at your weekend dining plans, brunch is a meal with an identity crisis that derives as much from its name as from its content (Bourdain again: “We despise hollandaise, home fries, those pathetic fruit garnishes, and all the other cliche accompaniments.”)

Not much can be done for the name. Like glamping or jeggings, the term is an unfortunate portmanteau, a sloppy amalgam only a PR firm could hatch. Though in the case of brunch that’s not actually true: The term is attributed to essayist Guy Beringer, writing in 1895 for the long-forgotten British publication Hunter’s Weekly. Still it suffers. The goofy word crash is at the heart of that old Seinfeld joke. It’s one half of the eye roll from your “foodie” friend. 

But what’s in brunch has come a long way, as Seattle Met’s food team—Allecia “My Next Liver Transplant Should Come with Bloody Mary Garnish” Vermillion and Kathryn “One More Poached Eggs with Brioche and I’m Going to Murder Someone” Robinson—discovered as it exhaustively blitzed the city for the best (“The Ultimate Guide to Brunch”). Our most iconic restaurants as well as new, more experimental kitchens now provide brunch, with more introducing it on an almost monthly basis.

Brunch thrives, I suspect, because of the ritual. Under what other circumstances is one allowed alcohol at 10am, sometimes by the OJ-and-prosecco pitcherful? What makes otherwise sane people wait in the rain for 65 minutes for French toast? Ritual. No longer drawn to chapels for communal Eucharistic bliss, we now text, email, or dial up our clan: Brunch at 1:30?

And let’s not forget the joy, which Guy Beringer’s original take suggests is the key. Well over a century ago he declared a late-Sunday breakfast the perfect salve for “Saturday-night carousers.” A hangover cure. He was right. Brunch and nocturnal revelry are antipodes, diametrically opposed points on the same circle. Fun and fun’s necessary, balancing corrective. 

So relish eggs benedict, drain a pitcher of mimosas, and tip those underslept servers handsomely. Because brunch—forgive me—it’s what’s for lunchfast.

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