One of my favorite meals is brunch. I like it because of its idiosyncratic rituals and traditions.
Brunch is best served on a Sunday with a good, strong Bloody Mary. Why Sunday and why a Bloody Mary? Do you really have to ask? Brunch, done right, is the antidote for the late-night poker game with the guys; the dinner party that lingered a little too long; or the plain ol’ “painting-the-town-red” kind of night.
The Bloody Mary is the perfect drink for brunch. It’s just boozy enough, but not too over the top. After all, you are likely drinking before noon, or at least you should be. (I like to start brunch around 11:30, so I can watch the horrified faces of the after-church crowd walk past my table—me, with the unkempt hair and the guts of the Sunday New York Times insouciantly piled on my table next to my second Bloody Mary—“obviously, I’ve been here a while folks!”) Also, the Bloody Mary is not completely unhealthy. After all, tomatoes are full of things called lycopene and antioxidants, which I’ve been told are good for you. And don’t forget about that celery stalk! Some good roughage there!
So where did the Bloody Mary come from? Like most great drinks, its provenance is shrouded in mystery and controversy. As the old saying goes, success has many fathers, and so does the Bloody Mary. One version has it invented in the 1930s by a bartender named Henry Zbikiewicz at New York's 21 Club. Another version claims that the comedian George Jessel, who frequented the 21 Club, invented it. A third version, and the one I will go with, is that Fernand Petiot, the bartender at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in New York, invented it in 1934. I’ve been to the King Cole Bar, and they do a great Bloody Mary, though it will cost you a pretty penny.
Here’s the recipe Mr. Petiot gave to New Yorker magazine in July 1964:
I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour.
Of course, brunch is more than just booze served before noon. As the name implies, brunch presents a culinary conundrum. Sweet or savory? Eggs or waffles? French toast or grits? This is why, for me, brunch has a golden hour. Too early and all you want is typical breakfast food, but too late and you want more in the way of lunch food. Recently, I had a great brunch that was the perfect combination of the two: chicken and waffles. Now, if you’ve never tried this kind of soul food, then you have seriously missed out. Chicken and waffles is a sublime combination of sweet and savory. Of course, one can never go wrong with the classic Eggs Benedict. And if you are asking yourself where that dish came from, then you guessed it: who knows! This origin of Eggs Benedict, like the Bloody Mary, is surrounded by controversy. Suffice it to say, it apparently originated in New York City.
So, we have our Bloody Mary and our chicken and waffles or Eggs Benedict. What’s left? Companionship! Brunch is equally enjoyable alone, immersed in your newspaper of choice (mine—New York Times); with just one other person (who may have his or her Sunday paper of choice different from yours—New York Post perhaps); or with a large, boisterous group of friends or family. Either way, you can’t go wrong: a belly full of food and booze and the fading embers of the weekend.