An Essay and Montage on Brunching.
One would think it was the man I was dining with, for whom I had long harbored a lusty infatuation. Akin to that of a schoolgirl crush, delusional, sweet, full of romantic idealism. However, the four days we spent in Berlin together, while fun-filled, served in finally putting to bed what had previously been a pedestal placed fantasy.
So it wasn’t the guy on this chilly February morning from whom I sat across in a homespun cafe of Berlin that had me going.
It was the French toast.
The bread, fluffy and moist, with the lightest touch of sweet. My fork sinking into its pillowy surface, a dusting of powdered sugar surrounding. A pile of jewel-toned berries sitting atop a cloud of Greek yogurt accompanying. Crumbled nuts were scattered about the ensemble, completing the edible work of art.
It was served on a cutting board, adding rustic warmth to the presentation. The yogurt, with a hint of vanilla flavoring, lovely while tasted in combination alongside the tartness of blackberries and Johannes berries. All of it offset perfectly by the textured additional layering of crunchy nuts.
The pears laid atop the toast were warm, juicy, and ever so slightly grainy. Tender and cinnamon sprinkled. The whole thing looking like a from-the-forest, snow-dusted, of-nature, scrumptious treat.
Drinks were served in mason jars. Cakes were displayed atop small wooden cutting boards lining the counter. Each one, surrounded by a thicket of piney looking sprigs, dusted in powdered sugar, and topped with a plethora of mixed berries. Desserts from a wintery forest dream.
The espresso art, impressive, eye-catching and elegant. The mugs were earthy, heavy in one’s hand, homey, like the most comforting and cozy of mornings in a sun-dappled living room, seated by a roaring fire. Breakfast platters were served up on cookie sheets, with a shimmering explosion of black beans, a scattering of seeds, various vegetables stacked about with dewy, glistening fried eggs laid at their peak.
Unable to decide if dining inside a desert ranch, farm, or a Californian greenhouse, I settled on the space being a combination of the three. The vibes inside evoking images of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and the Stones twanging away on their guitars. Steaming cups by their side, smoke curling from the cigarette (or joint) unquestionably dangling from lips. Dreams and melodies intermingling with the smoke.
It’s a cafe reminiscent of campfires, hipsters, too cool artists, 1970s California, and the balmy air of carefree summer nights.
Vines and plants hung from the ceilings, some cascading down the walls. The interior, heavily wooded, sparsely furnished, cramped, like something of a slightly ramshackle cabin.
My companion and I were unable to contain ourselves, oohing and ahhing over the edible masterpieces placed before us, this giving way moments later to an awe-inducing eating experience. The taste, thankfully living up to its visual suggestion. From the moment of placing forkful to mouth, I was forced to resign myself to the fact that Roamers was cementing itself into memory as a place in which brunching dreams are made.
I imagine fellow breakfast lovers will agree with the sentiment that a treasure trove of moments and dishes tend to occupy the mind of all legitimate brunching enthusiasts. At the forefront of this cherished mental Filofax, unquestionably the food.
Glorious mile-high towers of buckwheat pancakes in a plethora of flavor combinations. Matcha with raspberries and chocolate chips, an oatey pumpkin, and lavender with blue or blackberries, to name a few of my own. As I imagine that, most certainly, everyone’s photo montage of brunching memories and favored dishes holds loads of varying foods and recipes.
Other brunching requisites include eggs, whether fried, scrambled, over easy, benedict, you name it. Toast swiped in a sheen of butter and vivid jam. Oatmeal, hearty, filling, sprinkled with cinnamon and ginger, a swirl of pumpkin stirred in. Bacon, crisp, topped with the slightest hint of grease.
French toast, fluffy, sweet, drizzled in syrup, capped with a tumbling hill of fruit. Bowls of jewel-colored berries. Crepes, paper-thin, light as air, ideally with a layer of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled inside, then folded over and eaten warm. This sweet treat resulting in a mouthful of fluffy, chewy, ever so slightly crunchy deliciousness.
Brunching dreams are made of the particularly unique, memorable tea you might have once sampled in some far-flung, romantic locale. Green tea, earthy, with surprising hints of rose, glimmers of floral notes sneaking their way out as you sip and smell. An especially thick, plush, light-as-air slice of brioche covered in butter and raspberry jam. That perfectly brewed, rich smelling, high-quality Italian coffee you tasted, drank while gazing out on the cobbled piazza just in front of you. Old, ornate fountains bubbling close by. The sun casting gold on the buildings lining the square as it sets beyond.
But then, the spaces between noteworthy noshing moments are colored in with either memorable breakfast companions, a particularly awesome atmosphere, or the unforgettable story entwined with the said moment.
Brunch is late nights and mornings after, recounting said nights in blissful exhaustion over pancakes, eggs, and something hot to drink. Brunching is laid back, lazy Sundays. It’s breakfast in bed. It’s the meal punctuating weekends between lovers. It’s a picnic in that sprawling stretch of field or a walk, hand in hand, to your favorite breakfast joint.
And breakfast in the park, one of the best locales for brunching. A soft blanket spread atop the grass. Containers laid open, displaying creamy swirls of Greek yogurt laced through with honey. A stack of raspberry chocolate chip pancakes. A huge pile of mixed fruit.
Breakfast is also the warm mug in hand while lying on a chair by the lake. The glassy expanse stretching endlessly in front of you, with a book in hand and snack on the side to accompany your warm drink. Water lapping against the shore close by.
Brunch is luxurious and romantic. It’s both a meal and a moment, setting the tone for that day. So while brunching is first and foremost about the food, it’s not just about what’s being eaten.
That’s one facet and an important one.
The food is one of the more vivid shades on the whole canvas of brunching. But, there are other additional, equally as colorful parts that make up the big picture of breakfasting in all its glory.
A July morning in Paris found my sister and me walking through the crumbling magic of Montmartre. Part of Paris set high up on a hill, overlooking the city. The streets are cobbled. Most of the buildings, a chalky or creamy white. The architecture old, much of it worn. Old fashioned street lamps and colorful awnings lining the streets, adorning shopfronts. Artists congregate in the center of an area close to Sacre Coeur, selling their work. Narrow back alleyways and tiny corner cafes, beckoning. We were in search of Cafe Marlette, which I had read online in prior research as boasting one of the best breakfasts in the city. An offer too promising from which to turn away.
The food was homey, down to earth, and absolutely delicious. The spread, an expansive feast for the eyes and stomach.
We ate soft boiled eggs. Crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside hunks of French baguette, coupled with a collection of homemade jams and butter. Gluten-free banana bread, a narrow river of chocolate cascading across its middle. Green tea and hot chocolate, steaming from their respective mugs. A spread of freshly sliced meats and cheeses laid in a colorful array on a huge platter.
My god. Be still, my breakfast loving heart.
The atmosphere was inviting and cozy. With exposed white brick and cushiony seating. The interior bright and charming. The café run, fittingly, by two sisters.
This brunch was a particularly special and now memorable moment. The mood, light, warm, and open. Punctuated by laughter, a sense of truly connecting, and sweet, engaging conversation. A glimpse into the relationship we had previously shared over the first seventeen years of her life, which had since shifted to one encompassing much misunderstanding and distance.
Fast-forward to Dresden, Germany on a brisk, gray Sunday. Surrounded by a collection of delicate plates, each painted in varying floral motifs. Every one offering up something edible and enticing.
Baked beans, swimming in a deliciously sweet-smelling sauce. A baby blue plate presenting a stack of lightly tanned pancakes. A handful of sliced bananas scattered atop, rivers of maple syrup running down the sides. A tiny white plate, etched with little pink flowers, boosting a collection of scones. Miniature pots of thick clotted cream and raspberry jam accompanying. Teacups painted in charming patterns, brightly colored teapots beside.
The inside of the café, like your grandparent's stately, though inviting living room. Armchairs and cushy couches beckoning ones sinking into. Bookshelves overflowing with all manner of titles and topics. Floral wallpaper enveloping the interior. Wooden shelves stocked with an assortment of jams, sauces, and cookbooks for sale. A display case offering mile-high cakes covered in thick swaths of frosting. Blueberry cinnamon. Guinness Chocolate. Their apparently renowned carrot cake. Wooden tables with eye-catching carvings running along the legs.
Judith, one of my nearest and dearest, and I spent our meal moaning over the deliciousness of our dishes. Slathering thick cream and glistening red jam atop our scones, fluffy, crumbly and sweet. Giggling and conversing about relationships and love. I wandered over to browse and then took down a couple of books from the shelves, leafing through them briefly, actively containing myself from diving in completely so as not to be rude to my treasured dining companion.
Then there were the Saturday mornings of requisite “Mighty Goods.” The pancake recipe my mom made with semi regularity upon being begged for it just so, for my brother and me on weekends throughout our childhood. So well-loved that it was faithfully carried along into my own home after college, well over a decade later.
This led to routine Saturday mornings with an ex-love, chowing down on wafting stacks of these same cinnamon-scented pancakes. Oaty and sweet, fluffy and subtly nutty with whole grains. One of us set to slathering the stack in smears of peanut butter, topped in a dousing of syrup. The other, keeping their pancakes traditional, classic. Piled high underneath a spilling of straight-up maple syrup.
Then there were the Sunday morning breakfasts of childhood. Seated next to my dad at the Capital City Diner in Concord, New Hampshire. A gleaming, 1950s throwback, train car housed eatery. The two of us, seated across from each other in one of their red cushioned booths. Eggs, toast, and bacon for me. My dad with his requisite cup of coffee.
There was the breakfast that marked an eating exclamation point concluding a long weekend in mountainous, breezy, pastel-colored Salzburg, Austria. This adventure embarked upon with Becca, a friend I’d made while studying in Prague, Czech Republic.
Introverts, insightful and analytical, bookworms, watchful and often reserved, we had connected immediately over these shared traits. A sense of understanding and ease blooming between us. After my move to Germany, while she remained in Prague, we decided on meeting in Salzburg over a chilly long weekend in March. What ended up being a low key, though most awesome adventure and exploration of this tiny, picturesque town.
Brunch was a table scattered full, a mish-mash of platters and plates. Scrambled eggs, bacon, croissants, a variety of fruit, a smattering of sliced meats and cheeses, thick hunks of dark grained bread, with hot drinks to wash it all down. The conversation was particularly engaging and interesting. Discussing relationships, our respective lives in Prague and Germany, past loves, books, the current close friends in our lives, future potential plans, our families, covering the lot of it.
Moving on, you have the would-be breakfast on a day of leaving, a goodbye and an ending. Plates of food sitting between remain untouched. The steam wafting from their surface, growing cold underneath the saddest of looks. Heartbreak and anger were laden in each. Weighted silence. The air heavy with feeling and things unsaid. The food then scraped into the trash which, on brighter days, had been devoured and fondly anticipated.
Then there’s routine brunching in Frankfurt, Germany with your best guy friend, over croissants, soft boiled eggs in jars, and colorful spreads of sliced meats and cheeses. The food remaining much the same, though the location was ever-changing, to and through varying cafes over the years living there. Silly stories, the recounting of travel adventures, and recent rockin reads exchanged as we ate enthusiastically.
There was the final birthday brunch, picnic-style, spent with two of your closest. Two with whom you are wholly yourself. Drinking green tea (for you) and wine (for them), eating banana pancakes, scones, and lemon muffins which each of them spent their mornings making and baking just for you. Giggling, gossiping, unending number of smiles shared, coupled by looks tinged with the knowledge of shortly impending departure. Reveling in the company of these two fabulous women.
And then there’s the breakfast with someone new, with whom you feel surprising, stirring, blossoming potential. Unexpected and unsettling in the most awesome of ways. Eating blueberry lavender pancakes, tucked close to one another in his kitchen. Long, laden gazes and sweet smiles exchanged in abundance. Something powerful and poignant brewing along with your warm teas that morning.
Brunch isn’t just a meal. It's experiences. Strings of memories, moments, conversations, and emotions.
It can be romantic. Nostalgic. Mouthwatering. Great fun. A social event. A celebration. A milestone. An everyday Sunday, tinged with tenderness. A riotous and rambunctious meal out with friends. It can be an ending. And it can also be a beginning.