Brunch in Los Angeles can be considered a microcosm of the city itself — a social experiment fueled by Champagne, eggs Benedict, Snapchat filters, sunshine and chefs and patrons, each with increasing levels of celebrity. It would be too easy to write it off as a nonchalant midday meal made popular by a community of freelancers and those with disposable incomes. But within the last eight months, we’ve seen brunch go from diner food to omelets and egg sandwiches made by James Beard-caliber, white tablecloth chefs.
Ari Taymor, the 2015 James Beard nominee for rising star chef of the year, whose restaurant Alma was Bon Appétit magazine’s Best New Restaurant in 2013, is making doughnuts for brunch. Michael Cimarusti, a James Beard nominee for Best Chef West this year, whose restaurant Providence has occupied the top slot on Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants list since there was a list, is serving brunch at his West Hollywood seafood restaurant Connie and Ted’s.
Ludo Lefebvre, the French chef who once helmed L'Orangerie and Bastide and is now behind Trois Mec and Petit Trois, is making an omelet with queso at his daytime-only, brunch-centric restaurant Trois Familia in Silver Lake. Lefebvre's partners at Trois Mec, Petit Trois and Trois Familia, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, who just jointly won the James Beard award for Best Chef West (and who have their own restaurant empire made up of Jon and Vinny’s, Son of a Gun and Animal), are now making ham, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches at Animal.
Josiah Citrin, whose Santa Monica restaurant Mélisse has two Michelin stars, will be making blueberry popovers at his Venice restaurant Charcoal when he launches brunch service next month. And Nancy Silverton, the chef and baker behind the Mozza restaurants, recently started brunch at Pizzeria Mozza, which is still one of the hardest reservations to get in town.
It can be argued that the queen of daytime food, Jessica Koslow of Sqirl in Silver Lake, has been steadily elevating the brunch game in this city for years now, one piece of smeared toast at a time. When she opened Sqirl in 2011, brunch was popular, but it was nowhere near the chef-driven movement it is today.
“Maybe it’s because there was this chef perception that no one eats out for breakfast or lunch, and everyone felt like the only way to get people in was to do the classics,” said Koslow, known for her grain bowls, house-made jams and breads. She’s recognized a recent shift in perception when it comes to brunch. “I don’t know if part of it now is people can see a place like Sqirl can survive and do interesting food at that time of the day. Maybe people see there’s a real market for it.”
For Ari Taymor, whose Alma is now a long-running pop-up at the Standard in Hollywood, the decision to serve brunch was about being at the right location. And though he may be making doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches, his brunch items are just as involved as his dinner menu: malted maple doughnuts, seaweed hollandaise, Dungeness crab poutine.
“This is just a different playing field than Alma downtown, so there are more guests here, more traffic coming in and out of the hotel, and it seemed logical to kind of try to share our sourcing viewpoint and our ethical viewpoint through an even more casual kind of service,” said Taymor. “I think that having good food during the day is something that people need more and more of."
Lefebvre, who says he once looked at the guys working at brunch buffet omelet stations with pity, is working on his fourth restaurant, a Petit Trois in the San Fernando Valley, with an emphasis on brunch.
“We’re going to do a very, very big brunch there with lots of eggs, waffles and croissants,” said Lefebvre. “I’m working on a doughnut crème brulee for brunch and also a pancake souffle.”
His decision to open Trois Familia with Shook and Dotolo as a daytime-only restaurant last year had more to do with the lack of a liquor license than it did his affinity for eggs. But he says he’s learned to love and appreciate brunch — and even omelets.
“As a chef, you want to also do what people like,” said Lefebvre. “It’s not just about ourselves. The weekend is insane at Trois Familia. People wait an hour and a half for some eggs. I’m amazed. People don’t complain. And there’s no alcohol.”
Shook and Dotolo started serving brunch at Animal last year, seven years after opening their meat-centered restaurant on Fairfax Avenue in 2008. The two may be the most nationally lauded chefs in the city, known for their TV show “2 Dudes Catering” and a memorable New Yorker profile that mentioned putting veal testicles on the menu at Animal.
“From a cook’s perspective, brunch isn’t as glorified, and it’s also a harder service,” said Dotolo. “It’s fast, usually comes quick and in big waves. The food cooks differently and timing things is different.”
“Dinner obviously is the one that gets the most press and attracts the fancier plating and stuff like that,” said Shook.
“We wanted something to appeal to people that have children and don’t always get to come for dinner,” said Dotolo. He and Shook are both fathers now. “So we offer some things for dinner at brunch, but also things that are the spirit of the restaurant, geared towards a brunch crowd.”
If you really want to have the signature oxtail poutine at 11 a.m. on a Sunday, you can. But you can also get chilaquiles, or a ham, egg and cheese sandwich.
Cimarusti started serving brunch at Connie and Ted’s just before the new year. The West Hollywood restaurant is definitely more casual than his other restaurant Providence, but the fact that Cimarusti, the equivalent of chef royalty in this town, is making omelets, is worth noting.
“It just seemed like there was an opportunity to do well if we expanded our hours on Saturday and Sunday,” said Cimarusti, who credits most of Connie and Ted’s menu to his chef Sam Baxter. “And a lot of the things we’re doing at Connie and Ted's is reflective of Providence. It’s not all just really simple stuff. We do everything in-house. The English muffins, we make them.”
The omelet at Connie & Ted’s comes with beurre blanc and crab. The Nor’easter breakfast sandwich is served on one of those house-made English muffins with clam strips.
Neal Fraser, who introduced brunch at his upscale downtown restaurant Redbird earlier this year, has been making brunch for years at his Beverly Boulevard restaurant BLD. At Redbird, which opened in 2014, Fraser said he'd always planned on doing brunch, it was just a matter of timing.
“We wanted it to be an elevation of lunch, closer to our dinner menu,” said Fraser. “In my head, our lunch is more useful, more accessible. Brunch is a little more esoteric.”
Thus, his menu leans toward scrapple with fried pig ears, foie gras English muffins and an almost translucent bloody Mary made with clarified tomato juice.
“We’ve got some traditional stuff, but our clientele are people who are more foodies and more food-centric,” said Fraser.
With all the talent cooking brunch, the daytime meal may finally lose its bad rap, at least in Los Angeles.
“A lot of that has to do with why Jessica Koslow hasn’t gotten a Beard nomination when she has for the last three years been putting out some of the best food in the city,” said Taymor. “Because she has a daytime spot, it’s kind of looked down on or looked at less seriously. But the amount of stuff they make in-house is staggering.”
“I think a lot of people are trying to jump out of that way of thinking,” said Taymor. “Just because it’s not plated with tweezers, doesn’t mean it’s less technical or difficult to cook.”