I'm not sure when the brunch thing started.
I've been with Marilyn, my partner in life and dining, for more than 10 years, and even in the early days we tended to go out for breakfast on the weekend. Before that, I'd usually treat myself on Saturdays, eating out with no company other than a newspaper or a book.
But it wasn't a ritual back then; it is now.
Almost every Sunday -- at our leisure, because brunch means you don't have to get up early -- we head out in search of indulgent stacks of pancakes or waffles, migas and mimosas, and we exhale, because we know that for at least a few hours, no negative thoughts will infringe on this bliss. The workweek ahead is a speck in the mirror. That jerk who cut us off on I-35 has already been forgotten.
At its best, a truly great brunch transports you to some exotic getaway, and you get lost in the decadent dishes: Grand Marnier French toast, eggs creole, a Frito pie omelet, salmon crepes. That's just a sampling of the edible art we've encountered on our brunch adventures in DFW. And judging from the crowds, we're not the only ones who are forgoing the Denny's Grand Slam to try and find brunch nirvana.
Though not exactly Lewis and Clark, Marilyn and I regularly drive 30 minutes, sometimes 60, in search of great pumpkin pancakes or a signature Bloody Mary. Our travels have taken us to off-the-beaten-path places, like Hannah's Off the Square in Denton, and we've also waited more than an hour for a table at hot spots (Oddfellows in Dallas' Bishop Arts District, you were so worth it).
Like any good explorers, we document our findings. On Facebook.
I started posting my iPhone photos not so much to show off, but to let other people know about these places. But I have to admit, there's a bit of an ego boost in people lusting over my food, even if I didn't actually cook it.
From all that, a brunch diary has evolved. Like many of the diaries I've tried to keep, it's erratic and incomplete -- some perfectly good brunch dishes weren't all that photogenic (carrot-cake pancakes at Café Modern, you're wonderful, but mostly brown), and others didn't get to enjoy Facebook glory because of bad lighting or my inconsistent photography skills. And we haven't had time to return to some faves since I started taking the photos (Smoke in Oak Cliff, it has been too long).
My diary is not meant to be one of those "Best Brunches in DFW" roundups, though some of these places would definitely find a home on any best-of list.
Simply put, consider this a snapshot of some delicious Sundays, lazy days spent hanging out with someone special and discovering inventive dishes that feed the soul almost as much as they fill the stomach.
Winslow's Wine Cafe: Classic French toast
Can't believe it took us nearly three years to try this neighborhoody place just west of the Cultural District on Camp Bowie Boulevard. We wandered in on Fall Gallery Night, more in pursuit of a glass of wine than anything else, and discovered that Winslow's has a full dinner menu and a Sunday brunch (during the past couple of weeks, it has also opened for lunch Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays). We were hooked by the friendly vibe and the wood-fired pizzas, and we've become semiregulars ever since, even though we live nowhere near the place.
The next day, we returned to check out brunch -- the Winslow's classic French toast was calling to me. Described on the menu as "semolina prepared with cinnamon-clove custard batter and topped with rosemary-cayenne maple syrup," it did not disappoint. Both the clove and the cayenne came through, adding bite and spice to an otherwise sweet dish, but not so much that it destroyed the balance.
We also took a rare picture of Marilyn's savory dish, the huevos rancheros over black beans with home fries. Winslow's offers nine other "Sunday specialties," including quiches, Benedicts and omelets. But if you're not in a breakfast mood, hummus and pizza are also available.
We returned to Winslow's a few weeks later, and my sweet tooth steered me toward the turtle waffle, served with chocolate chips, caramel sauce and pecans. "When I come I'll bring lots of insulin," my diabetic brother-in-law said in a Facebook comment. "Looks amazing!" (Note to self: Get a physical exam.)
And it was amazing -- crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with that just-right chocolate-caramel combo. If the FB photo's a little blurry, it's because I was anticipating the sugar shock. And yet, one of the things I appreciate about Winslow's is the modestly sized portions. They make afternoon naps a little less necessary.
Brunch time: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $7-$17 (all prices are for single entrees)
Find it: 4101 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-546-6843
Hannah's Off the Square: Blueberry pancakes
I'm always reluctant to tell people about this place, because I believe it's one of the best-kept brunch secrets in North Texas. It gets a respectable Denton crowd, but not that many people in the core DFW Metromess know about it. Its patio is one of the best in the area, and executive chef Sheena Croft latched onto the local-food movement early. Our first visit a couple of years ago was for dinner, which was good, but it's the brunch that keeps drawing us back -- in my case, for the seasonal-fruit pancakes such as the artfully designed, fluffily textured blueberry stack.
But brunch here is pretty wide-ranging: I can vouch for the honeycomb-banana pancakes, which come with full chunks of honeycomb, and for the Grand Marnier French toast. Hannah's also offers good migas (including a vegetarian version), veggie black-bean chili, a blue-crab omelet, salmon crepes and such items as the Mulberry St. Breakfast, which features scrambled eggs, fried green tomatoes, locally made goat cheese, fresh herbs, seasonal fruit, wheatberry toast, and homemade jam and butter. And that's just a sampling. Mimosas, margaritas and Bloody Marys are $3.50 at brunch -- and Hannah's makes a good Bloody Mary.
Brunch time: 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Find it: 111 W. Mulberry St., Denton, 940-566-1110
Meddlesome Moth: Nueske's "Badass" bacon waffle
A gastropub that prides itself on serving more than just standard bar food, Meddlesome Moth (great name) is a great place to go for a beer and to gawk at the stained-glass representations of rock 'n' roll pioneers such as Chuck Berry and Elvis. The place has 40 beers on draught and more than 85 options in bottles. ("Chances are if you've seen it in a commercial, we don't serve it," the website warns.) But when we went, it was for brunch, and we bypassed the beer -- well, almost. The "hefe-mosa" is a mix of Live Oak HefeWeizen and orange juice that works well, thanks to the lightness of the wheat-based beer. The bacon waffle consists of two waffles covered in brie fondue sauce, topped with blueberries and accompanied by baked pears (the current menu lists warm apple compote) and bacon that's just the right crunchy-chewy consistency. The waffles had a mild sweetness that made syrup unnecessary, and the sweet and savory flavors complemented each other well. One of my Facebook commenters asked if they're served with a complimentary angioplasty balloon. (Note to self: Start working out more. Or some, even.)
I am not, by the way, totally averse to savory brunch food -- it's just that I have eggs at home virtually every other day of the week. But items like eggs creole (poached eggs, crawfish, cayenne hollandaise and brunch potatoes) and the Moth Benedict (which comes with braised pork belly and jalapeño gravy) intrigue me. As does the Frito pie omelet ("That's what it is," the menu says). I'll just have to get past the other waffle and French toast items on the menu.
Brunch times: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Find it: 1621 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas (west of Interstate 35E in the Design District), 214-628-7900
Online: www.mothinthe.net (Clever, huh?)
Oddfellows: Pancake sampler and cappuccino
On our long-overdue first visit to this buzzing Oak Cliff joint, we waited more than a half-hour for a table at 1 in the afternoon -- and brunch service stops at 2. Luckily, it was a pleasant enough day to wait outside and sip coffee, which was an experience in itself. The Oddfellows cappuccino is caffeinated work of art. This place has a great coffee rep, but unlike a lot of coffee bars, Oddfellows has an extensive food menu that's not limited to breakfast or brunch.
When I ordered the pancake sampler, described on the menu as a gingerbread, a red velvet and a chef's selection, I was expecting, you know, a sample of each, not three full-size pancakes. Not that I complained, especially when the chef's selection was buttermilk chocolate chip. The gingerbread, however, was the star, with a good gingery tang to it. Oddfellows offers a number of sweet dishes (including something called "French toast pudding" that's on my list of things to try), savory dishes (the green chile scramble, also on my list), a la carte meats (including a technically not-meat veggie sausage), salads and sandwiches. But the dish that earned the place a spot in Eater Dallas' "Eater 38" is the Buffalo chicken mac and cheese. I've had that, too, and it deserves all the accolades.
Brunch time: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday (although the coffee bar is open all day, the kitchen is closed from 2 to 5 p.m.)
Find it: 316 W. Seventh St., Dallas, 214-944-5958
Cafe Brazil: Eggnog French toast
We had been waiting for years for a Cafe Brazil to open in Fort Worth, having had many a post-concert late-night meal at the Dallas locations, especially the one near SMU off Central Expressway. This year, one finally arrived near TCU, and if I were still in college, I would probably spend every Friday night (or, more accurately, every Saturday morning) here. When I saw a recent Cafe Brazil Facebook post about the seasonal pancake menu, I had to go.
We met some friends there one Sunday morning, but I was the only one of the quintet who went for this concoction, which has so much eggnog sauce, baked apples and cranberries on it that you could barely see the French toast, so wonderfully eggy that it's almost like having eggs on the side. Eggnog can be cloyingly sweet, but this version was subtle, and the apples and cranberries were the true standouts. So I got a lot of fruit. That's nutritious, right? ("OMG, that's a diabetic coma waiting to happen," said a Facebook friend. Note to self: Order a salad every now and then.)
I suppose that, technically, this isn't brunch, since you can get breakfast any time at Cafe Brazil, including a number of pancake, French toast and crepe options, as well as a slew of egg dishes, non-breakfast items and gourmet coffees. The holiday menu, expected to be available through at least the end of December, also features bananas Foster French toast and cinnamon pumpkin pancakes. But this place is a must year-round for pancake junkies.
Brunch times: Breakfast available all day (official hours: 6 a.m.-5:45 a.m.)
Find it: 2880 W. Berry St., Fort Worth, 817-923-7777 (also six Dallas locations, as well as locations in Addison, Carrollton, McKinney and Plano)
La Duni Latin Kitchen: Latin hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream and panque de limón
Because Marilyn is a vegetarian, the traditional Thanksgiving turkey meal hasn't been a big thing for us, and about three years ago, we started a Thanksgiving tradition of having brunch at La Duni, a Dallas-based mini-chain known for its non-Tex-Mex take on Latin food, as well as its coffee drinks (and Latin hot chocolate) and stunning desserts. We usually visit the Oak Lawn location, where the Thanksgiving Day crowd is large enough to indicate that we're not the only ones who have this idea.
And no, I didn't have cake for brunch. At least not as my entree. The panque de limón -- vanilla sponge cake soaked in lemon-lime custard, topped with caramelized Swiss meringue, served on raspberry coulis -- just happened to be more photogenic (maybe because Marilyn took the picture), and very moist, with a good citrus flavor and possibly even better raspberry sauce. This plate didn't look like this once we got through with it.
Brunch times: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; breakfast available 7-11 a.m. Monday-Friday
Cost: $6.95-$17.95 (desserts $7.25-$11.50)
Find it: 4264 Oak Lawn Ave., Highland Park, 214-520-6888 (two other Dallas locations, plus one in Fairview in Collin County)
Lucile's Stateside Bistro: Huevos rancheros
Marilyn ordered this, and Lucile's serves up quite the take on huevos rancheros: eggs over hash browns and a flour tortilla, topped with green chile salsa and lots of cheese and pico de gallo. In an attempt to be non-pancake virtuous, I ordered the lump crab Benedict, and although it was good, afterward I was craving Lucile's wonderful banana-nut-bread French toast. I recommend it to any sweet-breakfast eater. I haven't tried the waffles yet, but the "blueberry galore!" exhortation on the menu put them on my to-eat list. And the table of young, healthy-looking men next to us seemed to be really into their breakfast pizzas.
This is another case of a neighborhood joint that, even if it's not in your neighborhood, is worth the trip. The fact that you can get breakfast there Saturday as well as Sunday adds to the appeal.
Brunch times: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Find it: 4700 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-738-4761
Online: www.lucilesstatesidebistro.com. (Note that "Lucile" does not have a double-l.)
NEXT Wood Fired Bistro and Vino Bar: Mint crepes
When we walked into this recently opened Colleyville restaurant shortly before noon one Sunday, we were worried -- the place was virtually empty. Turned out we were just early, and things filled up well before we left. Speaking of filling, this crepe dish satisfied without weighing me down for the rest of the day. Yes, it looks more like strawberry crepes, but the shreds of spearmint sprig give it a mint flavor, and the mascarpone cheese filling was delicately sweetened. And the presentation -- wow.
Next is run by Ying Aikens, who moved from Beijing to North Texas more than 20 years ago. She started her own catering company, Y2K Kitchens, three years ago, before opening Next in October in an old Taco Bell -- although you'd never know from the warm, cozy decor that this place used to be a fast-food restaurant. Other brunch items include almond-crusted French toast and a Brussels-style thin waffle, as well as Benedicts, omelets, quiches and other egg dishes. The lunch, dinner and happy-hour menus are wide-ranging, with pizza and flatbreads being among the most popular items, but pastas and meat and fish entrees are also available.
Brunch time: 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday
Find it: 5003 Colleyville Blvd. (just north of Glade Road), Colleyville, 682-325-4046
Paco & John Mexican Diner: Huevos divorciados
This is one of my favorite Fort Worth places to get Mexican breakfast dishes. On this visit, I ordered the huevos divorciados -- one egg with green salsa, one with red. I prefer my eggs over-easy and runny so I can mop them up with the breakfast potatoes and toast, but they can also be ordered scrambled on this dish. What this photo doesn't include is the killer salsa and queso that preceded -- and followed -- the main event. My favorite Paco & John breakfast dish, however, is the chilaquiles. It seems as if no two restaurants make this traditional dish the same way, but I like Paco & John's take the best: tortillas and grilled beef strips (arracheras, if you want to show off) tossed in a tomato-guajillo chile sauce and topped with fried eggs -- runny, the way I like 'em.
Paco & John can be a little unpredictable, as its off-and-on dinner service shows (it's currently off). But the restaurant, located in an old convenience store (as evidenced by the beverage coolers still in use), recently began a Sunday service, which balances things out a little.
Brunch times: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday (breakfast also available 7:30-10:30 a.m. Monday-Friday)
Find it: 1116 Eighth Ave., Fort Worth, 817-810-0032
Bolsa: French toast
I particularly like Bolsa's take on French toast, which is to encrust a mini loaf with crumbled cornflakes, making for a crunchy-on-the-outside/chewy-on-the-inside consistency. It's less eggy than some, and comes with berries and Vermont maple syrup. I've had some off-putting experiences with blackberries this fall, but these were juicy and sweet, and the combo of bread, berry and syrup flavors was just right. Not to mention that the blackberry juice and the syrup made for a colorful plate after all the food had disappeared.
This is one of the few times we were seated immediately at this popular Austin-esque Oak Cliff spot, located in a former garage and known for its cocktails as much its food -- and the food has been good every time we've been there. We suspect that the smaller crowd was because it was a cool day and fewer people were in the mood for patio dining, but the funky patio was enclosed and heated during our visit. Although we skipped it Sunday, the bruschetta tasting -- slices of bruschetta with toppings such as prosciutto-date and white bean puree and tomato jam and feta -- is a good way to try flavors both savory and sweet. And if you have room for dessert here, go for it. Unfortunately, the PB&J, a homemade peanut butter cookie topped with vanilla bean panna cotta and preserves, isn't currently on the menu, but the pumpkin cheesecake (with a ginger-snap crust and candied ginger) makes up for that.
Brunch time: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $8-$15 (desserts are $8)
Find it: 614 W. Davis St., Dallas (at Davis Street and Cedar Hill Avenue), 214-367-9367