After the third out-of-towner in a week asked me why Saturday brunch wasn't a "thing" in Houston, I got curious. Once is a blip, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend.
The problem is that -- as far as I know -- Saturday isn't the traditional brunching day of choice in Houston. Saturdays are our "get shit done" days. We can't afford to fall into a pitcher of mimosas on Saturdays. They're the days of kids' birthday pool parties and errands you couldn't get done during the week and soccer matches and mowing the lawn. During football season, they're also our sit-in-front-of-the-TV-with-friends-and-yell days.
"Tailgating is Saturday brunch," as my friend Lennie Ambrose at Saint Arnold Brewery puts it. "Break out the smoker -- or at least some extra cheap hotdogs -- a bloody mary and a lawn chair in a college parking lot."
The rest of our drunken debauchery and binge eating is reserved for the Lord's Day, naturally. Most of the city's best brunches -- like those at Triniti, Quattro and Danton's -- can only be found on Sundays. This could be a key as to why Houstonians traditionally reserve brunch for Sundays -- or, as we like to call them, Sunday Funday.
First of all, Saturday Funday does not rhyme and sounds ridiculous. Secondly, the whole point of Sunday Funday is to celebrate the fact that you got shit done on Saturday and are now doing one of two things (or both):
1) enjoying your day off by occupying a patio with your friends until the sun starts to set;
2) recovering from the night before with restorative "breakfast cocktails" and eggs.
Sunday couldn't be a more fitting day for these activities. It's also ideal for the city's large post-church crowd, who can transition their Sunday finest into an elegant meal at Brennan's or Rainbow Lodge. Even growing up, brunch was Sunday-only routine that went: Sunday school, church, brunch at Rio Ranch, home, football (again, in season), The Simpsons, dinner, bed.
For these reasons, brunch on a Saturday seems suspiciously gimmicky to me. But those on the coasts -- and in cities such as Austin, where folks from the coasts have taken over -- maintain that Saturday brunch is tradition.
When I ran into Eater National editor Raphael Brion this past Saturday night, he told me he was shocked to learn that Saturday brunch wasn't widely available in Houston. In both his original home base of New York City and his new home base of Austin, Saturday brunch is a given.
"We've always had Saturday brunch," explains Village Voice food critic Robert Sietsema, "but fewer take advantage of it. The meal is a restaurateur's ploy to sell you eggs and curdled Hollandaise at elevated prices, but most especially to get you drinking heavily in the afternoon." As suspected.
LA Weekly's Christine Chiao reports that "[i]n L.A., brunch isn't necessarily a must on Saturdays, but there are plenty of restaurants offering the menu in addition to Sunday."
"Just from empirical evidence," Chiao says, "people tend to opt for Saturday brunch to avoid the crush on Sundays." Oh, but the crush of humanity during Sunday brunch is what makes the meal such an occasion! What would brunch at the old La Strada have been without the mad crowds? What would brunch at Saint Genevieve be without the amateur fashion show parading past your table every 15 seconds?
There are restaurants that offer Saturday brunch in Houston (and I'm talking about a full court press Saturday brunch, not just breakfast that's served past noon), however. And if the Saturday brunch crowds at places such as Down House, Ouisie's Table and Backstreet Cafe are anything to judge by, the trend may be working its way into our city too. Even Baba Yega -- Montrose's brunching headquarters since 1975 -- has expanded its sprawling Sunday brunch into a smaller Saturday service.
Sean Beck, sommelier at both Backstreet Cafe and its sister restaurant, Hugo's -- where the elaborate Sunday-only brunch buffet is the stuff of legends -- notes that there are typically "three or four hundred people who brunch at Backstreet most Saturdays." Regardless, Houston may still be behind the curve when it comes to novel brunch trends.
"The new frontier in New York is everyday brunch," says Sietsema. "In other words, the menu served seven days, but still functioning as an alternative to the Walk of Shame."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Support Our Journalism
I still maintain, however, that brunch on Saturdays is an unnatural affair. And at least one person on the West Coast agrees with me.
"Obviously, the only reason folks brunch on Sunday is otherwise they'd never get out of bed after Saturday night," says food critic Hanna Raskin at the Seattle Weekly. "Nobody really wants a crab cake on a sourdough biscuit."