Brunch Box

What Time Is Brunch?

When does the most amorphous meal of the week start, and when does it end?

By Katharine Shilcutt July 1, 2013

Half the time, brunch is really morning dessert in disguise. Seen here: chocolate brioche and coffee at Pondicheri.

As I walked up to the front doors of Saint Genevieve this past Sunday morning, I was surprised to see its normally raucous patio quiet, with no line beginning to form on the catwalk that connects the brunch spot to the rest of its West Ave. neighbors. Had it closed? Or had I gotten there too early?

A glance at the door revealed that Saint Genevieve doesn't open until 11 a.m. on Sundays. And here I was at 10:30 a.m., looking to get brunch with my friends like a sucker. To be clear, it's entirely my fault for not checking Saint Genevieve's hours ahead of time (and before scheduling a 10:30 a.m. brunch with my friends). But I was left with the nagging question: Since when is 10:30 too early for brunch?

It's not the first time this question has come up. Although I've been having Sunday brunch with the same group of ladies for several years now, there is no set brunch time. Some weekends, we manage to meet up by 10 or 10:30 a.m. and I consider this a triumph. Other weekends, none of us can drag ourselves out into the blinding sunshine until at least noon. I consider this to be having lunch together at that point. My friends disagree. Brunch, they reason, is any meal eaten on Sunday that's not dinner.

And on those points, they are technically correct.

Food historians generally agree that the word "brunch" itself was popularized in 1895 by Guy Beringer, a British writer who extolled the virtues of this mid-day meal in an essay called "Brunch: A Plea." This meal would be a post-church affair that began around noon, starting with lighter breakfast fare such as marmalade and toast before moving on to heavier items like roasted meats.

Saag paneer and sweet potato omelet with carrot paratha at Pondicheri.

"Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting," Beringer wrote. "It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week."

Over a century later, that much has remained the same. But the timeline for brunch has changed.

"Brunch for me starts anywhere between 8 a.m. and ends around 7 p.m.," says Joëlle Eid, a social media manager. "What I'm saying is there's never a bad time for brunch."

Other answers I received from habitual brunchers ranged from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. as "traditional" launch times for brunch to 2 p.m. as the necessary cut-off.

"But if I were king," says Scott Snider, who works in communications, "brunch would commonly be served until 5 p.m. Saturday brunch would also be encouraged." Snider followed this statement up by posting a photo of mimosas, biscuits, eggs, and bacon to my Facebook wall several hours later, which was simply captioned: "Brunch at 3:30...rules be damned."

Blue laws in Texas also govern our brunch-time window, as no good brunch is complete without mimosas or bloody marys.

The ideal time for Sunday brunch is "10:30 a.m., so we can sell mimosas," reports Steve Marques, the executive chef at Coal Vines in Sugar Land. Kevin Strickland, owner of Gratifi in Montrose, agrees: "If you mean the point at which a mimosa or bloody mary may legally be served on Sunday...10 a.m."

But brunch also treads a thin, permeable line between breakfast and lunch—as the portmanteau would indicate—that means both breakfast and lunch foods must be readily available.

If you don't get to brunch at Pondicheri before noon, all the good pastries may be gone.

"I would say 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.," say husband-and-wife brunchers Adam and Sara White, "since brunch should include alcohol and some non breakfast food too." The Whites would have been perfectly happy at Saint Genevieve that morning. I, however, was starving, having already been awake for four hours (brunch is often the bane of early risers, as we don't want to ruin the meal by eating but we also just want to cook a giant pan of bacon 30 minutes after waking).

My friends and I rendezvoused via text, shifting the brunch festivities downstairs to Pondicheri‚ which happens to be our standard brunch spot in the first place (and which opens at 7:30 a.m. every day). We ordered heaps of saag paneer omelets and morning thalis and chocolate-stuffed brioche and dark Indian coffee and relaxed into the familiar weekly ritual.

I think my friend Kyle Nielsen has the best answer of all when it comes to the question of when modern-day brunch starts—especially as evidenced by our Sunday morning. Brunch begins, Nielsen says, "about two hours after everybody wakes up, coordinated by text messages."


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