Economics? OK. Peace prize? Sure. But whoever came up with the concept of brunch deserves a Nobel as well.
There is no better way to start a weekend -- or celebrate its halfway point -- than with a meal that straddles the breakfast-lunch barrier. It's morning fare kicked up a notch, served in leisurely fashion and at a civilized time.
So here's our gift to you, three brunch places you may not have even known existed. You're welcome.
Address: 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville
Contact: 510-922-1369; www.hotitalian.net
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Open for brunch at 10:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Brunch tab: $32.63 for two.
Hot Italian is every bit as hip as the name and location -- between a Peet's and an Urban Outfitters in Emeryville -- suggest. So consider us surprised when we rolled up at 10:30 a.m. on a recent Saturday to no line for brunch at this large pizzeria in the city's Public Market.
Actually, we were the restaurant's first customers. The only employee in sight was wiping down tables from the night before but put in our orders for espresso and mochas while we perused the menu. The place was enormous by our brunch-spot standards, with 10 community tables and nothing smaller.
The weekend brunch menu at Hot Italian is small and focused, with pizzas, paninis, calzones and a few plates of cured meats, cheeses and seasonal fruits.
Razzoli ($12), a thin-crust pizza of scrambled eggs, caramelized onions, housemade fennel sausage, mozzarella and fontina cheese, was heavenly. The pizza was piping hot. The egg wasn't cracked and jiggling in the center but rather blended with the cheeses and cooked together. I liked that.
My no-cheese dining companion enjoyed the Bresaola Brunch ($12), a plate of impressively cured and quite lean Italian beef with two fried Clover eggs and sauteed spinach. But he complained that the accompanying sliced pizza crust was not warm and soft like it was on my Razzoli. It was cold and crunchy.
However, Hot Italian's charcuterie was so good it made us wish we'd ordered Piatto Di Salumi & Formaggi, a $10 plate of cured meats, cheese, marinated olives, marcona almonds, and seasonal fruit that would've delighted the entire table, including my 15-month-old, who couldn't get enough of the fennel sausage. Next time.
Service was surprisingly slow, and a bit cold, considering we were the restaurant's first and only customers for at least half an hour. But it won't keep us from going back to try the other pizzas. We love not waiting in line for brunch.
-- J. Yadegaran
Lucca Bar & Grill
Address: 439 First St., Benicia
Contact: 707-745-3749; www.luccabar.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays; until 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays with bar food until midnight. Brunch begins at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Lucca closes at 9 p.m. Sundays.
Brunch tab: $31.14 for two.
Let's face it, antique shopping is hard work. All that strolling in and out is bound to build up an appetite. Good thing more and more restaurants on the main drag of this artist's hamlet have expanded their menus and hours to include brunch.
Lucca offers numerous options for eggs, including an array of skillets, a quiche, a Benedict, and a deliciously spicy version of huevos rancheros. They also do bottomless mimosas for anyone who orders an entree -- a major plus.
But, the carbo-vore in us wondered where the pancakes were. Maybe a waffle? Their version of french toast ($9) is deep-fried -- state-fair-style -- and ordering it was a regret. Thank goodness our waiter noticed the picked-over fried batter on our plate and didn't charge us for it. Classy move on his part.
Maybe the French Toast Episode was meant to be, because it led us to order the Lucca Rancheros ($12), two fried eggs over a crispy corn tortilla sandwich of refried beans and ground chorizo sausage. I loved how the eggs were fried and blended seamlessly with the top tortilla. The dish was served warm and the accompanying spicy red sauce was perfect.
Unfortunately, the Veggie Skillet ($12) gave us Denny's flashbacks. It was overloaded with cheddar cheese and the chunks of yellow squash and zucchini were cut too big to cook through. They were hard. Thankfully, we got our vegetable fix from the Quiche ($11), spinach and mushrooms folded together with eggs, cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon.
We had to fight our toddler for the small bowl of fresh fruit topped with powdered sugar.
-- J. Yadegaran
Salute e Vita Ristorante
Address: 1900 Esplanade, Richmond
Contact: 510-215-0803, www.salutemarinabay.com
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner; weekend brunch is 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.
Brunch tab: $30.34 for two
Marina Bay is one of those serendipitous spots outsiders stumble on by accident, while checking out Richmond's Rosie the Riveter memorial, perhaps. It's lovely. The air is thick with the scent of the sea, the marina brims with masts and bicyclists whiz by on the blustery, seaward path. As for your brunch destination: It's a yellow Victorian with killer views, owned by an Ethiopian-born, Italian-raised woman who started her career here as a server.
Menbere Aklilu's swanky Italian restaurant draws happy crowds for lunch, dinner and cocktails, but on this particular sunny Sunday, there was no problem getting a table for brunch. (Make reservations if you want to guarantee that availability, though.)
Salute is an old-school restaurant, right down to the dessert cart, so the brunch menu, which is heavy on the eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine end of the spectrum, could probably use an update. But hypocrites that we are, we grouse over the shortage of lighter fare, while realizing that nothing on this planet -- certainly not any yogurt-granola parfait thing -- could dissuade us from ordering Italian sausage and poached eggs, smothered in marinara and melting mozzarella, and served over creamy polenta.
This is no place for dieters. Just saying. And Sunday brunch includes complimentary mimosas.
The Polenta e Uova ($14.95) is every bit as good as it sounds, and if you are more sensible than we are, you'll go halfsies on it. Or at least not pair it with the also tasty, but very large Calzone con Salsiccia e Spinaci ($14.95), the pizza dough encasing scrambled eggs, Italian sausage, spinach, ricotta and mozzarella.
Dine like that and you'll need a very long walk afterward. Good thing there's the perfect venue for that just outside the door, with killer views.
-- J. Burrell