By its very definition, “brunch” is the meal that combines the enjoyment of dining on both breakfast and lunch items. No longer do you have to decide between chicken or waffles. Area restaurants are encouraging patrons to embrace brunch and break away from the traditional idea of what this dining experience has been — buffet style. Kitchen innovators are now utilizing fresh, local ingredients and serving up new dishes with a plated, off-the-menu approach.
“All of us are looking to bring a different view of what brunch is to the area and it helps each of us,” says Scott Halbach, excecutive chef at Houdini’s Escape Gastropub.
Here’s a taste of what you can expect from the new Fox Cities brunch scene.
“Here and there we do get customers asking us why don’t we open for breakfast,” says Fernando Almanza of inquiries he hears from customers at Antojitos Mexicanos.
With the opening of Antojitos Mexicanos’ new College Avenue location in Appleton, Almanza and his sister Veronica Banda, who are co-owners of the restaurant, decided to explore offering traditional Mexican breakfast items like Huevos Rancheros, Moyetes and Chilaquiles with brand-new offerings. In addition to finding eight items on their daily lunch menu, Antojitos Mexicanos also is serving breakfast on Saturday and is only open for brunch on Sunday.
Almanza is hoping to see families and friends gather on the weekends to partake in specialities such as, Carnitas — Mexican pulled pork served by the pound — and Birria De Chivo —goat meat cooked in red chile sauce also served by the pound.
“We wanted to be a little bit different then the other Mexican restaurants around and we see that they’re not doing this,” Almanza adds. “There’s more traffic here, especially a lot of walkers. … We’re going to try it and see how it goes over.”
The expanded space affords Almanza the opportunity to do some experimenting that he couldn’t at the restaurant’s former location, he says. Depending on response from customers, Antojitos Mexicanos may expand their breakfast offerings.
“It will be a whole different place here,” Almanza adds.
Houdini’s Escape Gastropub
The brunch menu at Houdini’s Escape Gastropub in Appleton is somewhat of a magic act as Executive Chef Scott Halbach changes up the menu weekly. The restaurant began serving brunch last Mother’s Day. Every Saturday, Halbach prepares the menu for Sunday’s brunch based on what the restaurant has in house at that time.
“Some stuff I’ll order specifically with brunch in mind,” he shares. While no two weeks of the menu are ever exactly alike, Halbach will refer back to previous menus for inspiration and favorite selections, which come back on occasion.
A recent offering was Perch & Eggs that utilized fish leftover from the weekly Friday Fish Fry. Two sandwiches that can be found on the menu during the week usually are offered during brunch as well due to their popularity. Dishes range from starters to medium and large plates, with a la carte items also offered.
“Some of the items we keep on there because they are popular items,” Halbach says of customer requests for dishes like the frittatas and benedicts. “They’re excited when they saw an item on there that we’ve served before.
There also are dishes that come together on a whim, like the Caramel Apple French Toast. Halbach happened to be out driving and noticed that Breadsmith was offering Apple Pie Bread. He purchased some and turned it into a dish that included the bread battered and fried with salted caramel sauce and Granny Smith apples.
“It’s about trying to change it up week after week,” Halbach says. “It took people a bit to get the gist of it, but now they love it. … They like what we’re doing with the menu so they’re always willing to try something new.”
Houdini’s also is drawing the Sunday football crowd during the season.
“They don’t have to go to a sports bar and get the sport bar food,” Halbach notes. “They can come here and watch the game and have good food.”
SAP Brunch, Brown Bag & Bakery
“We call it SAP Brunch because it’s kind of brunch all the time at SAP,” says Nicole DeFranza, co-owner of SAP Brunch, Brown Bag & Bakery with her sister, Kristen Sickler.
The Appleton restaurant believes customers shouldn’t have to decide between breakfast and lunch. All menu items are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the exception of eggs benedicts that are offered until 2 p.m.
“As a kid, I remember loving when my mom made pancakes for dinner,” adds DeFranza who notes that brunch doesn’t have to be “just a Sunday thing.” Daily specials are offered throughout the week, including Sunday’s feature, Waffle & ½ Fried Chicken — waffles served Belgian style with vanilla bean creme anglaise and chicken.
“We have people telling us that they’ve almost done every day of the week,” DeFranza shares. The special offerings are a throwback to DeFranza’s grandmother, Carmella.
“I do feel like the buffet idea is kind of old-fashioned,” she says, noting that she has experienced a different philosophy surrounding brunch in bigger cities and through her travels. “We just really liked the idea of bringing that to Appleton and enjoying brunch all the time.”
In fact, DeFranza added a French twist to the menu. During a visit to France, she was served a salad with an egg dish and brought the idea to SAP.
“This is something different, but it’s so amazing,” she says. “It’s a natural pairing.” The SAP Salad is mixed greens with SAP’s maple vinaigrette.
“We’re passionate about what we can bring to the table, literally,” DeFranza shares.
The Source Public House
After opening on July 24, 2014, The Source Public House added Sunday brunch to their repertoire in August. The Menasha eatery changes up its menu monthly and offers roughly six to 10 dishes per menu.
“Our commitment to local ingredients and because of that how it changes” is what sets The Source’s brunch apart from others in the area, says Co-Owner Dan Long. “Where we get it from sets it apart the most.”
With hearty selections like The Source Sandwich — a Manderfield’s Home Bakery croissant filled with two Milo’s Poultry Farm fried eggs, sharp white cheddar from Vern’s Cheese, Ney’s Big Sky Ranch thick cut peppered bacon, smoked ham from Sweet Grass and arugula from All Natural Greens, served with American potatoes — they’re bringing their own twist on brunch to customers.
The restaurant opted for an off-the-menu style brunch versus a buffet to maintain consistency and decrease waste, says Long.
The Source also will be starting up their Bluegrass Brunches this month, featuring bluegrass music from noon to 1 p.m., which isn’t too loud, allows people to carry on a conversation and adds to the atmosphere, Long explains.
“Our best days have been the days that we’ve had bluegrass music,” he shares. “They have time to come in, order a bloody mary and enjoy some music.”
Village Hearthstone Restaurant & Catering
Plated or a la carte, there’s something for those who favor a filling selection or a lighter option at Village Hearthstone Restaurant & Catering in Hilbert.
“Our dishes are fun, and have a wide appeal — they’re unusual, yet simple,” says Kevin Woods, executive chef. He enjoys creating the composition of each dish and changes the brunch menu — which features at least 10 items and often more — weekly ranging from pastries to breakfast appetizers and large plates.
Some examples of brunch dishes are Cider Braised Bacon with Dark Maple Syrup, and Crispy Red Potato Hash with Biscuits and Gravy, a customer favorite with a side of farm fresh eggs or served on its own as a small plate.
“The beauty of brunch is that enjoying a cocktail at that time of the day is completely acceptable,” says Sally Peck, director of Fun for Village Hearthstone. “Our Pepper Pot or Bacon Vodka Bloody Mary is a perfect complement to our menus that typically also include omelets and frittata selections, and always something sweet — like Peanut Butter and Jelly tartlets. Brunch is a feeling as much as a meal — it’s like the cherry on top of a perfect weekend — it’s fun for us and for customers, and we usually see a lot of them on Sundays.”