Benedict ushered in a whole new era of Berlin brunching
It took eight years for Berliners to get brunch right, and even then, they needed a little help from Israel. Bear with me here: I’m a Jew, so I’m preternaturally inclined to feel proud of other Jews who make it big in a city that previously decided it would be better off without them. Worse still, I’m a New Yorker who moved to Berlin in 2008, which means I’m practically destined by the gods to complain my way through a thousand mediocre breakfasts before finally, begrudgingly admitting to have settled on the right one. But if there is a right one in Berlin, it’s being served by Tel Aviv transplants at Benedict, and the wait has been well worth it.
Not too long ago, brunch in Berlin, at least for me, meant getting together a cadre of your brokest friends, arguing over which restaurant’s all-you-can-eat buffet was cheapest, then stuffing yourself with as many heaping platefuls as possible and pocketing a few crusty rolls for dinnertime to boot. Now-enlightened Berliners wax unromantic about banquet tables full of droopy arugula salads drenched in too much dressing, slightly slimy deli meats straight out of the supermarket package, crusty cheese slices, and eggs hard-boiled into oblivion, their yolks more grey than golden yellow. Something had to change.
There were early rumblings of it in Berlin—places that acknowledged there had been a problem without completely solving it. California Breakfast Slam appeared as early as 2011, but its elusive nature (it was a floating establishment) made it hard to pin down and even harder to become a regular. Nalu Diner made a valiant attempt, but its so-called “pancakes” were actually flat and floppy as crepes. Tassenkuchen earned points for cuteness (it’s name is the literal German translation of “cupcake”), but even mini Bodo French presses weren’t enough to make up for the fact that its pancakes were, indeed, cupcake-sized. Papi Crunch, the weekly brunch series at Parker Bowles, and House of Small Wonder, the Japanese-inspired Brooklyn transplant, came closer to the promised land, but something about them just didn’t leave me verklempt.
Benedict opened just before Christmas 2016 on a somewhat unlikely stretch of the quiet, residential neighborhood of Wilmersdorf (though it happens to be my beloved ‘hood). The restaurant takes a concept that has spawned a mini-empire in Tel Aviv since 2006 and only improves upon it. Currently open until 11 p.m. and aiming for all-night service, it mixes classic American dishes with multi-plate breakfast combos like the English Breakfast (including beans and sausages) the Tzar’s Delight (eggs, smoked salmon, crepes and sour cream) and Korean-style, with flank steak and kimchi rice. Shakshuka, that beloved Israeli tomato and egg stew, makes an appearance, as does Eisbein Stulle, a take on a classic Berlin open-faced sandwich with pulled pork and homemade sauerkraut. Their list of egg dishes is two pages long, and they offer six different kinds of pancakes, including fluffy, spongy banana pancakes, dusted with coconut flakes and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.
Then there’s the airy, cheery atmosphere, in stark contrast to the the Berlin trend towards shabby, lumpy vintage couches and peeling wall paint. Benedict offers exactly the kind of place you’d want to spend your first few waking hours in. Benedict has done the city a real mitzvah. There’s its brightly colored interior and its glasses of tap water that appear unprompted along with the menu (whereas even asking for such a thing in much of Berlin would earn you a dirty look from your server). There’s seating of the smart, upright, wakey-wakey sort, as well as some deep, loungey sofas and loveseats for if you want to put on a pair of sunglasses and sink back into slumber while waiting for that first coffee to arrive. The morning rolls actually emit a telltale crackling sound when fetched from their basket – a most satisfying noise when you’re hungover, signaling sustenance is on the way. You can actually read the International New York Times and the NYT Magazine without feeling the need to hide it. Waiters are from everywhere, and they are extremely, un-Berlinisch-ly nice.
Sure, even Benedict isn’t perfect. For one thing, what’s the point of bringing over a breakfast place from Israel if you’re going to make your French toast with brioche and not challah? There’s no bloody mary on the cocktail list... yet. But take these as stumbling blocks on the road to immortality, mere hiccups in Benedict’s quest for true greatness. After all, what are a few well-meaning complaints among friends, especially when those friends have been deprived of truly great brunch food for far too long. Benedict is the best thing to ever happen to the Berlin brunch scene, and we have Tel Aviv to thank for that.