For years, brunch was an opportunity to day drink. Then I stopped drinking.
For most of my life, brunch has always meant one thing: day drinking. As an active alcoholic, I was always looking for reasons to pick up a drink without raising any eyebrows. Social situations made me anxious and I always felt like I couldn’t relate to other people. I was worried about saying the wrong thing, always scared that people would see through me and know that I was a fraud somehow. I was terrified that no one liked me. But if I was drinking, those fears dissipated and I felt like I could be cool, funny. So any excuse to pick up booze was a good one, and it had been that way since I took my first drink at 18. Most of the time, people would be concerned if you started drinking at 11 a.m., but if you’re around a brunch table, no one bats an eye. So brunch became my favorite meal.
Mimosas were my favorite (especially if the orange juice was nothing more than a floater on top of the bubbly). But I also learned how to order the perfect bloody mary—extra Worcestershire sauce and a splash of pickle juice, in case you were wondering. Bloody Caesars did the trick, too, because their salty brininess was every flavor I loved in a single glass.
I’d never much cared for breakfast items—I was afraid to try runny egg yolks because my mother hated them. I found scrambled eggs to be unappetizing. I’m not into sweet foods, so waffles and pancakes were out, and maple syrup is my least favorite food in the world. Even the smell makes my stomach turn. And while I appreciated that there were lunch items to choose from because, well, it was brunch, I always seemed to be the only one interested in that side of the menu, which made me feel like I was somehow brunching wrong. Good thing I had those mimosas to drown my insecurities.
But then something threw a wrench into my brunch game. When I was 26, after hitting a rock bottom that involved job loss, hospital visits, and near homelessness, I went to rehab and got sober. When I left treatment, I tried to figure out how to live a life that didn’t center any and all activities around booze. It meant learning how to be a person all over again. What do you do when you’re bored on a Saturday afternoon if you can’t go to the bar for a glass of wine? What do you drink at a party when beer is no longer an option? And what on earth is the point of going to brunch if the drink menu has to remain unopened?
For a long time, I avoided dining out of any kind. Arriving to a table pre-set with a wine glass, being handed a drink menu, and imagining the disappointment of the server when they realized that my bill wasn’t going to be padded with the expense of booze gave me severe anxiety. I felt like restaurant dining came with the expectation of imbibing, and I had a hard time enjoying my meal. I felt alien, exposed, and insecure, like a child learning to walk. The world felt foreign; it was like everyone else knew how to navigate these everyday situations except me. Like there was an instruction book to life that everyone but me had received; I was floundering.
Over time, it got easier. Once I started to focus on the food—the reason I was eating out in the first place—my world opened up. I began to expand my palate and try new things, ordering chef’s tasting menus or trying any item on the menu that I’d never eaten before. It was through this widening of my culinary world that I really discovered brunch for the very first time.
Without the distraction of the booze,I was no longer concerned with getting a buzz and pounding back as many bottomless mimosas as I could. I began to understand what everyone loved so much about brunch.
Once I experienced the beauty and the versatility of the runny egg yolk, I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to try it. I tried every version of eggs benedict I could get my hands on, sopping up the yolk with toast, challah, or English muffin scraps: any bread I had at my disposal. I discovered the joy of a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak served with sunny-side-up eggs. And I finally learned to enjoy bacon outside of a bloody mary glass.
My husband and I began inviting friends over for huge brunches. We cooked eggs benedict on top of challah french toast, made a bacon butter to spread on toast, and fried a variety of food items in duck fat. I had always thought that brunch was a social occasion because of the booze. Now I realize that what makes it social is simply surrounding yourself with good people, eating good food, and enjoying each other’s company. When I shifted the focus from what was in my glass to what was on my plate, I finally understood how to love brunch.