The Stories Behind 5 Classic Brunch Dishes
Learn 'em all and wow your hungover friends
Dear readers, this is the time on Extra Crispy when everyone drinks a bunch of booze and tries to recount some of the most significant moments in… oh, wait. That’s that show, Drunk History. This is Brunch History—although it’s equally as much fun. If you’ve ever wondered where some of your favorite brunch standards come from, read on to learn who the bloody mary may be named after, why you could have a stockbroker to thank for your eggs Benedict, and why French toast is the oldest brunch trick in the book. Then the next time you order a mimosa, ask for a Buck’s Fizz instead (you’ll see why in just a moment).
Much like your cognitive abilities after a few of everyone’s favorite hair-of-the-dog cocktail, the origins of the Bloody Mary are hazy, tracing back to bars in two cities (those would be Harry’s New York Bar, Hemingway Bar in Paris, and the 21 Club in New York City). It seems likely to have been first shaken and poured by one Frances Petoillet at Harry’s New York Bar. As for its semi-gruesome name, many claim that the drink is named for Queen Mary I of England (illustrated above), while others believe it’s associated with the actress Mary Pickford. Truth be told, on a rough morning, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from—just that it has enough horseradish and Worcestershire to knock out whatever was downed the night before.
Speaking of hangovers, that’s exactly how eggs Benedict may have come to be: A stockbroker named Lemuel Benedict claims to have requested the dish (or rather, its ingredients of toast, poached eggs, bacon, and hollandaise) at the Waldorf Hotel, after a rough night, of course, in a New Yorker article from 1942 (although he says he ordered his eggs Benny back in 1894). Turns out there are plenty of other Benedicts who lay claim to the dish, including a banker and yachtsman in France by the name of Commodore E.C. Benedict, and one Mrs. Le Grand Benedict, who says she created the dish at New York’s Delmonico’s around 1900. All that’s clear is this: Many people say they created it, but there isn’t a Cumberbatch in the bunch.
Champers and OJ have been a match made in heaven for nearly a century, having reportedly been created by one Frank Meier at the Hotel Ritz Paris in 1925. It seems that a similar cocktail called the Buck’s Fizz was invented around the same time in London—only it uses twice as much Champagne as a traditional mimosa. If you’re smart, you’ll be quaffing the Buck’s Fizz from now on, thank you very much.
Meet the OG of the breakfast squad: Known as pain perdu (or “lost bread,” because it was made by soaking day-old bread in eggs and milk), the dish was referenced in 4th or 5th century Rome in cookbook that was written in Latin. It was served with game meats in medieval times (not at Medieval Times, mind you) and continued to appear through the centuries in cookbooks by the likes of Martino da Como (a 15th century Italian culinary maestro who was essentially the Mario Batali of his time) and Tallievent (aka, the chef Guillaume Tirel, who literally wrote the book on French cuisine, Le Viandier, in the Middle Ages). As for why it’s called French toast despite not actually being from France, the chef who popularized it in America in the 1720s was named, you guessed it, Joseph French.
While fried potatoes go back centuries (hello, rosti), the first mention of “hashed brown potatoes” was by food writer Maria Parloa in 1888, and the now-ubiquitous side was popular at fancypants New York City hotels around that time too. It wasn’t until 1972, however, that McDonald’s began selling its now-famous portable hash brown patty—a boon for tater lovers who don’t have time to muck around with a pesky fork.
Karen Palmer is the former editorial director of Tasting Table, a proud daughter of New Jersey, and a pasta obsessive.