Lessons Learned at Sunday School
Brunch reviews typically do not involve ethnography. This one did. Ethnography, if you are not familiar, is an anthropological method of observing a group or society from within. Social psychology darling Leon Festinger famously infiltrated a UFO-based cult called The Seekers and developed his theory of cognitive dissonance based upon his observations.
Which brings us to Sunday School, a primitive, semi-exclusive-but-not-really-exclusive brunch ritual held at Hotel Zaza. What follows are dispatches from the front lines of this mimosa-fueled hell.
Hotel Zaza’s posh-yet-edgy vibe is nicely captured by the 800-thread-count sheets on its beds and the vintage hearse parked in its driveway. Sunday School serves as an extension of this “fuck yeah, hospitality industry!” branding. It is held once a month in the hotel’s ballroom. At first glance it seems promising: a DJ spins records, Champagne and orange juice flow into flutes which are festooned with little Grand Marnier shots, and a soft, pink glow permeates the space. “Yes,” you might find yourself thinking, “yes, this is where Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow might have brunch.”
But as the warm buzz of the Marnier wears off, the pink glow also starts to fade. You notice that you are in a windowless space and that you are sitting on an industrial, banquet hall chair, the kind your cousin had at her second wedding. The mimosa is in a plastic glass, and the music sounds stale.
But the mimosas keep flowing and the appetizers are nice. Cinnamon rolls, with delightfully flaky pastry that has a crispy exterior and a pillowy interior. Fresh fruit is served in halved, hollowed pineapples. But something is amiss, for while the table is strewn with plastic knockoff Ray-Bans, there is not a serving utensil in sight. Surveying the room, you will find that no other tables have serving utensils. Does this not bother the other revelers, you wonder? Did they not come to this brunch to eat?
The answer to this question was soon revealed as waitresses delivered platters of miniature quiche to the table. They were good (the quiche, not the waitresses) in the way that frozen appetizers, carefully engineered and targeted at the harried home entertainer, are good when thawed and heated. The mandible of one ethnographer-for-a-day was kept busy by the quiche while everyone else refrained. Was this particular social strata not fond of quiche, or were they wise to the fact that culinary delights were ahead and wisely electing to not fill up?
What followed was a veritable parade of food. Scrambled eggs seemed a redundant chaser to quiche, but were cooked in bacon fat, which as we all know eases many a transgression. Next were a passable rendition of chilaquiles, presented atop a schmear of black beans. Curiously, the chilaquiles were mixed with yet more scrambled eggs. One could either surmise that the bro-heavy population of the room commanded a high egg-to-other-food ratio or that the kitchen had leftover eggs and was like “Screw it, they’re all hammered on cheap Champagne anyway.”
The parade continued with enough tinfoil to keep the war effort going. Chicken biscuits arrived snuggly bundled in their shiny foil wrappings, hopeful packages of good things to come. The only good thing about them was that they in no way impinged on Chick-fil-A’s business model, for the biscuits were crumbling, dry heaps of flour, and the chicken did not fare much better. These too were left largely uneaten and added to the platters of food littering the table.
Any semblance of enjoyment that a typical member of the human race could derive from this event was slowly strangled with the remaining train of dishes: sandwiches of pre-made pancakes and sausage, so industrial and tasteless that they made the chicken biscuits' foil wrappings look tempting by comparison. And for dessert? Miniature cheese-filled crepes, adorned with flowers. No, just kidding. The crepes were served second to last, after the nuclear byproduct pancakes and before the french fries. Soggy fries, weighed down by ketchup and sour cream and sadness and topped with pickled jalapeños and the tears of lost productivity.
As soon as the onslaught began it was over. The untouched food was whisked away, glasses were refilled with more mimosas and the music was turned up. Because brunch, as it turned out, was not what anyone was there for. This particular social group was interested in a different experience, one that embraced their high credit-card limit, their used BMWs and their remarkable ability to sustain themselves with alcohol alone.
The lights went low and the waitresses came back out with glowsticks galore and wearing panda bear heads. Men in Cowboys jerseys whooped and women danced on tables. And this was it. This was what people paid $75 each to do in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Whether or not they enjoyed it seemed of secondary concern; what mattered was that they had constructed the appearance of an enjoyable afternoon. More pictures were taken of the chicken biscuits than were eaten. The brunch was amazing, their social media feed would say the next day.
The purpose of ethnography is to lift the veil and let the outsiders peek in. But at Sunday School there isn’t much to see except for wasted food, wasted youth and a panda that wants to go on break.
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