Brunch used to be something extended families did on the rare occasions they got together. Either that, or it was reserved for holiday weekends, when sleeping in past breakfast time could be excused, given either the holiness of the occasion or the quality of the brunch being served.
But brunch, as you well know, has evolved into something else entirely. It's no longer a seldom-eaten meal; on the contrary, it's now a given one. Every weekend, it seems, there will be brunch. And there will be brunchers, eagerly spilling onto restaurant patios, mimosas in hand.
In a recent New York Times piece, David Shaftel wrote a harsh critique of this trend of events. If Shaftel had his way, on weekends everyone would forgo brunching in lieu of waking up early, well rested, and with enough mental and emotional fortitude to prepare themselves oatmeal.
I argue for the middle ground. Family shouldn't have to be in town and no one needs to get resurrected in order for brunching to occur, but at the same time this need not be a two-day exercise in alcohol and Hollandaise-fueled lethargy. Instead, brunch should be the happy occasion when reasonably well-adjusted people eat a satisfying, late-morning meal. I had just such a meal on Sunday -- one that not only solidified in my mind the value of brunch, but perhaps more importantly the value of corned beef.
People think of corned beef as being one of those foods residents of flyover states eat in order to secure their vital organs in a protective layer of fat for when winter comes, or something grandmothers serve alongside stewed cabbage because their views of what can be consumed were morphed by the Depression. It's true: At first glance, corned beef might not seem like the sagest decision to start your day with. It's processed, preserved and an oddly vibrant shade of pink. But so is bacon, which, God knows, has enjoyed a hearty welcome on Americans' brunch plates.
But bacon is sexy, right? It renders in its own fat and gets crispy. It's the Gisele Bundchen of breakfast meats, whereas corned beef is Rosie the Riveter: practical, a workhorse and valued during wartime efforts. But in the right hands, corned beef can become the sturdy, potassium nitrate-infused belle of the ball.
At Deli News, a New York-style deli where Dallasites can find everything from borscht to blintzes, corned beef gets the star treatment. The beef here is just slightly salty, oh so tender and makes a great Reuben. For brunch, though, try the Coney Island or the hash.
The Coney Island features two potato knishes, pan fried until golden brown and crispy, which are mounded with thin slices of corned beef and melted swiss. The final product is a thing of beauty, it really is, and on the few occasions I have managed to finish the entire thing I am instilled with a profound sense of calm and achievement. I imagine that's how climbers feel after they've summited Machu Pichu, only maybe less bloated.
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Hash is the dish to order if you want the corned beef to truly shine. Here, the beef is chopped up with onions and seared on the griddle until the outer layer takes on a dark color and develops a thin, crispy edge. The hash is served with home fried potatoes, three eggs your way and toast or a bagel. I opt for wheat toast, which I use to corral the meat and to mop up the runny yolk from my poached eggs.
Ultimately, corned beef represents a departure from brunch-as-usual, but I say that's a good thing. I left Deli News that day empowered by my brunching experience. I felt strong, like a farmer. While every other childless 20- to 30-something was still nursing a Bloody Mary, I was getting ready to take on the rest of my day, fortified by a good meal and a half pound of meat.