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Brunch in an era of austerity

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image La Luncheonette in Lower Manhattan as viewed from the High Line. Brunch was the perfect leisurely start to a leisurely day, a rare and valuable experience in today’s fast-paced world. Photo Mitch Traphagen

Brunch can be as much of a micro-vacation as it is a meal.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
 
In this era of austerity, brunch seems like a rather ostentatious concept. Almost by definition, it is a hallmark of the leisure class: sleeping in too late for breakfast and then lounging about over a meal before lunch. Of course, the opposite could be considered true, brunch is indeed thrifty as it combines two meals.

Whatever it is, brunch is something that I’ve always considered a luxury rather than a way of life. But as I get older, perhaps with the recognition that I have more years behind me than in front of me, my notions of such things are changing. I’ve learned that brunch is not a matter of economics, it is a matter of how life can be lived.

Michelle and I had only a few days in New York and we were planning to meet up with some friends. They suggested we meet for brunch. I am fairly certain the last time I had brunch was during the reception after our morning wedding on the beach at Captiva Island in 1997. Falling on the more austere side of things, it is just not something I normally consider. New Yorkers, apparently, do consider it. We discussed possible restaurants, but all were expected to have long lines and finding a table might prove impossible. We settled on a little place in the Chelsea district of Manhattan called La Luncheonette.

Not knowing what to expect, we hopped on the subway early in the morning to arrive at the restaurant well before their 11 a.m. opening time. It turns out we were glad we did, but not because of lines of people. La Luncheonette is located directly across the street from the High Line, New York City’s latest, greatest innovation that turned an abandoned, elevated train track eyesore into a stunningly beautiful and peaceful multi-mile park ideal for walking, jogging or just reveling in the moment while taking in a spectacular view of the city. The train rails are still in place, but that is all that would suggest an abandoned train track.

Before long, our friends arrived and we commenced to having brunch. There was no line and we were seated immediately in the quaint Lower Manhattan restaurant that somehow makes me feel as though I should be describing it in French.

There is no lunch hour for brunch. In fact, there is no time limit at all. Conversation came easily over our eggs, french toast and, happily, mimosas. The meal itself became part of the companionship, and without schedules, we lingered, enjoying the great food, laughter and good conversation. The mimosas helped to eliminate the sting of the $100 tab.

Afterwards, we again visited the High Line and then walked to Greenwich Village to browse through small shops and people-watch in a nearby park. Brunch provided the perfect leisurely start to a perfect leisurely day — a rarity in today’s fast-paced world.

Valrico isn’t exactly Chelsea and there are no subways that travel to Lithia Pinecrest Road, but Michelle and I decided to attempt to relive the pleasant memories we had in New York at a small, family-owned local place called The Brunchery. It turns out there are a lot of places serving brunch in South Hillsborough but if a place is going to call itself “The Brunchery”, chances are they have the whole brunch thing down pat. And indeed they did. We arrived early and had a short wait, but the line grew steadily behind us. Yet there was no rush, brunch is all about kicking back to a leisurely pace and even the people waiting seemed to have adopted that attitude.

Despite its strip mall location, The Brunchery is the kind of place that can make northern snowbirds feel at home and locals feel happy they have it in their neighborhood. OK, so the High Line wasn’t across the street, nor was Greenwich Village within walking distance, but it was a comfortable little place with a friendly staff and excellent food, appetizingly displayed with obvious pride on the plate. The bill was much less than in Chelsea, too. Since we drove, we didn’t bother to check if they offered mimosas on the menu.

Although things seem to be improving, survey after survey of the American public show that people, particularly in housing-bust states like Florida, don’t feel very confident about the future. In such times, justifying a luxury such as brunch can prove difficult. But it was much less than a therapist and it provided a brief respite from the pressures of everyday life. Besides, austerity isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

In our travels Michelle and I have crossed from the first world into the third and in most places we’ve visited, people, even of highly limited means, seem to be far better at finding time for leisure and life-enjoyment over things such as late dinners and brunch than do hard-charging Americans. OK, so the hard-charging part is what built this country but taking a break now and again can’t be the worst thing in the world.

Brunch can be as much of a micro-vacation as it is a meal. Actually, make that two meals, which reduces the price some for the thrifty-minded. Yes, there are bills to pay and a future to worry about but brunch offers a brief escape from all of that. Today can be taken slowly, appreciating the moment. Tomorrow can be worried about tomorrow.

Sunset Grill at Little Harbor is in the neighborhood, perfect for pretending to be on vacation for an hour or two over a leisurely brunch and mimosas, perhaps on Father’s Day. Chelsea may have the High Line but it doesn’t have a beach. Austerity can wait for another day. Life, however, doesn’t wait — and there is nothing ostentatious about living it now and again.

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