10 Things You Should Never, Ever Order at Brunch, According to Chefs
Chefs would rather starve than eat these particular brunch foods.
Doughnuts—they leave a hole in your soul
Yes, they’re delicious, but all-day-long satisfying and healthy? Not so much. (Here are some nutritionist-approved doughnut alternatives.) Chef Deb Gangale, of Claude’s at the Southampton Inn, won’t go near these sticky treats on a brunch table. “Although they’re a sweet, sugary, delicious indulgence, they also tend to be one of the least healthy brunch choices. I like to lean towards healthier, more savoury brunch items, because they sustain me without causing a mid-day sugar crash,” she explains.
Scrambled eggs—when they’re bad, they’re really bad
Eggs are brunch’s holy grail—not to mention a nutritional godsend. (Here’s our guide to picking good eggs.) Do them right, and they’re the stuff of golden, fluffy dreams. Prepare them badly, and you’ve just lost your customer. Polynesian chef extraordinaire, Felix Tai, understands the unique simplicity of this all-important, and telling, brunch staple. “A good egg with some audacious cheese to help with your Saturday night hangover can be good, if it’s cooked well. I love eggs, but I would rather starve if they’re not cooked right. This simple item is one that lots of chefs can’t master, because they do not understand the flavour, or viscosity of eggs. An overcooked, dried out egg is the worst sight ever, on a buffet line, or on a plate. To those who aspire to be a cook or chef, please do our world a favour, and learn how to cook your eggs right before anything else.”
Eggs Benedict—too many chefs fake it, can’t make it
Many chefs recommend you pass on this common brunch item—unless you’re dining in a restaurant renowned for the dish. “Most restaurants typically fall short when it comes to Eggs Benedict,” said Justin Cucci, Chef at Root Down Denver, a globally-influenced brunch spot, which is part of the Edible Beats Restaurant Group. “It’s easy for cooks to fake this dish, but to me a really good Eggs Benedict should be a perfect balance of poached eggs, buttery, lemony hollandaise sauce and a really yielding English muffin, with some salty, delicious ham. Most times what you’re getting is snotty looking—and tasting—poached eggs, with questionable ham, and room-temperature hollandaise sauce,” he says. (Check out this Low-Fat Eggs Benedict recipe.)
There are also safety concerns about this dish, according to Michelin-trained chef, Eddie Brik. “Stay away from hollandaise sauce, past two hours after the restaurant opens. High temperatures in the kitchen nurture bacteria growth. It’s okay for the first one-to-two hours after being made in the morning, but after that it’s no good, as there is no way to keep it fresh, and cooks do not make it to order,” he cautions.
French toast—too doughy to be worth the dough
When done well, French toast is a brunch indulgence worth the cost to pocket book and waist line. When done poorly, you’re better off with just a cup of coffee. “French toast is one of the most inconsistent dishes in terms of flavour and quality. I’ve had some pretty bad ones, that were too thick and doughy, and others where the chef had clearly poured the syrup on, and then let it sit, and get soggy before serving,” says Alex Willen, proprietor of the San Francisco Brunch Club, a popular review site.
Steak and eggs—it’s too hard on the jaws
Another no-go for Willen is steak and eggs, unless you’re brunching in a steakhouse. “At high end restaurants, steak and eggs are fine. At low end restaurants, you’re probably getting the cheapest, chewiest cut of beef they could find,” he explains. Try asking for a specific cut of meat, if steak and eggs is a dish you just can’t pass up.
Canadian bacon—you don’t know how long it’s been there
Chef Brik cautions against getting your salt fix from this brunch delicacy, unless you’re in a high-end restaurant. “How long has that Canadian bacon been sitting in the walk-in refrigerator? Brunch is only served once a week, on the weekends,” he explains. Your bacon may have been sitting there for six days, or more.
Anything with lots of ingredients—the pedigree’s suspicious
Casseroles, hodge-podge soups, and other non-distinctive dishes with tons of ingredients may have started out as something else, cautions Chef Brik. “Things like chili specials, and shepherds pie, are considered leftover meals at restaurants. If you are not eating at a high-end establishment, it’s highly likely you are eating ingredients that were left over from the entire week,” he explains.
It may be second nature to stash just about anything in the fridge, but this produce actually stays fresher at room temperature.
The buffet—up close and personal with everyone’s germs
If you love eating a little of this, and a little of that, make sure to be the restaurant’s first brunch reservation of the day. Otherwise, you can’t really control whose fingers have gone where, what’s been dipped into, or sneezed upon. “I avoid brunch buffets like the plague, especially anything with hollandaise sauce. Open buffets provide too much exposure to the public, plus, are subject to temperatures in the danger zone—they’re a bacterial cross-contamination paradise,” says Jerry Trice, executive chef and owner of Gunther & Co., in Baltimore.
Pre-mixed smoothies—life is too short
Smoothies are a great when they’re mixed fresh and full of healthy nutrition-boosting ingredients. And then there’s the pre-mixed easy-for-chefs, lousy-for-you varieties. “Pre-mixed smoothies are usually full of sugar, and not at all healthy,” explains Paula and Gianfranco Sorrentino, co-owners of II Gattopardo Group. Save the smoothies for organic, or natural restaurants, revered for their healthy treats, and pour a glass of water at other types of restaurants, instead. You can also pull out the blender, and make some great smoothies for your at-home brunches.
Pretend maple syrup—why would you do that to yourself?
Another brunch never-eat for the Sorrentinos is pancakes soaked in corn syrup. Once you’ve tasted really good quality maple syrup, there’s no confusing it with the cheaper substitutes so often used in bad brunch restaurants. Whether they’re an every-now-and-then indulgence, or a daily I’m-worth-it treat, great pancakes should be graced only with a light drizzle of really good, top-end maple syrup.