Brunch boom

The weekend fusion meal has become Colorado’s signature meal

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Lucile's Creole Cafe was an original when it opened its first location in 1980 in Boulder. It’s still slinging fantastic brunch today, only at more locations.
Susan France

Sunday brunch was invented in Boulder in 1978 at eateries like Nancy’s Restaurant. These places treated breakfast as a serious meal. There was a market to feed people like me who had stayed up way too late the night before. 

Brunch was a guilty pleasure that fit in perfectly with Boulder in the late 1970s, when hedonism was a large-scale civic activity. The traditional well-dressed, post-church family brunch crowd was suddenly joined by bleary-eyed, long-haired hippies, and everybody had a kumbaya moment drinking coffee, discovering the joy of Hollandaise and sipping mimosas at 1 p.m. 

Almost everything about the above is true except the invention part. Brunch is old. English writer Guy Beringer coined the word for the combo meal in his 1895 essay, “Brunch: A Plea,” which billed the meal as a hangover remedy. 

Like few other populations, Coloradans have hugged brunch to their collective bosoms and now it is served at nearly every cafe, brewpub, bakery and barbecue joint. Long weekend lines are common. Single eateries operated by chefs, including several in Boulder County, have become so successful they have spawned multiple locations up and down the Front Range that only serve brunch.  

Boulder County birthed at least one brunch pioneer, Lucile’s Creole Cafe, which opened in an old Downtown Boulder home in 1980. Fletcher Richards, founder of Lucile’s, says it was a foreign idea at the time in the restaurant business. 

“Our idea was just to serve New Orleans brunch dishes that people loved seven days a week. Breakfast is a more industrial, quick experience,” he says. “Brunch is a meal.” 

Brunch has become popular because of economic and social changes. “People have more time in the morning. There are more independent business people and professionals. I think a lot of people just got tired of going out for big meals at night,” Richard says.

Chef Alec Shuler opened Tangerine when the space next to his Boulder fine-dining restaurant, Arugula, became available. He eventually shuttered Arugula to focus on the booming brunch business and will soon open his third Tangerine, serving corned beef hash and chicken and waffles, in Longmont. 

“With brunch, you get a full restaurant experience with real table service for much less than the cost of dinner. We wanted to take brunch food to a higher level using fresh vegetables and great ingredients, everything made from scratch,” Shuler says. 

Save this brunch directory

Here is a brief directory of local mini-chains including some, like Snooze, that are rapidly bringing the signature Colorado brunch idea to other states.  

Lucile’s Creole Cafe: Crawfish étouffée, buttermilk biscuits, house-made strawberry-rhubarb jam, and a breakfast of red beans with hot Louisiana sausage, eggs and hollandaise. Six locations including Boulder. luciles.com

Tangerine: Braised short rib Benedict, poached eggs over lemon-dressed greens, and blueberry, lemon and ricotta pancakes. Three locations. tangerineboulder.com

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery: Breakfast pot pie, banana pancakes with white chocolate chips, shakshuka, and chilaquiles Benedict with roasted poblano hollandaise. Nine locations including Boulder. snoozeeatery.com 

First Watch: Waffles, a roast beef and horseradish Havarti sandwich with roasted onions, protein breakfast bowls, and the Chickichanga — eggs, chicken, chorizo, roasted green chilies, Cheddar and avocado fried in a flour tortilla. Nine locations including Longmont. firstwatch.com

Syrup: Waffle sliders with fried chicken and sweet Thai chili sauce, baked apple pie pancakes with house-made caramel, and sugar-peppered “crack bacon.”  Three Denver locations. syruprestaurant.com.

Urban Egg: Pancakes, Benedicts, stuffed brioche French toast, and white bean hummus on multi-grain toast. Seven Front Range locations. urbaneggeatery.com

Jelly: Drop biscuits with house-made jam, jackfruit green chile, and “harvest hash” — rutabagas roasted with cauliflower, carrot, sweet potato, Brussels sprouts and potatoes. Three Denver locations. eatmorejelly.com

There are many single-location bruncheries and other local breakfast-y mini-chains that serve brunch fare, but not alcohol, including the Walnut Cafe (three locations in Boulder, Lafayette), Doug’s Day Diner (six locations including Boulder), Le Peep (eight locations including Boulder and Longmont) and The Egg & I (eight locations including Broomfield).

Local Food News

Fate Brewing Co. has closed in Boulder. Its sister, Fate Ale House, had closed earlier in Lafayette … Boulder’s Ku Cha House of Tea has opened a third location in Denver’s Cherry Creek joining a shop in Fort Collins. … Save these dates: June 14-16: Denver BBQ Fest (denverbbqfest.com); June 21-23, Botanica: A Festival of Plants, Lafayette, (botanicafestival.com); Aug. 2-11: 50th Boulder County Fair, Longmont (bouldercountyfair.org). … Coming soon: Rosati’s Chicago Pizza, 1067 Courtesy Road, Louisville; Avanti Food & Beverage, 1401 Pearl St., (formerly Cheesecake Factory); Shake Shack, 1680 29th St. (formerly Cantina Laredo); Nomad Station Food Hall, 1109 Walnut St. (formerly Absinthe House). 

Taste of the Week

I haven’t spoken at any commencements, but twice a year I have the pleasure of going back into the classroom as a guest lecturer in food writing for Jonathan Montgomery’s English Composition classes at Front Range Community College in Westminster. I talked to the 18- to 29-year-olds about why it’s essential to know how to write, no matter what career they are pursuing. I talked about my career, especially as a dining critic. 

The class adjourned to the new Snooze in Westminster, where there was free coffee while we waited for a table for 30 minutes or more on a Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Each student had to write and post a Google restaurant review noting food, ambience and service based on their meal. 

Instead of my usual pineapple upside-down pancakes, I chose the Havana Daydreaming sandwich. This Cubano-Benedict fusion experiment really worked because of good ingredients and execution. Thin slices of pork loin and shaved smoked ham are dished open-face on a toasted hoagie roll with poached eggs. Bringing it all together was a decent Dijon hollandaise and housemade pickles. Kudos to the servers for functioning well in that kind of fully booked atmosphere. 

Words to chew on

“How do you know that you are a higher order of being than a potato?” —  Alan Watts  

John Lehndorff cooked brunch in Boulder at a host of eateries including Potter’s, Good Taste Crepe Shop, Tom Horn’s and the Heartland Café. He hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles