James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Keep Our Nation Safe for the All‑Day Brunching Contingent

Keep Our Nation Safe for the All‑Day Brunching Contingent

Brunch in Vienna

“Since when do Austrians line up for anything?” an Austrian friend said to me, puzzled and displeased, as we grabbed a couple of plates and eyed the thick but orderly crowd around the buffet table at one of our usual brunch spots.

Change comes slowly to Vienna. But eventually, brunch came here too. Of course, Vienna’s legendary coffee houses had always served breakfast: coffee and croissants, bread rolls and jam, cold cuts, and maybe, a scrambled concoction they’d call “ham and eggs”. But whatever it was, it was definitely breakfast, not brunch.

The origins of brunch in Vienna are murky. Around 20 years ago, the Hilton and the Intercontinental hotels started holding an international breakfast buffet on Sundays. Some notable city center restaurants offered upscale weekend breakfast feasts, but brunch as a serious pastime wasn’t widespread.

Then, not much longer than five years ago—well after brunch had commandeered a good chunk of the rest of the world’s weekends—it started popping up in neighborhood restaurants, cafes, and bars. But not the eggs benedict and bottomless mimosa menu of New York, London, or Sydney; Vienna’s brunches tend to be languid, buffet-powered affairs, filling the considerable gap between the classic coffee house frühstuck and the posh hotel spreads. Our place, this time around, had tables piled high with local fare (croissants, rolls, brioche, charcuterie, cucumber salad); random international dishes (couscous salad, pasta, guacamole, and acai bowls); plus a generous dessert selection. (And because some global forces are irresistible, even the land of pork and floury cake now offers vegan and gluten-free options.) Now, Vienna has some serious brunch game. Haas & Haas’s international breakfast buffet has dim sum. There’s a shrine to muesli. Meierei im Stadtpark serves veal lung, goulash, and eggs with shaved goose liver.

Brunch in Vienna hasn’t just expanded the weekend breakfast palate. People heading to long Sunday brunches has brought some life into its neighborhoods on a day when the city still mostly shuts down. On my way to our buffet, I walked down a melancholy street in the autumn drizzle. There was no traffic and all its stores were shuttered, but there was a warm buzz coming from a dark beer hall serving “breakfast until 5 pm.” Best of all, brunch in Vienna doesn’t involve a clipboard-wielding hostess corralling you to wait outside for your whole party to arrive. Not yet, anyway. But as brunch spots and tables have become busier, it’s also become necessary to reserve—and occasionally, to line up at the buffet.

Lining up is one thing. My Vienna-dwelling friends were far more unsettled by the worrying development that for the first time, our table came with a two-hour time limit. No longer, at least not in this joint, could we sit for hours, grazing at the buffet, ordering coffee after coffee, perhaps switching to wine in the evening—the way these things have always been done in Vienna, where it’s your right to consume almost limitless space and time with your order.

Where will this madness end?

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