The return of the decadent Philadelphia brunch

2. Mushroom N’ Gravy Biscuit at THE OLDE BAR – Photo ©Reese Amorosi
Mushroom N’ Gravy Biscuit at The Olde Bar.
Reese Amorosi

Brunch.

During the pandemic, the weekend’s traditional midday meal dedicated to culinary self-indulgence and quirky egg-based dishes seemed to get lost in the shuffle of social distance, mask mandates and chef-restauranteurs figuring out their next moves. The spirit of brunch had, for a moment, sadly shifted.

But, once the sunny Easter Weekend hit and Philly’s new brunch menus were set, all the great spirit and inventiveness of chefs concocting the perfect excuse for delicious, opulent meals complimented with Blood Marys and Mimosas was back.

And, as Leah Haimowitz, the GM at The Olde Bar pointed out, “Brunch is supposed to be decadent.”

Smoked Salmon Galette at The Olde Bar.Reese Amorosi

Exactly. That feel and taste for rich display is what Philly’s brunching masses were craving for the last 2 years. And from the looks and flavors of brunches sampled of late, the decadence of drinking and dining heartily during a joyful weekend has returned in full swing.

“Brunch continues to be one of my favorite meals,” says Chef Jose Garces, whose Amada and Olde Bar we hit this weekend in order to research the true vibe of brunch’s decadence. “Often known for its boozy cocktails, I like to focus on our brunches’ quality and depth of food offerings. And yes, we also have boozy brunch cocktails.”

Crab Benedict at Amada.Reese Amorosi

Amada

Amada’s Andalucian-inspired brunch package ($27 per person) and its spirited Julieta (a twist on a Bloody Mary with tomato, vodka and Fino sherry) make for a long, relaxed dining event. Here, its rustic Spanish culinary charms shift from an array of starter dishes (a bread basket with whipped butter and fig jam, a fluffed egg Tortilla Espanola and zesty Serrano Croquetas De Jamon in Romesco sauce) to a stunning set of main dishes that include a crazy rich Duck Confit Rosti (carnitas with fine grated potato, prunes and poached eggs done to perfection), a dense Crab Benedict plate with chorizo, Swiss chard and paprika hollandaise, and generous slabs of thick-cut bacon in espelette pepper sauce. Yes, I would back anytime of the day or night for this exact meal. And yes, on our next brunch journey to Amada, we’ll add in an order of Tatillas (bacon-wrapped dates with almonds) as well as sample Garces’ recommendation of Shakshuka, his baked egg, olive and tomato dish and Amada’s stack of Sangria pancakes.

Madai Snapper Tartare at The Olde Bar.Reese Amorosi

The Olde Bar

The Olde Bar’s new brunch menu starts with its libations, which means either a Build-Your-Bloody or its gi-hugic Snack Bar variation which features its vodka or tequila-laced Mary with everything from Garces’ hot chicken to his bacon-wrapped scallops topping. From there, true elegance begins with a series of starters that include a gently smoked salmon galette with warm walnut pesto crème, arugula and a sherry-truffle vinaigrette and – my absolute favorite – a Madai Snapper tartare with Meyer lemon, smoked olive oil and hazelnuts which, quite frankly, tasted like a gorgeous fish Jello.

Going with Garces’ new biscuit program, the more veggie-minded diner couldn’t go wrong with Olde Bar’s Chicken Fried Matake mushroom, fried egg and cheddar biscuit in mushroom gravy plate. Or could go for something traditional and tuck into their Steak N’ Eggs dish with green peppercorn or their now-famous Lobster roll. Again, this is an entire meal to be repeated, though we could additionally be coaxed into trying Olde Bar’s shrimp N’ vanilla grits with pork andouille and its Baked Eggs with parmesan polenta, vodka blush sauce and Castelvetrano olives.

The only thing sunnier than the day itself was the brunch service staff at both spaces. Luckily, for those who love to brunch, The Olde Bar and Amada afternoon experiences are both the tip of the iceberg and the height of decadence.

Here are a few more locations to sample for the ultimate Philly brunches.

Duck Confit Rosti at Amada.Reese Amorosi

Casa Mexico

While we wait for Chef Christina Martinez to open her expanded Casa Mexico at the old Connie’s Ric Rac in the next two weeks, the woman behind South Philly Barbacoa is serving up an Italian Marker weekend brunch filled with Spring-inspired Mexican comida corridas such as its guisados, arroz con leche, and beyond. And yes, you can sneak two doors down to her corner Barbacoa for a lamb taco or three.

Village Whiskey

The toast of the Rittenhouse region has expanded its brunch menu beyond its plush, luscious Bourbon French Toast in the kitchen – with its hearty Whiskey Queen burger with double smash patties, applewood smoked bacon, fried egg, bearnaise, lettuce, tomato and pain au lait bun – as well as at its dark wood bar with its Sovereign Spritz made from a generous jolt of Jim Beam, Cointreau, Earl Grey Simple, lemon and ginger beer.

Figo Ristorante

The newest Italian hot spot in Northern Liberties launches its weekend brunch and its large outdoor dining space with an interesting culturally blended starter, Foccaccia + Lox, an eggy Pepperoni Fritatta and layers of Ricotta pancakes and a rich Primo dish, Carbonara, where Parmesan whipped eggs meet up with peas, pancetta and linguini.

Craft Hall

The N. Delaware Avenue, BBQ-centric boite just started its Bubbles and Brunch bottomless food and drink grand buffet with in-house-made craft drafts from the Mainstay Independent Brewing Company and eats such as its famed house-made scratch buttermilk biscuits, BYO pulled pork sliders, chicken-and-waffles with hot honey butter and loaded breakfast potatoes filled with Brisket burnt ends and bacon. If you need a break from meat, Craft Hall has a genuinely lovely, spring-seasonal yogurt and fruit parfait.

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