By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
As the world slowly opens back up, so do the doors of many Alexandria restaurants. Several have been around for years, and others have more recently planted roots in the Port City. One commonality among many of these restaurants is an emphasis on everyone’s beloved breakfast and lunch combination – especially as the warm, outdoor days of summer arrive. Here are some cozy brunch favorites and some unique twists you may not have heard of.
If you associate brunch with hearty and savory protein, look no further than Union Street Public House. Open since 1986, this restaurant, located at 121 S. Union St., features regional American cuisine and lobster sourced from Maine. Union Street is known for its classic eggs benedict, made with a Chesapeake hollandaise sauce. Patrons can customize their benedict with a wide variety of meats from Smithfield ham to smoked trout to crab.
“We do a number of things to try and give a fresh look to what people are expecting on a brunch menu,” owner Jay Test said. “We think branching out is good, as long as there’s some familiarity that the customer is comfortable with placing the order and giving something different a try.”
Another option for brunch benedicts is Del Ray Café, which co-owner Margaret Janowsky called a “literal mom and pop shop.” With the overarching mission of sourcing local as much as possible, this farm-to-table French-American restaurant located at 205 E. Howell Ave. offers a diverse, organic and peanut-free menu with gluten-free options, too.
The long list of benedict types includes lobster, deep-fried oyster, smoked salmon, pork belly stuffed with chorizo and jalapenos, truffle polenta with a rosemary sauce and a vegetarian option with vegetables for those who want to keep things a bit lighter.
“It’s very simple: Owning a restaurant, you either try to make the best, or you buy the best,” co-owner Laurent Janowsky said. “We definitely serve what we always try to live, which is sustainable, natural and organic.”
For many, brunch and mimosas are as natural a combination as peanut butter and jelly. If this sounds like you, Sonoma Cellar is the place to visit.
This wine restaurant at 207 King St. was born out of what owner and Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Myllenbeck described as “a teacher and an intelligence officer [deciding] that they wanted to bring California wine to the east coast … naively.”
Though Myllenbeck said the process was stressful and laborious at first due to various zoning obstacles, August will mark the restaurant’s six-year anniversary.
Sonoma Cellar is known for many unique features including its outdoor garden and wine tasting menu, but the restaurant also offers a wide variety of mimosas, both as individual glasses and pitchers. These include the classic base of orange juice, mango juice and a bellini, a cocktail made with Prosecco and peach nectar.
Myllenbeck postulated that the mimosa craze likely stems from the fact that the drink contains less alcohol than a normal cocktail. This makes it the perfect Saturday or Sunday morning drink, since customers can “get a nice buzz,” but won’t leave feeling completely inebriated, Myllenbeck said.
“You can have a couple of [mimosas] and just really enjoy it, feel special because it’s in a nice glass and it tastes good and it’s refreshing, but you’re not leaving feeling wasted at the end of breakfast,” Myllenbeck said.
For those who want something a little different for brunch, a trip to Mason Social at 728 N. Henry St. for its Fruity Pebbles or Lucky Charms French toast might be the move.
The modern American restaurant’s fun twist on a childhood favorite involves making French toast from ingredients like eggs, cream, cinnamon and vanilla. Then, the dough gets rolled in one of two classic cereals and pan fried to create a nice crunch. For the Lucky Charms version, marshmallows are toasted on top and for the Fruity Pebbles version, the toast is topped with an assortment of berries and whipped cream.
“A lot of people enjoy ordering those; it tends to bring them back to their childhood of eating those sweet cereals, [and we’ve] converted them into more of a dish for brunch that’s good to be shared as well,” owner Chad Sparrow said. “Part of the creative side is always paying homage to what you grew up on, the flavors you remember … that bring you back to a certain time in your life. You find that a lot of things that might have inspired you do the same things for others too.”
Another option for something slightly more unique is Café du Soleil, which opened at 215 S. Union St. in March 2020, right before the pandemic. Owner Nahom Debessay said that although this initially provided a silver lining because he did not feel as rushed during the opening process, it proved to be difficult later in the year as the country remained shut down.
A year later, however, things are looking up. The French cafe has been able to hire four employees, as opposed to its initial two, and already boasts a thriving and evolving brunch menu.
Café du Soleil’s croque madame consists of a buttery sandwich filled with smoked ham, bechamel sauce and melted mozzarella cheese, all topped with a sunny side up egg. The croque monsieur is fundamentally the same dish, but without the egg.
Debessay said that because the cafe doesn’t provide full table service, customers can enjoy a filling meal for a reasonable price.
“For less than $20 you can have a nice brunch. We’re following the casual trend; it’s a very cozy, casual atmosphere. People can come in, eat, and get some coffee or wine if they want, too,” Debessay said.