Consider brunch. As far as meals go, it has certainly proved to be a versatile little sucker, a real workhorse, able to adapt to almost anything you can throw at it.
It’s been classed up with oysters and Champagne. It ’s been roughed up with tequila-spiked bloody marys and house-made Pop-Tarts.
Somewhere along the line, bacon was replaced by pork belly, and sausage-and-gravy became artisanal.
Yet, here I am. Suffering. Rolling my eyes at another menu ¿lled with mango mimosas and lemon-ricotta pancakes or feeling shame for inviting people over for that same-old egg strata recipe I served last time.
See, I am tormented by a condition called Brunch Ennui. And yes, before you ask, it’s a real thing. Just look in the Big Book of First World Problems — it’s there, listed somewhere between Bruised Gin and Brussels Sprouts (non-organic).
So today I nominate myself its chief spokesperson. This af¿iction can be eradicated, if you remember two important things.
First, it really is just brunch. A low-stakes meal if ever there was one. No one has ever been burned at the stake for lack.luster hollandaise sauce. Plus, a little extra Champagne does wonders papering over just about any egg disaster.
Second, you don’t really need to reinvent the wheel, just turn it — oh, maybe a good sharp quarter of a turn or so. In other words, experiment.
“Brunch can take its cues from anywhere,” says Jason Hammel, chef/owner of Lula Café in Logan Square. “We look to our favorite combinations of ¿avors and ingredients and simply add an egg on top!”
In the case of the “The State Fair Royale” — a cornmeal-battered Maryland soft-shell crab sandwich that he served this spring at Lula — his inspiration came from the writings of author David Foster Wallace.
Hammel says Wallace’s essays on the Illinois State Fair in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” and his pro-crustacean piece, “Consider the Lobster,” served as the muse for the dish.
Here we’re offering a modi¿ed version of that dish — presented as a brunch entrée rather than a sandwich. But, hey, if you want to stick it between two buns, go ahead. In fact, do whatever you want. Go crazy.
Because, after all, The Brunch Police are not watching you.
Corn dog battered soft shell crab with creamy vinegar slaw and spicy deviled eggs from Jason Hammel, chef/owner, Lula Café (serves four)
- 1 large head cabbage
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup white distilled vinegar
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Poppy seeds
- 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- Hearty pinch of fresh dill and chervil
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Old Bay Seasoning
- Cayenne pepper