Years ago, I read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. One passage particularly bemused me:
Buzzword here, ‘Brunch Menu’. Translation? ‘Old, nasty odds and ends, and 12 dollars for two eggs with a free Bloody Mary’. One other point about brunch. Cooks hate brunch. A wise chef will deploy his best line cooks on Friday and Saturday nights; he’ll be reluctant to schedule those same cooks early Sunday morning, especially since they probably went out after work Saturday and got hammered until the wee hours. Worse, brunch is demoralizing to the serious line cook. Nothing makes an aspiring Escoffier feel more like an army commissary cook, or Mel from Mel’s Diner, than having to slop out eggs over bacon and eggs Benedict for the Sunday brunch crowd. Brunch is punishment block for the ‘B’-Team cooks, or where the farm team of recent dishwashers learn their chops. Most chefs are off on Sundays, too, so supervision is at a minimum. Consider that before ordering the seafood frittata.
I rarely go out to brunch anymore. Instead, I prefer to cook the meal at home—it’s much more satisfying and less expensive. As chef, restaurateur and “Huang’s World” host Eddie Huang once opined about the simplicity of prepping one of brunch’s mainstays, “Why pay for someone to cook eggs when you could just do it at home?”. I concur. But, I enjoy the break from toiling in the kitchen from time to time and brunch provides me with the perfect excuse to catch up with friends.
Enter: Tazza Kitchen in Raleigh’s Cameron Village. I’ve been to Tazza several times—mainly for dinner—and have always enjoyed my meals there. Hip ambiance. Solid food. Good service. Not terribly pricey. The brunch menu had always piqued my interest.
On a Sunday morning, a hostess greets us with a beleaguered half-smile as we veer towards the reserved table inside in the newly-renovated front section of the restaurant. The air conditioning is blasting full force, jolting us to full attention like a preemptive strike, before our Lavazza mugs of coffee come dispatched as a bit of salvation. Alas, the patio, at 11 a.m., was already fully-packed. We were stuck under the unrelenting frigid vents that showed no mercy.
Luckily, our server soon brings over mugs of hot coffee to ply ourselves with. Clad in a black tee and denim, he’s a little frazzled seemingly, perhaps bleary-eyed and hungover from the night before (no judging though). We order from the assortment of brunch platters, sandwiches, salads, and pizzas that constitute the Sunday morning menu.
In between gulps of coffee, I shove down bites of sausage from the Breakfast Plate, a disc made out of ground sausage formed with minced bits of onion and peppers. I work over to the duo of eggs over-easy and let the crispy hash browns do the task of sopping up the runny yolky goodness. The fluffy biscuit, nicely mottled with a baked crust on top, and tender inside is a perfect vehicle to slather the contents of the tangy citrus marmalade that comes with the platter. Is the plate a great meal? Nope. But is it good? Yep, decent.
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Indeed, Bourdain has taught me to generally lower my expectations for brunch and it continues to serve me well. The Five Spice Chicken sandwich is also a perfectly acceptable choice—like a Chinese-Mexican fused bahn-mi—marinated chicken chunks topped with slaw, pico de gallo, pinto beans, radish and coated in crema and mayo.
If you twiddle your thumbs and hold out ‘til noon like some members of my party do, you can order Tazza’s Bloody Mary, blended with oven-charred tomatoes and Cholula (!) and Tito’s vodka. It’s a pepper-y way to start the day of “rest”. One of Tazza’s specially-blended cocktails is worth ordering as well. Tazza always excels in their appealing selection of libations.
Those aiming to continue the weekend party with stiff drinks would likely to be satisfied at Tazza. It’s a great place to splay out on the new patio with a Bloody Mary and some eggs and hashbrowns on the side. For me though, I’ll likely retreat back into my own kitchen to cook my own brunch until the yearning sharply kicks in again.
TAZZA KITCHEN | 432 Woodburn Road Raleigh NC 27605 | 919.835.9463