I'm one of many people who firmly believe that Sundays were made for brunch. It's a distinctly American concept (and one facet of food culture New York can be credited with perfecting), though brunch's popularity has spread around the globe. To wit: in places like Italy, where Sundays have traditionally been days of rest centered around a large family lunch, brunch is catching on. Kind of.
As an expat living in Rome, I spent a lot of Sundays with friends lounging at trattorias for some curative pasta and hair-of-the-dog vino. But every so often, we'd long for a good old American brunch: the savory-sweet combos of pancakes and bacon, the perfection of Eggs Benedict. And a bagel, for the love of the Lord, a bagel. Since Italians are so enamored of many American concepts -- Mickey Mouse, McDonald's, Hollywood -- it's easy to see why brunch, in all its yummy goodness, would also become an appealing "trend." What we witnessed all over Rome, however, was failed attempts at "American brunch" (quotation marks intentional). Versions of Italian Sunday lunch got slapped with the brunch label all over town. Those places that actually tried for traditional brunch menu items got lost in the execution of the dishes. Hell, even The Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood failed miserably. But time and again, my friends and I would hope against hope, dragging our hungover bodies into any place with a "Vero Brunch Americano" sign outside.
This scramble for scrambled eggs took a pivotal turn for the worse one afternoon when we sat down at a pretty restaurant not far from Campo de' Fiori that boasted "Eggs Benedict" on its sign in the window. After waiting for an hour and a half for what we'd decided must be the most perfectly-cooked eggs benny ever, we were served a piece of toast cut in half, topped with a hard-boiled egg and a slice of tomato. And fries. Upon further inquiry, our server admitted that the chef didn't really know what Eggs Benedict was, and that they were new to this whole brunch thing.
You don't say. Well, we put in a good effort trying to explain, in Italian, the finer points of eggs benny and well-cooked bacon and hash browns. Then we looked around the table. Wait a minute, we thought. We're sitting here with an American chef (me), an American who'd bartended for years (Marty), a guy who'd had some history in the service industry (Patrick), and one Brit who loooved bacon and would do anything for a proper Sunday brunch after a night slurping suds at Sloppy Sam's (more on that some other time: Gareth). Why not do our own American brunch in Rome?!
Through a connection of ours, we set up a meeting with one of the owners of the newly-opened Pasquino restaurant, a subterranean risto-lounge next door to the much-loved Pasquino English-language cinema. It had all the qualities we were looking for in a space: it was new, fun and modern, in a great location in the center of Trastevere (a great nabe in Rome, a mishmash of old-school Romans, international expats, and American students), and most importantly, it was closed on Sundays. We cut a deal to give a percentage of our brunch profits to the owners in exchange for the keys to the place on Sundays. And so, The Breakfast Club was born...