Contrary to street rumors at the time, brunch was not created in Boulder in the 1970s, but the weekend meal has found a warm welcome at the foot of the Flatirons. Brunch had reached iconic, bigger-than-dinner status in Boulder and environs until that day in March of 2020 when all restaurants were shuttered by the pandemic.
Since then, the huevos rancheros, eggs Benedicts and bottomless mimosas have slowly crept back on local menus after overcoming staffing and egg price challenges and our unwillingness to dine out again in groups.
There are so many destinations, you could easily brunch every Sunday for a year and never eat at the same Boulder County eatery twice.
Upscale brunch has come roaring back at Salt, River & Woods, Brasserie Ten Ten, Corrida, and Jill’s Restaurant, along with newer spots like My Neighbor Felix and Boulder Social. They join such Boulder-brunch stalwarts as Chautauqua Dining Hall, Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Snooze, Centro Mexican Kitchen, Tangerine, Lucile’s and The Huckleberry in Louisville.
Brunch had always been hugely popular at Boulder’s Mateo in pre-pandemic days.
“With spring coming and golf season approaching, we thought it was the right time to bring Sunday brunch back,” says Matthew Jansen, chef/owner of Mateo, which opened in 2001.
“It’s a wonderful, peaceful way to start the day. Brunch seems to be more of an indulgent, hedonistic experience than other meals,” he says, adding that you don’t have to dress up.
Mateo’s new brunch menu features bagels with lox, and eggs on Benedicts, in omelets and with hanger steak. Jansen says he was eager to add some New Orleans’-influenced dishes ranging from deep-fried beignets coated in powdered sugar, to shrimp and grits with andouille sausage.
Mateo’s eye-catching eggs Florentine loads poached eggs with spinach, roasted tomatoes and Hollandaise sauce — a natural match with an elaborately garnished spicy Bloody Mary.
Whither the brunch buffet?
Pre-pandemic, the Greenbriar Inn served one of Boulder’s best-known weekend meals, an elaborate Sunday brunch buffet begun in 1983, which famously included everything from oysters to desserts.
Now, the Greenbriar Inn’s Sunday brunch features many of the same dishes served individually.
“What we’re doing now for brunch, we think, gives our customers better looking and better tasting food. Also, there is much less food waste than there is from a buffet,” says Phil Goddard, co-owner (with his wife Emma) of the Greenbriar Inn.
The menu includes starters like baskets of pastries and breads and oysters on the half shell. The menu adds variety with house-smoked salmon with tomato jam, lemon ricotta pancakes, huevos rancheros with grilled pork belly and shakshuka — that’s eggs poached in tomato sauce with feta cheese. A dessert sampler is available as a sweet finale.
And yes, on a handful of holidays including Easter and Mother’s Day, the Greenbriar’s brunch buffet will make a rare reappearance.
Paella brunch at Cafe Aion
Cafe Aion — which dishes Spanish- and Moroccan-accented fare on University Hill — has gradually reintroduced brunch over the past year.
“Brunch on our patio in the sun brings the diners in. We get people on the way to — or returning from — a hike at Chautauqua,” says chef/owner Dakota Soifer, who opened the eatery in 2010.
The weekend roster features familiar items like eggs Benedict or steak and eggs with crispy smashed potatoes, but the rest of the brunch menu boasts big international flavors.
“One of my favorite things is when a couple comes in and splits a big seafood paella at 11 a.m. They get a nice bottle of Spanish white wine and enjoy themselves,” Soifer says. Cafe Aion also dishes traditional, meaty and vegetarian paellas complete with the craveable crispy rice on the bottom.
During the pandemic, Cafe Aion added Brasserie Boulder, a ghost kitchen under the same roof that focuses on bistro fare.
“For brunch we folded in some of those traditional French dishes like the croque madame and salmon Niçoise salad. It’s fun to have a little more breadth,” Soifer says.
For sweets, the menu features fried-to-order sugar doughnuts (including the hole), a coffee-infused crème brûlée, and a chile- and cinnamon-spiced flourless chocolate torte.
Overall, the best Boulder brunch advice is to make your reservations very early. Spring has a particular brunch buzz in Boulder around a gauntlet of the big dates: Easter, Mother’s Day, various graduation weekends and CU’s nationally broadcast spring football game.
You’re not the only one rediscovering how much they miss a leisurely weekend meal with friends.
Local Food News
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Words to Chew On: Brunch Wisdom
“Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast table. We come to it freshly, in the dewy youth of the day, and when our spiritual and sensual elements are in better accord.”
— Nathaniel Hawthorne (1851)