Let There Be Brunch

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A selection of brunch items at Liberty Food & Wine Exchange in Reno. Clockwise from top left, Wood-Fired Pancake, Garden Toast, Ruby Grapefruit Brûlée, and Creole Benedict. Photo by Candice Vivien

Forget breakfast — shake up your weekend with a mid-morning meal replete with creative egg dishes and cocktails.

Some weekends, I wake up and want nothing more than a greasy-spoon breakfast of bacon, over-easy eggs, and a side of hash browns drizzled with a few glugs of hot sauce, with a cup of black coffee to wash it all down. But on other occasions — say, a lazy Saturday when getting out of bed at an early hour just feels wrong — I crave brunch.

Sure, one could argue that the difference between breakfast and brunch is simply timing, but for this writer, it has much more to do with creativity. I don’t just want French toast. I want thick slices of challah given an egg-milk bath and fried to perfection before being topped with a cranberry-apple compote. A regular eggs Benedict is not going to cut it. Skip the Canadian bacon and give me carnitas topped with a poblano-spiked hollandaise.

Not surprisingly, many eateries throughout Reno-Tahoe are serving up next-level brunches such as these, so why not kick start your weekend with a meal you won’t soon forget?

A Cup of Cherries

A pint-sized café in South Lake Tahoe, A Cup of Cherries translates global fare into unique brunch entrées you won’t find elsewhere. Choose from a selection of breakfast hoagies, including the most popular menu item, the Viet Hoagie, an interpretation of a Vietnamese bánh mì made with egg, bacon, sausage, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, cucumber, cabbage, havarti cheese, and Sriracha aioli. You’ll find chilaquiles; a chile relleno served as a plate topped with a signature tomato sauce, wrapped in a Spanish tortilla, or served in a bowl; and the Korean Breakfast Wrap filled with egg, ham, rice, sautéed kimchi, and onion.

A Cup of Cherries’ delicious twist on a classic breakfast sandwich and a bánh mì, the Viet Hoagie, features egg, sausage, bacon, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, cucumber, cabbage, Havarti, and sriracha aioli

 

Head chef Juan Rea puts the finishing touches on the restaurant’s mouthwatering presentation of Chilaquiles

To satisfy your sweet tooth, peruse the menu’s variety of crêpes; Island Pancakes, which are buttermilk pancakes with maple-glazed macadamia nuts, toasted coconut, and a homemade coconut syrup; and Rum French Toast, prepared with house-made pound cake drenched in a rum-spiked batter and topped with a mixed-berry compote. In the Drunken Rum Sandwich, this same French toast is a vessel for a fried egg, crispy bacon, and Havarti cheese.

The coffee menu is equally creative. While taking in the local art covering the café’s walls, sip on a Banana Mocha, Harry Potter-inspired Butterbeer Latte, Mexican Spice mocha with a cayenne kick, or a Snickers, made with dark mocha, caramel, and toffee nut syrup. You won’t be disappointed.

Pignic Pub & Patio

Brunch is anything but ordinary at Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno. Inspired by the stuffed cornmeal cakes of Colombia and Venezuela, Pignic offers a deconstructed arepa on its brunch menu. The cornmeal cakes are heaped with your choice of tri-tip, shredded chicken, or pulled pork, then garnished with a fried egg, Cotija cheese, and pickled red onion. Tater tots play a leading role on Pignic’s brunch menu in its Breakfast Tot Waffle with Protein, for which they’re crisped up in a waffle iron and topped with your choice of house-smoked meat, shredded Jack and Cheddar cheeses, and a spicy maple syrup seasoned with Sriracha and smoked paprika.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, dig into a seasonally inspired pancake.

“We are right across the street from the Great Basin Community Food Co-op, so we like to walk over and see what’s in season and go from there,” says Trevor Leppek, Pignic’s owner.

Compotes are a favorite for topping the pancakes and vary based on season and creative inspiration. For instance, fresh Nevada-grown strawberries might be cooked with butter and brown sugar and deglazed with pineapple rum, Leppek says.

And, most importantly, don’t skip the selection of creative brunch cocktails at Pignic — whether you go for the Bottomless Michelada or a single Luxardo Spritz (Luxardo Bitter Bianco, prosecco, and Ramazzotti rosato).

Squeeze In

Squeeze In has come a long way since 1974, when diners had to do just as the restaurant name suggests to fit into the 10-foot-wide restaurant churning out omelets (called “omelettes” at Squeeze In) in Downtown Truckee. Now with locations throughout the Reno-Tahoe area and as far as Texas, the eclectic menu — which puts the oft-overlooked folded egg dish front and center — has grown along with it.

Tuck into such creative omelette combinations as the Holy Crab!, which features a quarter-pound of hand-shelled king crab sautéed in butter with green onions, sprinkled with Monterey Jack cheese, and nestled into the eggs with an avocado garnish. The Aloha Aikane features ham, pineapple, and jalapeños cooked in honey, and nestled inside the omelette with whipped cream cheese. For a truly distinctive flavor combo, look no further than the Zweifel, which brings together apples, bananas, bacon, and peanut butter inside the egg.

“The Zweifel is unique because it is always such a surprise. You never thought the combination would be so good and work so well together,” says Bryan Becker, marketing manager of Squeeze In. “We have something for everyone on our menu — even items people didn’t know they liked.”

Pro tip: No matter what you order, get a side of chocolate-covered bacon.

Liberty Food & Wine Exchange

When the pandemic hit and the usual crowd of downtown professionals lunching at Liberty Food & Wine Exchange started working at home, the restaurant needed to pivot. Enter a big, bold brunch menu for the weekends.

“We knew that if we wanted to do that, we had to put together a fun, modern, and unique brunch menu,” explains Nick Meyer, director of operations at Liberty. “I think that’s the kind of menu that [chefs] Mark Estee and Geoffrey Caliger run at Liberty anyway. It’s not one cuisine style. It’s a blend of inspiration from all over.”

For lighter fare, try the Ruby Grapefruit Brûlée, in which brown sugar tops half the citrus fruit and is torched until caramelized, then served alongside tangy yogurt and house-made granola. Or for a decidedly decadent sweet dish (when seasonally available), dig into the Persimmon French Toast topped with jam, brown butter streusel, and vanilla bean crème Anglaise.

During brunch, the restaurant’s signature wood-fired oven still is cooking up pizzas, including the Brunch Pie, topped with country gravy, sausage, potatoes, mozzarella, and a sunny-side-up egg. Even the pancake gets the wood-fire treatment in a cast-iron skillet, creating a treat similar to a Dutch baby; it’s topped with sweetened condensed milk and fresh berries.

Sarah Morrill, a server at Liberty, carries a wood-fired pancake with condensed milk and berries. Photo by Candice Vivien

“In general, the fan favorite is the Fried Chicken Biscuit. It’s like biscuits and gravy but with a nice big piece of fried chicken. We fry the chicken in rendered duck fat, so it’s extra sumptuous and delicious,” Meyer adds.

Smoked Cheddar and a drizzle of Calabrian hot honey round out the meal.

If you’re still not sold, choose from a bevy of Benedicts — from Spanish-style with chorizo, roasted red peppers, and cilantro to New Orleans-inspired with scallops, shrimp, arugula, and Creole hollandaise.

As expected, Liberty’s booze menu created especially for brunch is just as over the top as the food, but most impressive is its nine different flavors of mimosas. Sparkling wine mingles with tequila, elderflower, and grapefruit in the Palomamosa, while orange juice and ginger beer are added to bubbly to create the Moscow Mulemosa. There’s a Rosé Grapefruit Mimosa, Strawberry-Grapefruit Mimosa, and even a Mimosa Margarita, to name a few.

Sage Leaf

Sage Leaf owners Shane and Lana Hammett met while working at Napa Valley Grille in California’s wine country, and when they made Incline Village their home in 2011, the couple knew they wanted to bring that elevated cuisine to their casual eatery.

An avocado toast fit for a king or queen. Sage Leaf’s take includes chopped egg, crumbled bacon, cherry tomato, basil, and balsamic all heaped atop a slice of delicious whole grain bread. Photo by Jen Schmidt

At Sage Leaf, classic brunch items are cooked with creative twists and local ingredients sourced from Tahoe Food Hub. House-Made Sage & Cheddar Biscuits are topped with two fried eggs, grilled asparagus, chorizo-and-coffee gravy, and a honey drizzle. In the decadent Mushroom Scramble, pillowy eggs are tossed with roasted oyster and trumpet mushrooms, sautéed asparagus, brie, and watercress. Feeling generous? Order the salmon bites to share with the table and indulge in house-smoked king salmon atop a sourdough crisp with a cream cheese-lemon spread, caper relish, and basil.

Have your dessert first with some homemade cinnamon sugar doughnut holes, topped with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and raspberry purée at Sage Leaf. Photo by Jen Schmidt

One of the most popular brunch items, the Breakfast Tacos, updates the standard scrambled-eggs-cheese-meat combo with braised bacon, black beans, house-made salsa, shaved cabbage, and pickled onions.

“For our tacos, we take whole slabs of bacon and we braise them and treat them like pork belly. There is a lot of work and technique and love that goes into just that part of making a taco. That’s our style of food,” Shane explains. “We aren’t reinventing the wheel, but what makes it unique is the quality and using ingredients that are just a little bit different.”

And if you didn’t get your bacon fix with the tacos, opt for Sage Leaf’s Bloody Mary, made with house-infused jalapeño vodka and garnished with candied braised bacon.

Claire McArthur believes that brunch food is so good that it should not be reserved for just weekends and mornings. To invite her to a weekday brunch, email her at Clairecudahy@gmail.com.

Ruby Grapefruit Brûlée
(courtesy of Liberty Food & Wine Exchange in Reno. Serves 1)
½ grapefruit
3 tablespoons brown sugar
¾ cup yogurt
¼ cup fresh berries
4 tablespoons granola

Sprinkle brown sugar over grapefruit half and brûlée with a kitchen torch (or under a broiler) until sugar is caramelized. In a separate bowl, add ¾ cup of your preferred yogurt and top with berries and a quality granola. Enjoy!

Apricot French Toast
(courtesy of Liberty Food & Wine Exchange in Reno. Serves 3 to 4)

*This recipe may also be made with other seasonal fruits, such as persimmons in fall and winter.

For French toast
4 eggs
1 cup cream
1 cup milk
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
6 to 10 slices of bread, preferably brioche

Whisk together batter ingredients, then soak 6 to 10 pieces of bread in batter for 2 hours. Transfer to a non-stick baking sheet.

For apricot marmalade
1 pound apricots
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon salt
¼ cup white wine

Cut apricots into quarters, remove stem, and peel before chopping into chunks. Combine apricots with remaining ingredients in a pot, bring to a simmer, and reduce until mixture thickens. Pour into blender, pulse, then pour into bowl and allow to chill.

For streusel topping
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
½ cup butter

Mix ingredients until crumbly. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Chill.

For crème Anglaise
3 egg yolks
1 cup cream
1 whole vanilla bean
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bourbon

In a heavy saucepan, bring cream to simmer then remove from heat. In separate medium bowl, whisk egg yolks. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture so as not to scramble the eggs. Return custard to saucepan and heat until mixture thickens. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into pan. Fold in powdered sugar, salt, and bourbon.

To plate dish
Bake soaked bread in oven at 300 degrees F for 25 minutes. Garnish liberally with apricot jam, crème Anglaise, and streusel. Enjoy!

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