Anthony Bourdain, the Virgil of the culinary world, once called brunch a collection of “old, nasty odds and ends, and 12 dollars for two eggs with a free Bloody Mary.” He was not being generous, nor was he wrong. For decades now, Sunday brunch — especially in New York City — has been an institution marked by a few outrageously priced options (eggs benny, French toast, goddamn avocado toast), prodigal consumption of alcohol (as if hangovers don’t carry over to the next week), and long, frustrating waits. Blame Sex and the City. Blame our godless metropole. Blame our lemming-like tendencies. Doesn’t matter much who’s at fault, brunch — like death, taxes, and rats — was an immovable feature of New York life.
Then came the Sunday Roast. Recently Hawksmoor, a British-based steak house which opened its New York iteration in 2021 in Gramercy Park, unveiled their Sunday Roast as a sort of competing hebdomadal gastronomic tradition. The broken bacterial hollandaise of yore has been replaced by a juicy joint of rump roast, a puffy Yorkshire pudding, a few crispy potatoes, a roast carrot or two, and brussels sprouts in shimmering butter. The whole thing is glistening with bone marrow and onion gravy. Innovative? Hardly. Delicious? Yes. Sunday roast, as an institution, has existed for hundreds of years in the family dining rooms and kitchens and pubs of the United Kingdom. Hawksmoor’s chef, Paddy Coker, grew up on Sunday roast in his native London. “I was always in and around Sunday roasts,” he says. “My dad was a chef and my mom ran the front of house in pubs.”
When compared to the Roast, the banal brunch bacchanal suffers. Whereas a brunch menu occupies the unhappy valley of modest choice, there are no options of a Sunday roast: the meat, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, some gravy, sticky toffee pudding. These are necessary immutable prerequisites. At Hawksmoor, though steaks and other offerings are available, on a recent visit none were ordered. It was Roasts all around in the vaulted-ceiling room. And this, though I was not a member of a large party, temporarily bonded me and all the other diners. (The restaurant lived up to its former use as a social assembly hall.) The Roast engenders unity; brunch, discord.
Part of the rise of the Sunday Roast can be attributed to the rise of steak houses in general. (Like the cost of living, a rise does not imply a previous decline.) Across the river in Brooklyn, another stellar steak house, Gus’s Chop House offers a Sunday Roast featuring a succulent beef tri-tip with brown butter jus, fries, brussels sprouts, and a popover. I wish Bourdain had been around to weigh in on the rise of the roast, and its potential replacement of brunch. I wonder what he’d say, or if he’d be too busy gleefully stuffing rump roast down his throat to do anything but nod enthusiastically.