Brunch, where calorie-counting is discouraged and drinking before noon is de rigueur, is the most decadent meal of the week. See our list of six top Orange County brunch destinations.
Although it occurs in the light of day, brunch can be decadent and sexy, with a leisurely place that cannot exist within the time constraints of the workweek. It also encourages the breaking of inconvenient rules governing issues such as calorie-counting and the consumption of alcoholic beverages before noon. Whether it is croissants and café au lait at the beach or a blowout buffet at a grand hotel, brunch is being rediscovered, and Orange County offers new and often unexpected opportunities to maximize its enjoyment.
Lillie’s Q is a west coast edition of a Chicago barbecue eatery named for chef/owner Charlie McKenna’s grandmother; she was the one who taught South Carolina native McKenna to cook authentic Southern dishes. Although the chef was classically trained and was a cook at some of the nation’s top kitchens, this is the kind of soulful food he appreciates most. The Brea kitchen is overseen by chef de cuisine Kody Havener, whose cooking was inspired by his own grandmother. Havener’s chicken-and-waffles—using beer-battered and fried chicken, his family’s waffle recipe and premium Vermont maple syrup—is a signature short-order dish offered in addition to the buffet, as is Southern eggs Benedict with fried green tomato and “hot mess” hollandaise. His buffet spread offers a plethora of starters and side dishes, including pork rinds with pimento cheese powder, creamy stone-ground grits, biscuits and sausage gravy, collard greens and cinnamon-nutmeg pancakes. At a carving board, USDA Prime brisket, smoked turkey breast and a third meat (e.g., tri-tip or honey ham) are dispensed, all benefiting from the addition of one of half a dozen Lillie’s Q barbecue sauces. Guests also fill their aluminum trays with Southern-style coleslaw, crimson-colored Kool-Aid pickles and, for desser, a build-your-own seasonal berry shortcake. 240 S. Brea Blvd., Brea, 714.482.2001. lilliesq.com
The Newport Beach location of The Winery is the place to enjoy a leisurely brunch in a beautiful setting. With its refined cuisine and superlative wine program, this restaurant hints at Napa Valley, but an outdoor deck with a waterfront view reminds us this is quintessential coastal Orange County. Executive chef Yvon Goetz hails from France’s Alsace region; he honed his skills at Strasburg’s three Michelin-starred Au Crocodile. His recently launched Sunday brunch includes a seafood tower and a wild white shrimp risotto studded with crispy prosciutto and finished with a fruity pinot noir reduction. Goetz was unfamiliar with the American brunch tradition when he arrived in the States in 1991 yet was responsible for a lavish buffet at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. He quickly fell in love with the concept and is now a self proclaimed eggs Benedict freak. Goetz offers a version of the tarte flambee (Alsatian pizza) he grew up with, and his beloved eggs Benedict—with choice of pork belly, lump crab, smoked salmon or duck confit—bathed in a sun-dried-tomato hollandaise. He transforms his acclaimed zinfandel-braised short ribs into a hash with fried eggs. Kids gravitate to the almond croissant crème brûlée French toast, plated with fresh berries, applewood-smoked bacon and berry-zinfandel syrup. Dessert: beignets with a trio of dipping sauces. 3131 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, 949.999.6622. thewineryrestaurant.net
Brunch at a pizzeria is unconventional, but executive chef Justin Miller’s mentorship by David Myers instilled a strong culture of innovations, and he pulls it off with aplomb at Costa Mesa’s Pizzeria Ortica. Miller has reinvented the spot through his commitment to premium seasonal ingredients even as he continues to bring fine-dining concepts down to earth to make it one of the county’s most significant restaurants. At Ortica’s Sunday brunch, guests pair handcrafted cocktails with shareable plates such as braised and sliced pork-belly agro-dolce (sweet and sour) and squash blossoms stuffed with lemon ricotta, tomato, basil and garlic. A complimentary basket of fresh-baked morning buns with tomato conserva and Parmigiano-Reggiano arrives at every table courtesy of sous chef Colleen Flynn. Miller offers a frittata with rapini, pancetta, potato and Parmigiano-Reggiano; topping pizzas from the 800-degree wood-burning oven with fennel sausage or a Chino Valley egg makes them very brunch-appropriate. Miller is particularly proud of his housemade fennel sausage with braised cavolo nero, Calabrian chilies and poached eggs, describing it as “a great cure for a hangover.” The rustic Italian cuisine suggests “Sunday dinners at home with mom.” 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, 714.445.4900. ortica.com
Also serving brunch is the Irvine locations of Angelina’s Pizzeria, operated by Filippo and Sho Fusco, whose family is from the town of Piedimonte San Germano in the rolling hills north of Naples. Mozzarella from Naples, San Marzano tomatoes and specialty flour are used to create pizza Napoletana in a 900-degree oven fueled by almond wood. Chief operating officer Antonio Bevacqua, also Tuscan, recommends the salad of grilled octopus and Mediterranean shrimp as well as the pan-seared scallops with mango carpaccio, vanilla oil and pepperoncino. Angelina’s breakfast pizza is topped with buffalo mozzarella, a runny egg and choice of sausage, guanciale or spinach. Housemade waffles are topped with whipped cream, strawberries and banana and drizzled with honey; a fried calzone is stuffed with fruit and Nutella. Angelina’s also hosts a family-style social brunch for families or groups, featuring pizzas, frittatas, waffles and ricotta- and spinach-stuffed ravioli, along with carafes of mimosas or Bellinis. The pizzeria at new Los Olivos Marketplace is a glitzier, marble-clad version of the original, more intimate Dana Point establishment. 8573 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, 949.536.5200. angelinaspizzeria.com
Waterman’s Harbor has revitalized Dana Point Harbor with its local fresh seafood. Executive chef Michael Doctulero, who earned accolades at the now-shuttered Scott’s in Costa Mesa, turns out a sophisticated but soulful style of seafood cookery. Longtime surfer Doctulero’s keen appreciation for the ocean habitat informs his menus and influences how he sources seafood. Significantly, Waterman’s Harbor is one of those rare restaurants that butchers its own fish, even 75-pound bluefin delivered directly from local fisherman. As opposed to a buffet, brunch at Waterman’s Harbor is plated for a more personal, service-oriented experience. The pulled-pork pancakes, with a fried egg, vanilla-bean syrup and green onions, have become a signature brunch dish. Also popular is fried calamari Provençal, an item Doctulero brought over from Scott’s; it features a spiked beurre blanc sauce. Other dishes on the chef’s compelling brunch menu include starters such as succulent crab beignets and chowder fries, a whimsical take on poutine. For larger plates, consider shrimp-cake benedict with cheesy house fries, or prized Akaushi flank steak with red wine-poached eggs. Aleppo peppers make for a spirited chimichurri that is drizzled over braised pork belly; sweet corn grits are topped with blackened shrimp. 34661 Golden Lantern St., Dana Point, 949.764.3474. watermandp.com
Costa Mesa’s just-opened ensconced in a spectacular new $12 million building in the shadow of South Coast Plaza, is on the site previously occupied by Scott’s. If pizzerias and barbecue joints are inconsistent with your nostalgic ideas of brunch, look no further than this spot—a go-to place for upmarket seafood in downtown L.A.—for a more traditional brunch. After selecting from an array of brunch-appropriate cocktails, consider crab Benedict, lemon ricotta pancakes or alluring salmon rillettes with crème fraîche, mustard, dill and tobiko caviar. 3300 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 949.208.7060. watergrill.com