The Vagaries of Sunday Brunch

Ah, brunch. Dew-dappled Sundays spent lingering over strawberries in champagne, yum. But leave it to New York City to take this simple, glorious brunch experience and turn it into a blood sport. That's because every Sunday at 11:30 a.m., everyone in town seems to have the same sparkling idea: Let's meet for brunch! From Harlem to Brooklyn Heights, hungry brunch-seekers rocket out of beds and into the streets, foraging for egg-white omelets and French toast.

Of course, the coolest brunch places don't take reservations, so the first trick is simply getting a seat. Do you arrive early — and be the losers who brunch at the crack of dawn? No thanks. But minutes matter: Successfully dragging your significant other out the door at 11:01 instead of 11:15 is the difference between sipping your Bloody Mary by noon, or cooling your heels on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, 15th in line for the table by the bathroom.

Pity the waiters too. Catering to a bunch of finicky New Yorkers — "Can you assure me that your grilled asparagus 100-percent-certified slave-labor-free?" — surely is about as much fun as dropping a bowling ball on your foot. Then again, the waiters themselves aren't always the picture of charm and delight. The other day, my friend and I were barely licking the croissant crumbs off our lips when the waitress slapped the bill on the table, then stood over us, hands on hips. The message was clear: Leave now.

In another recent indignity, my brother and I popped by a favorite brunch place and were thrilled to see a half-dozen empty tables — no waiting! But the waitress ushered us over to a crummy corner table, jammed right up against another table where two people were sitting. When we asked if we might sit at an empty table, she said those spots were for bigger parties. Bigger parties? What bigger parties? They had no parties!

We decided to take our party elsewhere — down the street to an upscale eatery that charges about 10 bucks for three gourmet doughnut holes. Hey, that gives me an idea: Next time my friends propose brunch, I'll suggest that we meet at Dunkin Donuts. No fuss, no lines, no drama. As long as there's Boston Kreme.

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