Italians are great restauranteurs. From the smallest neighborhood trattoria owner to the biggest Michelin star chef names, most Italians have a natural predisposition to cooking up and serving authentic meals. Trends borrowed from abroad have caught on and equally met with enthusiasm and culinary creativity by Italian restaurant service providers, responding to an evident market demand. But there’s one thing Italian restauranteurs canìt quite seem to nail. And that’s the concept of brunch.
Many expats and people I know who love the lazy Sunday meal that bridges breakfast and lunch often complain that said meal in Italy is considered erroneously as a lunch buffet service. My first episode with this kind of “problem” happened when my son was 4. We were very excited because the posh restaurant down the road from us promoted a luxurious Sunday brunch. Ignoring the 40 Euro ticket, I booked us for what I hoped was going to be a mid morning of bliss, pancakes, coffee and Mimosas (slaps knee and howls laughing).
Already the reservation should have been a warning. The person taking my call said service would start at 1pm sharp, no sooner. “But, but… brunch. What about the “BR” part of the term?!” The person didn’t seem to follow.
To make a tediously long story short, what was served instead of brunch was a lavish buffet of roast beef heated under red lamps, overflowing trays of assorted pastas, plus casseroles, salads of every sort, grilled fish and not a waffle in sight. I asked our server for a caffè Americano, by the look on his face it must have confused him, since I was chewing on vitello tonnato. When my son informed him that there was no maple syrup on our table, the quizzical look of our waiter worsened.
But this was several years ago. Although the concept of brunch is still somewhat obscure in many Rome dining establishments, others on the other hand have started serving the real thing.
Take centrally located Coromandel, for instance. When owner Katia Minniti and chef Ornella De Felice issued their brunch menu there were fireworks and loud cheering coming from the Rome expat community. The French toast served with a side of crispy guanciale is on point, pancakes and other classics, including scrambled eggs, smoothies and savory sandwiches are equally tantalizing. Everything comes served in elegant vintage porcelain and silver tableware.
Another place that serves proper brunch is La Veranda. Fans of La Grande Bellezza will recognize the frescoes and internal courtyard in Borgo Santo Spirito. American style brunch is served on Sundays and features scones, eggs and bacon, pancakes, yogurt and fruit salads, plus burgers and sandwiches.
With two equally stunning venues – one in the lush Villa Pamphili, and the other in Piazza Navona – Vivì Bistrot serves real deal brunch on weekends from 9 am to 2 pm. Think assorted cold-pressed juices, coffee, bagels, eggs and bacon, organic yogurt poured over homamde museli, pancakes and muffins, salads and soups. FYI, a new branch serving organic smoothies, juices and salads will open in the recently inaugurated La Rinascente department store…
I also recommend trying the brunch served on weekends at La Portineria especially if you love bagels, scrambled eggs, salads, sandwiches, brownies and carrot cake. The place is located in the northern Nomentano neighborhood and is quite popular, so it’s wise to make reservations.
If you’re driving it’s a nightmare, but if you don’t mind walking, or the young crowds taking selfies, the bagels at Haus Garten Bagel Bar are actually worth it. Aside from these, complete menu packages may include pancakes, waffles, various omelettes served with real bacon, French toast, hot dogs and burgers, brownies, donuts and cakes plus a handful of Italian buffet dishes (old habits die hard). Juice and prosecco are poured liberally.
From noon to 3pm New York-style Sunday brunch lovers can head to Dolce located in the Quartiere Africano, in the northern suburbs. Omelettes, eggs Benedict and pancakes, and other classics are served along side Bloody Marys, Mimosas and Bellinis in the stylish interiors or on the outdoor patio in the warmer months.
One of the latest addition to the places in Rome that serve actual brunch is Oliver Glowig‘s restaurant in Mercato Centrale, located in the Termini Station. My son and I went last Sunday and the eggs Benedict with avocado and salmon were to die for, we had several helpings of the shrimp cocktail with cantalope melon, and you can fill your own warm fried zeppole with vanilla custard. ‘Nuff said.
Where do you enjoy Sunday brunch in Rome?
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.