“Let’s do brunch,” my wife says one quiet Saturday morning. “After all the rain, I’m dying to get someplace nice with a patio heater and mimosas.”
I put on my brunch pants and tried to come up with a location. “You write a fricken food column, and you don’t even know where to get brunch?” she mocked.
The struggle is real. Brunch, I feel, is overrated.
See, I’m a boring routine guy. I wake up at 7, make a perfect egg flipped in a pan, which sits with some sort of aged Cheddar broiled on craggy toast, then topped with whatever fast-food hot-sauce packet I have lingering around. Brunch, at least to me, is like succumbing to a local vacation; instead of a 20-minute, satisfying meal at home, you end up with a $100 morning booze session topped with a pre-marathon carbload, followed by more day drinking, maybe a solid nap—or both.
“Ooh, Sapphire Laguna,” I say, proudly. It’s that perfect, chef-driven spot across from the beach, with parking, a patio, heat lamps and, hopefully, not a long wait. As a bonus, the Saturday-morning drive along the 133 freeway to Ocean Avenue is half the fun, thanks to a recurring daydream I have of playing dulcimers in the back of a fully modified 1981 CJ at Jeeps R Us in Laguna.
Though executive chef Azmin Ghahreman has run the iconic Sapphire Laguna for a dozen years, he keeps the menu fresh not only month to month and season to season, but also plate to plate. Case in point: The eggs Benedict is an ever-evolving item that offers a traditional perfectly poached egg with hollandaise and Canadian bacon but paired with a monthly inspiration. During our visit, it had a roasted-tomato base, smoked salmon and thinly sliced red onions. It was not necessarily like a shakshuka, but a bagelless-lox prep, which is incredible. The big, fluffy buttermilk pancakes also get a monthly revamp.
Taking inspiration from his time living in Asia, Australia, Hawaii, Europe and the Middle East, every dish Ghahreman serves seems to somehow pull little bits of influence not only with ingredients, but also in technique. One classic that has earned a permanent spot on the menu is the braised-pork chile verde, with its balance of chiles, tomatillos and creamy avocado. Schmear the avocado on the steamy, fresh corn tortilla as though you were making avocado toast, fold it in half, then dip it through the meaty-limey brunch moat for ultimate satisfaction.
Twenty bucks gets you a Spanish sparkling-wine mimosa with orange, mango or grapefruit that’s refillable for two hours, but the recently updated house cocktail list is always worthy of exploration. Beer geeks should go for the Thorn Brewing lager-based michelada, but the floral peach sangria is also good. Try it all. . . . It’s only brunch!
Sapphire Laguna, 1200 S. Coast Hwy., Ste. 101, Laguna Beach, (949) 715-9888; sapphirelaguna.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!