Brunch Bliss: Island Flavors Unleashed

Explore Galveston’s culinary secrets with these unexpected brunch dishes

By Esther Davis McKenna
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Brunch is a meal with an island attitude. It’s a laid-back, relaxed meal that matches the vibe of Galveston Island on a weekend afternoon. Part breakfast and part lunch, the menu is most often served between 10 am and 3 pm. It’s an ideal meal for those who prefer to sleep in or have trouble getting started on a weekend morning. It’s a celebration of all things eggs, bacon, and bread, and every variation in between.

No longer considered a trend, brunch has been a mainstream menu option for decades. The first recorded use of the word “brunch” in the United States was in a column in a New Oxford, Pennsylvania newspaper almost 120 years ago. Since then, Sunday has been transformed into a two-meal day where breakfast is combined with lunch. Modern-day menus can be found in cookbooks consisting entirely of brunch items.

Brunch has gained popularity on Saturdays as well, allowing those who prefer to sleep in on weekends another chance to enjoy the special menu items without the Sunday morning rush.

Galveston is a perfect destination for a getaway and brunch is included on many menus. More than 20 restaurants on the island offer a version of this late and relaxed meal.

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Must Try Dishes

While classic items like French toast, pancakes, and grits have remained popular in many restaurants island-wide, creative chefs have developed unique variations on the theme. Like Gypsy Joynt’s Cinnamon Roll French Toast. And what’s great about this special menu item is that it is available every day that they are open.

They sell out of their signature, scratch-made rolls by noon every day, manager Jeanette Swafford said.

“[Owner] Lori Weller loves to put a different spin on usual items. Using our cinnamon rolls for a French Toast recipe seemed like a natural progression,” Swafford said.

Executive Chef Leila Ortiz’s mission was to elevate the techniques and use unique ingredients when creating the menu for Hotel Lucine’s restaurants, The Den and The Fancy. Their new brunch menu will be available beginning on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12.

When developing the Honey Buttermilk Pancake recipe, Ortiz “took a buttermilk pancake recipe and folded in egg whites that have been whipped into a meringue to create a souffle-like texture.”

A full stack is meant to be shared but singles are also available. The pancakes are served with house-made honey butter and strawberry compote, whipped crème fraiche, and maple syrup.

Eggs are offered on every brunch menu island-wide, but the Scotch Eggs at Yaga’s Café are a unique option not often found elsewhere. Inspired by Galveston’s annual Dickens on the Strand event, head chef William Pickavance says the Yaga’s kitchen puts out more than 150 brunch plates every Sunday.

The Scotch eggs and beignets are two of the most popular brunch menu items they serve. Their beignets are lighter than other versions as they use puff pastry. They are showered with the customary powdered sugar and one serving is ample for two guests.

Chilaquiles may not be a mainstream menu item at brunch around the country, but it is one of the best-selling dishes at BLVD Seafood, said Executive Chef Chris Lopez. BLVD’s version was created by one of their long-time employees, Chef Elia Angeles.

This Mexican-inspired dish starts with a bed of crispy tortilla chips that is topped with house-made salsa verde, sour cream drizzle, fried eggs to order, grilled chicken and garnished with avocado and queso fresco.

A plate of biscuits and gravy is a staple on southern brunch tables but the version at Maceo Spice & Import Company hints at the owners’ heritage. Maceo’s uses an Italian sausage and breakfast sausage mix in their gravy according to owner Concetta Maceo-Sims.

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Maceo’s manager and chef, Ryan Ruttinger, said it took him several years to get the biscuits just right. “I worked for a long time with Ronnie [Maceo] on the biscuit recipe until he finally approved. Many of our recipes come from Concetta’s mom who was born and raised in Louisiana,” he said.

Another one of their popular brunch items is the Maceo’s Belgium waffle. Ruttinger soaks the chicken that accompanies the Belgium waffle in buttermilk for two days before dredging in their house-made seasoning and deep frying. “The chicken breast stays incredibly moist that way,” he said.

A Buffalo maple syrup can be served as a side to compliment the dish if requested. “It’s addicting and adds just the right amount of sweet and spice.”

Riondo’s co-owner and Executive Chef Rico Caminos was inspired to create a dish that was both French and Italian when he developed the restaurant’s Tiramisu Crepes. He incorporates expresso and Kahlua into the dish and folds mascarpone into two delicate crepes and tops with a mixed berry compote.

Brunch on the Gulf Coast would not be complete without incorporating fresh seafood into some key dishes. The Colossal Crab Eggs Sardu is the grand dame of Riondo’s brunch menu.

This special item features two free-range poached eggs that sit atop a toasted English muffin, with Canadian bacon, creamed spinach, and an ample serving of Gulf Coast jumbo lump crabmeat.

When co-managers Veronica Kovich and Monica Nolan were developing the brunch menu for Shucks Tavern & Oyster Bar, they wanted to showcase their star ingredient - oysters. Their Fried Oyster Benedict is an island favorite that has fried oysters served on toasted ciabatta bread topped with two poached eggs and a rich and creamy hollandaise sauce.

“We wanted to create brunch dishes that highlighted our oysters. This is a perfect dish for the oyster lover,” Kovich said. Another one of their popular brunch items - The Oyster Rockefeller Omelet - incorporates their most popular dish with eggs. “Think Oysters Rockefeller meets a breakfast omelet.”

Nothing says “brunch on the water” quite like the Soft-Shell Crab Po' Boy at the West End Marina & Restaurants. Fresh, not frozen, soft-shell crabs are battered and deep-fried in a house-made seasoning and dredge, served with a taco slaw mix, spicy chipotle mayo, and tomatoes on a bun made exclusively for their sandwiches.

West End Executive Chef Brian Rose was determined to create unique and consistent brunch items when developing their menu nearly three years ago. “Aside from the usual suspects, I wanted to create a po’ boy sandwich that no one else made on the island,” Rose said.

“I worked one-on-one with Filippo’s Bakery in Webster to develop the recipe for our foot-long bread. Our roll is firmer and a little bit sweeter than the average bun.”

“We use fresh-caught Gulf crab in season. I think that makes our sandwich a step above the traditional sandwich,” Rose said. The po’ boy is dressed with house-made chipotle mayo, taco slaw, tomatoes and pickles.

Whether you're a brunch regular or a newbie to the trend, there's no denying that this meal is a relaxed and enjoyable way to start your day. Brunch is usually served between 10 am and 3 pm but times vary - be sure to check restaurant websites before making your plans.

Reservations are not accepted at all restaurants but are recommended whenever available. Brunch is now offered on Saturdays too at select restaurants across the island and it would be wise to ask about Mother’s Day brunch specials in advance.