Brunch is the ultimate expression of leisure: You don’t get up early, and you don’t cook it yourself. All you have to do is put on your sunglasses and show up at some lovely place at a golden late-morning hour, and brunch will come to you. With or without alcohol, brunch provides a little daytime buzz and entices you toward further leisure. It is the opposite of ambitiousness — it is all that a Sunday should be. Luckily, the city of Berkeley and the surrounding area are steeped in a brunching culture, and your choices are diverse and rich.
First pick: 900 Grayson
900 Grayson St., Berkeley
Located a little off the beaten path in West Berkeley, this place is tucked away in an industrial neighborhood. Converts will hungrily tell you it’s worth the trip. The menu describes such varied offerings as a seared ahi burger, house-made roast turkey and a build-your-own-brunch kit made up of “sordid accessories.” The knockout of the selection is the Demon Lover: a huge serving of boneless fried chicken served on waffles, with cream gravy or maple syrup on the side. Unimpeachable.
Downtown Pick: Venus Restaurant
2327 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
Conveniently located a few blocks from the Downtown Berkeley BART station, Venus is almost too well known for its own good. Go early, because the place gets packed by people panting for their brilliant Benedict served three ways (one of them vegetarian-friendly and all of them delectable). Try the Scharffenberger mocha with Chantilly cream, with the chocolate luxury flapjacks if you’re feeling bold. Everything at Venus is gorgeously prepared and generously portioned. Brunching Berkeley at its best.
Old Oakland: Cock-a-Doodle Cafe
719 Washington St., Oakland
Hidden in Old Oakland is a number of small, excellent restaurants. Cock-a-Doodle Café serves Spanish-influenced brunch with a full bar and an eclectic menu. Their coffee is fair trade, and their lemonade is organic. Their bacon is perfectly crisped and sits up off the plate like a burnt sienna bridge from eggs to toast. The lemon ricotta pancakes are a showstopper, as is the graham-cracker-crusted French toast. If you’re looking for something spicy, get the chilaquiles or Oaxacan roasted pork, and don’t be afraid to trade in a Bloody Mary for a Sangre Maria.
Lake Merritt: The Terrace Room
1800 Madison St., Oakland
The Terrace Room gives the immediate impression that you’ve chosen something out of your price range, but fear not! The jazz quartet and the incredible view of the lake don’t drive up the price of brunch. Gaze out over the water while savoring a goat-cheese-and-thyme omelette or baked quinoa and eggs. If you’re a fan of the elusive old favorite Monte Cristo sandwich, the Terrace Room will serve you a shamelessly large one with a side of strawberry jam. This place is quiet and beautiful, perfect for a date. Say the magic words: bottomless mimosa.
Unusual Pick: Wat Mongkolratanaram
1911 Russell St, Berkeley
If you’re in the market for a new experience to accompany your delicious brunch, this is the one for you. Only open Sundays, this Thai Buddhist temple in South Berkeley has a different setup: Brunchers exchange cash for tokens up front, choose dishes and pay with the tokens on the spot. The choices consist of delicious Thai food: roast pumpkin in green curry sauce, ground pork with Thai basil and mango sticky rice. Often, the temple hosts live cultural performances for the benefit of its customers, so this can be brunch and a show. If you’re not feeling the standard eggs-and-pancakes lineup and you want something just a little outside of your standard orbit in the East Bay, announce to your companions that this is your brunch of choice this week. You won’t regret it.