America’s Favorite Cities for Brunch 2016
“U need a biscuit,” reads a mural on the brick walls of Willa Jean, a hot spot for brunch in New Orleans. Travel + Leisure readers took that sign to heart this year, and found that yes, in fact, they needed a biscuit.
When asked to score their favorite cities for brunch, readers had a clear preference for the biscuit-loving South. With just a few northern outliers, the vast majority of winning cities are scattered across the southern edge of the United States.
In the annual America's Favorite Places survey, readers of all stripes evaluate hundreds of cities and towns across a range of categories, from the friendliness of the locals to the quality of the pizza. Unlike T+L's World's Best Awards, which encourage readers to weigh in on travel experiences across the globe, the America's Favorite Places survey is a way for locals to share what their hometowns do best.
The winners in this year’s brunch category are destinations that think of the weekend meal as a veritable tradition, warranting hours of time (and probably a biscuit or two). In these cities, French toast might come topped with ricotta, bananas, and candied pecans, or seafood may be served on a tower alongside bottomless mimosas.
Whether you’re recovering from Saturday at a Nashville bolthole or taking part in what can only be called New York City's mandatory day of rest, these are the best places in the country for a serious brunch affair.
Travel + Leisure’s America’s Favorite Places survey opened on 10/8/2015 and closed on 04/15/2016. It was open to everyone, and ran alongside a sweepstakes. The open-response survey asked respondents to submit their favorite place and rate it in over 65 categories, including affordability, notable restaurants, and public parks. Cities are defined as governed bodies with a population over 100,000.
No. 15: Norfolk, Virginia
With some of the country’s most charming architecture in neighborhoods like Ghent and Freemason, it’s only fitting that Norfolk would also have some of America’s most endearing brunch spots.
Chief among them is Handsome Biscuit, a café where chef and owner David Hausmann takes the biscuit to new levels. His so-called “Hella Fitzgerald,” for example, is a sweet potato biscuit stuffed with fried chicken, bacon, cheddar, and sausage gravy.
Another local favorite is Pasha Mezze, with its locally-sourced, Turkish-style brunch options. Try the grilled steak served on toast with poached eggs.
No. 14: Nashville, Tennessee
T+L readers think Music City has hit the right notes when it comes to brunch, earning it a spot on this year’s survey. Regional fare still reigns supreme here, but many local restaurants are offering innovative twists on the classics.
Chef Maneet Chauhan, for example, serves Southern-inspired Indian brunches, like tandoori shrimp and grits, in her popular Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Meanwhile at Prima, Chef Salvador Avila’s brunch pizza has a Mexican kick, topped with a fried egg, chorizo beans, Tapatío hot sauce, and ricotta.
Another gem is Marsh House, in the Thompson Hotel, where Chef Nathan Duensing serves Korean fried chicken with brown butter waffles.
No. 13: Buffalo, New York
Everyone seems to agree that this western New York city has long been underrated, and this year Buffalo was voted America’s Favorite City. Part of its appeal? The all-important Sunday brunch.
Order the house casserole at Betty’s, a farmhouse restaurant on a quiet residential corner (eggs baked with bread, sausage, cream, and cheddar cheese). It’s a hearty staple for residents of this snowy town. A few blocks closer to downtown, just-opened Patina 250 is a more upscale brunch affair. The lemon ricotta pancakes, with huckleberry compote and salted honey butter, are already a favorite.
No. 12: Louisville, Kentucky
Forget the Kentucky Derby. The biggest competition in Louisville is which of the city’s many brunch spots takes the crown.
There’s Proof on Main, inside the hip 21c Museum Hotel, with Chef Mike Wajda’s fried chicken and squash relish. Other local favorites include the biscuits and chorizo gravy from El Camino, and the jam-and-mascarpone-stuffed French toast from Louvino.
Closer to downtown, there’s a veritable gauntlet of options in revitalized NuLu, including pizzas (and breakfast shandies) at Garage Bar, three-cheese grits from Harvest, and seed-covered bagels from Please & Thank You.
No. 11: Chicago, Illinois
Deep dish pizza may be Chicago’s most famous local specialty, but T+L readers think the city’s brunch is noteworthy, too. They’ve discovered the city has a passion for the meal, and it’s easy to see why.
Restaurants like Jam, in the historic Logan Square neighborhood, treat brunch not as a Sunday afterthought, but as a menu mainstay. Chef Jeffrey Mauro serves decadent quiches, waffles-of-the-day, and hot chocolate pancakes (cocoa flapjacks with dulce de leche, marshmallows, and walnuts).
Three blocks away, Michelin-starred Longman & Eagle uses locally-sourced ingredients to make what might be the best duck hash in town.
No. 10: Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina’s capital gets high points for its brunches. The best places are clustered downtown, near the city’s Nash and Moore Square parks, and offer traditional Southern cooking.
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey serves crispy fried chicken and biscuits with gravy at communal tables. A few blocks away, Humble Pie has an outdoor patio where locals enjoy cornmeal pancakes and shrimp and grits. For a French-style brunch, you’ll have to leave the city center and head to nearby North Hills, where Coquette’s chef Paul Gagne creates delicate crepes and rich quiches that change daily.
No. 9: New York City
Choosing where to brunch in the Big Apple can be a daunting affair, with reliable classics scattered across the city and new players sprouting up all the time. Adding to the frenzy is the inevitable line at whichever restaurant you’ve settled upon. But if anything is worth waiting for, it’s brunch.
Try Brooklyn’s Cherry Point, recently opened by an alum from the legendary Spotted Pig. The meat-heavy menu has standards like corn beef hash—made spicy with chilis—but it also breaks the mold with house-made labneh and beet-cured arctic char. In Manhattan, the miniature Buvette is another favorite, serving what might be the fluffiest scrambled eggs ever.
No. 8: Providence, Rhode Island
Despite its diminutive size, Providence has no shortage of brunch spots. Across the Seekonk River from downtown, The Duck & Bunny serves more than 20 types of crepes in a 200-year-old house redesigned with chandeliers, marble tables, and whimsical artwork (keep an eye out for—you guessed it—ducks and bunnies).
Across town in the West End neighborhood, the all-vegetarian Grange makes even meat-lovers forget about bacon for a moment, serving a knockout fried egg fried rice with roasted cauliflower. A few blocks away, Julian’s serves "Star Wars"-themed omelets. Little wonder T+L readers also admired Providence’s geekiness.
No. 7: Wilmington, North Carolina
T+L readers think this North Carolina beach town has some of the friendliest people in the country. Why the constant smiles? It might be the brunch.
At the historic downtown Dixie Grill, hipster locals sip bloody marys from mason jars and eat Southern classics like biscuits and gravy. On the Cape Fear riverfront, The George serves more regional specialities—go for the extra rich white cheddar grits—on a dog-friendly patio overlooking the water and Eagle Island.
By the beach, Chef Jessica Cabo’s East Oceanfront offers a seafood-centric brunch at Blockade Runner Resort’s canopied garden deck.
No. 6: Richmond, Virginia
Readers give Richmond a high score for brunch, noting the Virginia city’s commitment to serving regionally-sourced food.
Bigwig Richmond chefs Joe Sparatta and Lee Gregory, for example, teamed up with a local farmer for their new restaurant, Southbound. Everything here has a Southern touch, from pancakes served with pork belly to bourbon-smoked table salt.
Another farm-to-table spot is Lucy’s, where husband-and-wife duo Jason and Amanda Lucy serve eggy classics and fresh-baked bacon donut holes. And in the historic Church Hill neighborhood, Metzger Bar & Butchery serves up German-style brunches, with house-made sausages and wursts from nearby farms.
No. 5: New Orleans, Louisiana
After a wild night of partying comes the hangover. And the best way to cure a hangover is with eggs, carby pastries, and mimosas.
New Orleans’s best restaurateurs know this, and have adjusted their menus accordingly to include brunch. Try Altamura, in an 1850s Garden District mansion, for Italian; Sylvain, in the French Quarter, for shrimp and cornmeal dumplings, and Willa Jean for biscuits.
For a locals-only spot, go to Kenton’s, a whiskey bar in Audubon (get the whole wheat waffle with bourbon syrup). T+L readers (hungover or not) said a collective thank you when they named this city one of the top five for brunch.
No. 4: Scottsdale, Arizona
People in Scottsdale like the good life. They golf at some 200 courses. They shop at high-end boutiques. And, come Saturday morning, they brunch.
Scramble is a fast-casual spot with outdoor seating north of the city center. Snooze, another informal restaurant, smothers sweet potato pancakes with pecan icing and mascarpone. For a fancier, boozier brunch, well-heeled locals head to Tanzy, from three-time James Beard Award-winner Sherry Yard. The thick-sliced brioche French toast comes topped with ricotta, bananas, and candied pecan, while the Moscow Mules have house-made ginger beer and coriander-infused rum.
No. 3: Charleston, South Carolina
Charleson is a quiet city. T+L readers give it high marks for its tidiness, its antique shopping, and its charming, historic architecture and friendly attitude. But if there’s one arena that Charleston does not handle quietly, it’s brunch.
Here, brunch is big. At Élevé, the Grand Bohemian Hotel’s rooftop restaurant, for example, Sunday brunch includes a sprawling buffet with shellfish, charcuterie, and cinnamon waffles (not to mention bottomless mimosas). And at Husk, Sean Brock’s testament to New Southern cooking, brunch-goers enjoy a constantly-changing menu of regional specialties. One reliable favorite? Brock’s shrimp and grits.
No. 2: Knoxville, Tennessee
Before venturing off into the Great Smoky Mountains just an hour east, visitors would be wise to stay in Knoxville for at least one meal. Especially if that meal is brunch (or barbecue, for that matter). This Tennessee town earns a near-perfect score on this survey category, thanks to a smattering of restaurants adding Southern flair to their brunch menus.
One highlight is downtown's Knox Mason. There, Chef Matt Gallaher takes a hyper-local approach, sourcing ingredients as close to the kitchen as possible. That means house-churned butter served atop a heap of cornmeal griddle cakes with Tennessee bacon and sorghum syrup.
No. 1: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Fort Lauderdale should change its promotional slogan from “Hello, Sunny” to “Hello, Sunny-side Up,” according to the T+L readers who voted it America’s favorite city for brunch. But even that moniker wouldn’t do it justice, as the South Florida city goes way beyond eggs and bacon for its perfect-score-earning brunches.
Beachside, locals enjoy seafood towers at the Pelican Grand Beach Resort, and spicy pork belly hash—made with poblano chili—at S3 (short for Sun, Surf, Sand). Head inland for Italian-influenced Louie Bossi’s, on restaurant-lined Las Olas Boulevard. At brunch time, you can eat bubbly-crusted pizzas with bellinis and a bocce ball court.