The breakfast club
Some of my favorite people in the world are breakfast people. My dad’s been preaching breakfast as the day’s most important meal for decades. My best friend really should be left alone in the mornings until she’s eaten something. My kids’ first thought when they wake up, as far as I can tell, is “what can I eat?”
For me, though, food just doesn’t hold much appeal until I’ve been up for at least a couple of hours. By then, the day’s various obligations have already started to bear down. Sustenance gets pushed further down my list of priorities, and it’s not uncommon for me to survive on coffee (with cream) until lunch. It’s not an ideal schedule, and I used to lament that “elevensies” isn’t a real thing. The steady ascendance of brunch is very real, though, and very welcome to those of us who aren’t completely on board with three meals a day.
Rumor has it that brunch has only recently become popular because of millennials who don’t have regular jobs and need avocado toast in order to survive. But when The Washington Post looked into brunch popularity in Google searches broken down by state, they found “no correlation whatsoever between median age and interest in the meal on the state level.”
Although brunch was more likely to be popular in states with larger urban populations and where income is higher, reporters actually found that a state’s Jewish population was correlated more strongly with “brunch” in Google search terms. Of course, a state-level analysis like that says nothing about whether Jewish people are more likely to brunch or are inspiring interest in brunch generally. But it does suggest that antipathy toward brunch as a hipster trend is probably misguided.
And it brings me to Perly’s Restaurant & Delicatessen on Grace Street in Richmond.
Revamping the Jewish deli
As 2018 dawned, more than one food-trend spotter pointed to the “next-gen” Jewish deli as one to watch across the country, and the prediction is looking good as the year draws down. Number four on Bon Appetit’s list of hottest new restaurants, released this summer, was Freedman’s in Los Angeles, whose co-owner describes it as “the black sheep of Jewish delis.” (Their latkes are crisped in a waffle iron.)
Perly’s, re-born in its current form in 2014, may have been just ahead of the curve. After 50 years in business, Perly’s closed temporarily in 2013 but re-opened under new owner Kevin Roberts (of the late Black Sheep and the new Swan Dive). In Richmond Magazine, critic Todd Kliman noted the national artisanal Jewish deli trend and called Perly’s “one of the best in the country of this current crop.”
My culinary background has been regrettably lacking in authentic Jewish fare. So when I ventured to Perly’s for the first time earlier this year, I wasn’t remembering anyone’s grandmother’s kitchen or looking for nostalgic elements in the decor (although Perly’s certainly has them). I was mostly just hoping for some good smoked fish – which, despite my general inexperience with Jewish food, is one of my favorite breakfast options. I found it, folded into the messiest and most delicious frittata I could have imagined.
“Yiddish for Delicious”
The Fillmore Frittata is my default order at Perly’s. It’s a hot mess of breakfast delectables held together with an egg beaten to just the right consistency, not too fluffy. And when I say “hot mess,” I mean to say that I’ve burned the roof of my mouth each and every time I’ve ordered it. My patience apparently fails when the Fillmore is served. I regret nothing.
On my most recent visit, though, I decided to branch out and order the Benny Goodman: A generous slab of smoked salmon draped over delicate poached eggs and latkes, topped with hollandaise and roe. On the side: a perfectly-dressed green salad with pickled veggies, and pillowy sesame-seed challah.
This happened to be a late lunch, rather than brunch. I found dinner to be unnecessary that day.
My husband’s go-to order is the Sub Snyderman, a monster roast-beef sandwich about twice as tall as my mouth opens. The fries, thick but still crispy, are always one of the highlights of lunch. He’s also tried the Goy Vey, pictured below, with (a bit too much) turkey and beef bacon on challah:
If you don’t want to eat yourself into a coma, try a combination of smaller items (although a coma may result just the same if you’re not careful). In 2018, it’s hard to impress with a Caesar salad, but the Perly’s smoked bluefish version is truly one of the best I’ve had, nicely sized for sharing. It balances well with a smaller order of latkes and apricot apple sauce.
But I’m still waiting for my chance to go to Perly’s for a family meal, not just on my workday brunch break. I have my eye on their fish plate and cocktail list, and I’m running out of patience. At least those items are cool and won’t burn my mouth when I finally encounter them.