Why Do We Pay So Much For Breakfast Food?

Every Sunday it’s the same, whether you’re in Atlanta (where I used to live) or New York (where I live now): people wait an hour to pay too much money for breakfast food. Sunday Brunch is a ritual–an excuse to see old friends, to get out of your borough, to eat cake and call it nourishment. This Sunday I made Craig trek up to Sarabeth’s Kitchen on Central Park South so I could enjoy the pumpkin waffle:

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It costs $14. That’s an outrageous amount of money to pay for a can of pumpkin mixed with flour and egg and sugar and plopped into a waffle iron, flipped on to a plate and topped with sour cream and honey and pumpkin seeds and strawberries. But it’s an indulgence that seems to be worth indulging in. We know we can probably make brunch food at home (and investing in a waffle iron could probably save you a fortune for all the waffles you wouldn’t have to order on Sunday mornings) but that’s not the point. The point of brunch is that it’s social, it’s communal: when you stand with the crowd on Central Park South waiting to savor the sweetness of syrup and pastry and strong bitter coffee, you feel like you’re part of the world. And after you’re seated and your food comes and it starts to rain you join everyone in laughing and running inside; or, if you’re Craig, you continue to eat:

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Today, though, I had the opportunity to return to Eli Zabar’s E.A.T. on the Upper East Side. This place always makes my jaw drop with its prices. I think it’s criminal that Eli charges $18–EIGHTEEN DOLLARS–for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. True you get his famous bread with that but my God, man, how can you charge that much for so little and still show your face? Smoked fish was born out of poverty: it’s a poor man’s food. Eggs are plentiful and cheap. There can’t be a logical reason to charge so much except for the most obvious reason: you CAN. Eli caters to the Upper East Side crowd and they literally e.a.t. it up. I don’t know why I’ve been back three times now: every time when the check comes I am outraged but I keep going back. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the few decent places to eat near the museums. Or maybe it’s because Eli’s good friends with The Barefoot Contessa and I have a soft spot in my heart for her. Or, most likely, maybe we’re all under a spell when it comes to breakfast food: maybe we were all hypnotized by an evil breakfast spirit at birth who compels us to spend too much on food that costs the restaurant very little. Breakfast is a brilliant racket and the only way to dismantle it is to make breakfast at home. And during the week it’s easy to do this but on Sunday–oh, Sunday–it’s almost impossible to avoid going to brunch. So why fight it? Most people don’t. I don’t. And that’s why Sarabeth and Eli are laughing all the way to the bank.

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