Alzaia Naviglio Pavese, 286, 20142
by Maggie Arto
The phenomenon of brunch has arrived in Italy, though I guess, fairly recently. The late-middle-aged gent on the adjacent table, enjoying a chilled red with his wife, leans over to our plate of pancakes and enquires which item on the menu they are. “Pancakes di farino di riso con semi di papavero e bacon,” I say, with the thought that if the word “pancake” has not been widely adopted into the Anglo-Italian vocabulary, they must not be particularly prevalent. But good pancakes they are: rice flour with poppy seeds; light, wide rounds; slightly sweetened, with thin, almost caramelised bacon atop.
Erba Brusca is situated alongside one of Milan's canals, on the outskirts of town. The city was once weaved with these mercantile waterways, which Leonardo da Vinci worked on in the 15th century, but most were covered over by the 1930s, leaving only certain strips open to the air. Wandering along the banks towards our reservation, we’d spotted a pair of dancing cyan dragonflies, and so were already feeling peachy as we sat down on the early summer’s terrace and our mimosas arrived. The owners have spent time in New York – as you might imagine what with the pancakes and the typical drink types – but in New York they don't always make mimosas with freshly squeezed blood orange; nor do they consider a hamburger, or roast beef, an item for brunch (or do they?).
Indeed, the other “brunch” plates are more of a lunch affair, though executed with a freshness that is welcome for the first meal of the day. I have cured trout in pink slices, horseradish cream and fat redcurrants, with mustardy leaves picked from the garden. Here, we could be in Sweden. My companion chooses a panzanella of fried stale bread, cubed cucumber, basil and plentiful ripe tomatoes, dotted with buffalo milk mozzarella that tastes like the pastures of Lombardia itself. This mix of salty carb and proteins is befitting of brunch – and say what you like about Italians, but you can't fault their tomatoes. There is an egg dish - fried with salsiccie and asparagus - that called itself “Eggs Benedict”, but we don't order it. It looks more like a Spanish huevos revueltos; another breakfast item so lost in translation it ended up close to lunch. There are a couple of baked goods, including a plum cake made with ricotta (plum cake, in Anglo-Italian equals moist madeira-like cake, nothing to do with plums), which people are treating like dessert. Perhaps the only thing that truly distinguishes brunch from other meals in Italy, I think to myself, is its occurrence on a Sunday – that, or the absence of pizza and pasta from the menu.