Food & Drink

How to Build the Ultimate Brunch Spread

Kick off the day with pillowy benne seed pancakes, a Spanish-inflected frittata, chicory salad, and a savory Michelada from Bethany and Dano Heinze of Vern’s


Since opening the popular Vern’s in Charleston, South Carolina, last year, co-owners Bethany and Daniel “Dano” Heinze have been spending nearly every evening in the restaurant’s kitchen. So when the couple is looking to recharge with friends and family, brunch is a go-to. It’s also an ideal meal for entertaining, not only because of the inviting menu options (Eggs! Hash browns! Pancakes!), but also because it sets the tone for your guests’ whole day. “Bethany’s mom is a brunch host master, always frying up bacon and eggs in the morning when we visit their home,” says Dano, the executive chef at Vern’s. “The smell immediately sparks hunger and excitement for what’s ahead.” When the Heinzes invite guests for brunch, they lean toward dishes that can be prepped in advance and offer some lighter bites with big flavors, like their crunchy salad, a frittata with homemade romesco sauce, and a fluffy stack of benne seed pancakes topped with seasonal fruit and drizzled with honey. Bethany, the restaurant’s beverage and operations director, has a favorite brunch drink, too: the Vern’s Michelada, inspired by visits to a favorite beach dive in Los Angeles, where the couple lived for five years. “Brunch is a methodical meal,” Dano says. “It needs enough sustenance to prevent people from becoming hangry, but also needs to be light and energizing so it can carry everyone forward into the rest of their day.”

Listen to the Heinzes’ brunch playlist.

Benne Seed Pancakes 

Spotlight your favorite seasonal fruit with Vern’s popular brunch plate

Yield: 18 (5-inch) pancakes


  • For the apple butter

    • 5 large Honeycrisp apples, cored and chopped

    • 2 tbsp. Water

    • 1½ tsp. apple cider vinegar

  • For the whipped ricotta

    • 2 cups ricotta cheese

    • 1 tbsp. local honey

    • 1 tsp. powdered sugar

    • ¼ tsp. kosher salt

    • 1½ tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

  • For the pancakes

    • 8 large eggs, separated

    • 1½ cups plus 3 tbsp. water

    • 1⅓ cups whole-fat Greek yogurt

    • 10 tbsp. Unsalted butter, melted

    • 2 cups plus 4 tsp. all-purpose flour

    • ½ cup granulated sugar, divided

    • 1 tbsp. kosher salt

    • 1 tbsp. baking powder

    • Grape-seed oil

    • 3 tbsp. benne seeds, toasted

    • 2 pints blackberries

    • ½ cup wildflower honey

Chef’s notes: “The recipe itself was inspired by Danish ebelskivers, which incorporate whipped egg whites to make a fluffy pancake. The airy cake with the nutty benne seeds is both decadent and light—just like we like our brunch. We love highlighting the seasons with a house-made jam and fresh fruit on top, drizzling honey to pull everything together.”


  1. Make the apple butter: Combine apples and water in a medium saucepan and cook, covered, over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is soft and has a rich, dark amber color, about 2 to 3 hours. Remove from stove and cool slightly. Blend on low speed with an immersion blender. Cool to room temperature, then stir in apple cider vinegar. Cover and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before using.

  2. Make the whipped ricotta: Combine ricotta, honey, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until cheese is smooth and fluffy, about 30 seconds. With the processor running, drizzle in olive oil until completely combined. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

  3. Make and assemble pancakes: In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, water, yogurt, and melted butter until completely combined. In a separate bowl, combine flour, ¼ cup sugar, salt, and baking powder, and mix thoroughly. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer, whisk the reserved egg whites on low speed until just combined. With the mixer running on medium-high, slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and whip the egg whites just until they hold stiff peaks when you lift out the whisk attachment but are still glossy. Set aside while you begin mixing the batter.

  4. Add the combined dry ingredients into the egg-yolk mixture, stirring until just combined. Add ⅓ of the whipped egg whites to the batter and gently stir in. Add ½ of the remaining egg whites and gently fold in to combine. Repeat with the remaining egg whites.

  5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 1 to 2 tbsp. grape-seed oil. Add ⅓ cup of batter to the skillet for each pancake, lightly smoothing out the surface. Cook as many at a time as your skillet will hold, allowing ½ inch of space between pancakes and adding another tbsp. or 2 of oil in between batches as needed. Sprinkle ½ tsp. of toasted benne seeds onto each pancake. When you start to see bubbling on the surface, about 3 minutes, flip each pancake and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Transfer pancakes to a plate and lightly cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm until you’re finished cooking.

  6. To serve, assemble pancakes in stacks of 2, adding a spoonful of whipped ricotta and a dollop of apple butter between layers. Top each stack with a dollop of whipped ricotta, making an indentation with the back of the spoon, and fill with more apple butter. Add a few fresh blackberries and drizzle with honey. 

Roasted Potato and Fennel Frittata

Hearty breakfast favorites come together under a Spanish-inflected tomato sauce

Yield: 8 to 10 servings


  • For the Frittata

    • 4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

    • 1 tbsp. butter

    • 2 cups russet potatoes (about 1½ potatoes), peeled and grated

    • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. salt, divided

    • ½ cup onion, diced

    • 2 cups fennel, shaved thin (approximately 1 large fennel bulb)

    • 15 large eggs, whisked thoroughly (should yield 3 cups)

    • 1 cup Parmesan

    • 1 tbsp. fennel pollen (available at specialty grocery stores)

    • 1 tbsp. fennel fronds (the frilly tops of fennel), minced

    • 1 tbsp. chives, minced

    • Calabrian Chile Romesco (recipe follows)

  • For the Calabrian Chile Romesco

    • 1 pint cherry tomatoes

    • ½ piquillo pepper, charred and peeled

    • 2 tsp. minced garlic

    • ¼ cup hazelnuts

    • 1 tbsp. plus ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

    • ½ cup sherry vinegar

    • 2 tbsp. Calabrian chile paste (available online and at specialty grocers)

    • 1 tsp. smoked paprika

    • 1½ tsp. salt

    • ¼ cup toasted sourdough bread, cut into ½-inch pieces

Chef’s notes: “We’re big fans of potato rösti—a.k.a. hash browns!—and soft scrambled eggs. This frittata brings those two elements into one dish and is a bit easier to execute ahead of time rather than standing over the stove while you could be enjoying your company.” The finishing touch is inspired by a traditional Spanish romesco sauce made with tomatoes, chiles, and hazelnuts. “Romesco is a versatile condiment that really complements the frittata and adds a lot of flavor.”


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a large, deep nonstick ovenproof sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and butter. Once butter is melted, swirl pan a couple of times to distribute butter and oil. Toss potatoes with 1 tbsp. salt. Add potatoes and onions to the pan.

  2. Using a rubber spatula, move the potatoes and onions around to evenly distribute for about 1 minute. Then use the spatula to mash the potatoes together to form a cohesive hash brown the size of the bottom of the pan. Place shaved fennel on top and press the fennel into the potatoes. Cover pan with a lid and let cook until the fennel is slightly wilted and the bottoms of the potatoes are golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes.

  3. Stir remaining 1 tsp. of salt into whisked eggs, then pour over the fennel and potatoes, distributing evenly. Top with Parmesan, fennel pollen, fennel fronds, and chives. Let eggs continue to cook until they start to set at the sides of the pan, about 3 minutes.

  4. Place pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until eggs are completely set (a toothpick should come out clean). Remove frittata from pan and let cool. Portion into desired number of slices.

  5. Place a big spoonful of Calabrian Chile Romesco sauce on each plate, and serve the frittata on top.

  6. For the Calabrian Chile Romesco: Preheat oven to 500°F. In a mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, piquillo pepper, garlic, and hazelnuts with 1 tbsp. olive oil. Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until tomatoes are slightly charred. Cool to room temperature.

  7. Add the mixture to a high-powered blender along with sherry vinegar, Calabrian chile paste, smoked paprika, salt, and sourdough bread. Blend the mixture on medium speed for about 1 minute. When it starts to form a puree, slowly add ½ cup olive oil while gradually increasing blender speed until it’s on high. Blend until smooth and creamy. Can be made the day before and refrigerated. If you refrigerate it, gently warm in a saucepan before serving. 

Chicory Salad

Top local greens with crispy bread crumbs for extra crunchy bites

Yield: 8 to 10 servings


  • For the bread crumbs

    • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    • 4 tbsp. butter

    • 2 tsp. minced garlic

    • 2 cups panko bread crumbs

  • For the vinaigrette

    • 1 cup champagne vinegar

    • ¼ cup lemon juice

    • ¼ cup garlic confit (store- bought or homemade)

    • 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

    • 2 tbsp. honey

    • ½ tsp. black pepper

    • 2 tsp. salt

    • 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    • 1¼ cups grape-seed oil

  • For the salad

    • 2 heads radicchio, cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces

    • 2 heads escarole, cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces

    • 4 heads yellow endive, cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces

    • 1 bunch fresh parsley leaves

    • ½ cup dill sprigs

    • Zest of 1 lemon

    • Salt and black pepper, to taste

    • Grated Parmesan, to taste

Chef’s notes: “We love to eat a bowl of dressed bitter greens alongside pretty much everything, and brunch is no exception. The lettuces with bread crumbs add a crunchy texture to otherwise soft foods, like eggs and potatoes. This salad reflects the greens grown at our local farms, amped up with a bunch of torn herbs and Parmesan.”


  1. Make the bread crumbs: In a medium pan over medium heat, add olive oil and butter. Once butter is melted, add minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add panko and stir to combine. Stir continuously, moving the panko around the pan, until browned, about 5 or 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.

  2. Make the vinaigrette: In a high-speed blender, combine champagne vinegar, lemon juice, garlic confit, Dijon mustard, honey, black pepper, and salt. Blend on high until fully combined, then slowly blend in olive oil and grape-seed oil. Set aside.

  3. Assemble the salad: Combine radicchio, escarole, endive, parsley, and dill. Toss in vinaigrette. Sprinkle with lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss again. Portion into individual salad bowls and top with bread crumbs, grated Parmesan, and more black pepper.

The Vern’s Michelada

A dive-bar favorite reimagined for the Southern breakfast table

Yield: 12 servings


    • 6 cups tomato juice (Bethany recommends the Sacramento brand)

    • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

    • 2 tbsp. Tabasco sauce

    • ¼ cup Bar Harbor clam juice

    • ¼ cup tamari sauce

    • ½ cup fresh-squeezed lime juice

    • 2 tbsp. kosher salt

    • 1 tbsp. fresh-ground pepper

    • 2 tbsp. Tajín seasoning

    • 4 lager-style beers

    • Pickled peppers, for garnish

    • Caper berries, for garnish

Chef’s notes: “When we lived in Los Angeles, we were first introduced to Micheladas at our local hang in Venice Beach called Hinano. It’s a beer-only, cash-only dive that opens at 7:00 a.m. and was our absolute favorite. The frothy beer with simply spiced tomato juice and hot sauce has the salty satisfaction of a Bloody Mary, but the effervescent beer keeps it refreshing. Add a little pickled pepper and caper berry garnish, and it’s just a perfect breakfast drink.”


  1. Stir together all ingredients except beer and garnishes in a large pitcher. To serve, coat the rim of a glass with lime juice and dip the rim in Tajín. Fill the glass with ice. Add equal parts beer and Michelada mix, and gently stir. Garnish with a skewer of pickled peppers and caper berries.

See recipes and guides to tailgating and cocktail parties from our August/September 2023 issue:

>> How to Throw a Winning Tailgate

>> How to Prep a Fabulous Cocktail Party