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Central Guadalajara’s brunch mafia

Which is more a telling sign that your civilization has crested and is about to batter itself into oblivion on the rocks of history: an excessive pursuit of leisure, a la the decadent court of Caligula, or a tendency towards self-flagellating, obsessive internal criticism – which, come to think of it, occurs mainly in societies with too much leisure time on their hands?

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I ask that question because it seems to me that the on-going backlash against brunch, that often-indulgent midday meal, is an example of that latter tendency; a society that lambasts brunch is one which is spending far too much time gazing into its own psychic entrails.

Which, then, is worse: self-indulgence or self-obsession?

Seeing as this article is essentially a wrap-up of central Guadalajara’s best brunch spots, you can easily guess where my sympathies lie.  They lie where they do in part because I, as a veteran of the nocturnally-inclined restaurant/bar industry, “breakfasted” for over a decade well after 11 a.m., sometimes as late as 3 p.m. If restaurants decided to adhere to some forgotten bylaw hidden in an arcane hospitality Constitution that mandates breakfast food be served between, say, the hours of 6 and 11 a.m., I’d have been left eggless and heartbroken on many occasions. Brunch was my savior and I give it my heartfelt thanks.

Those that hate brunch do so, I think, because they conflate it with what they perceive as its dominant participatory demographic: the spoiled leisure class. To my mind, that’s like objecting to the gin-and-tonic because of its association with the British Raj.

Another common complaint about brunch I’ve heard whispered on the online monoxide breeze is that its fare is often unimaginative and predictable.  To which I say, between bites of my eggs Benedict, so what? When I arrive at 1 p.m. at a restaurant not having eaten anything for 13 hours, one thing my palate isn’t is discerning.  I need egg-heavy, rib-sticking sustenance, not fennel shavings.

While lighter options abound at the following Guadalajara restaurants – many of whom share, by virtue of being owned by the same restaurateur, a similar visual aesthetic and a bizarre, verbose menu design – your jones for substance won’t go unsatisfied.

Caligari, found in the working-class Santa Tere neighborhood (east of Chapultepec and north of Vallarta, roughly) is the first of three mindfully designed restaurants on this list owned, in part, by one enterprising fellow: Isaac “Redman” Padilla.  He is, I’m told, the man primarily responsible for all his business’ creative visual aesthetic and gonzo menu plan.

A bemused diner could easily spend an hour poring over a Redman menu. Aside from (pun-heavy) descriptions of food and drink, there are short essays, non-sequiturs, poems, and assorted tongue-in-cheek asides scribbled here and there in the margins of his hand-crafted booklets.  It’s what might have resulted had William S. Burroughs – in the throes of his famous withdrawal from heroin in 1950s Tangiers – decided to channel his crazed delirium into crafting restaurant bills of fare instead of into Naked Lunch, a “novel” you attempt to descry at your peril.

It’s important to point out that an afternoon or morning at Caligari isn’t just enjoyed via one’s taste buds. The space is visually impressive, its decor a direct reference to its namesake: German Expressionist film “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.”

But the food at Caligari is anything but cryptic or stylized.  There’s a variety of chilaquiles, four different omelette preparations, five poached egg dishes, four molletes (essentially a 10-odd-inch baguette half covered in most everything) and three vegetarian options.

Perusing the menu for some time one afternoon, I finally decided to eschew anything resembling Mexican food and instead choose a dish consisting of two poached eggs practically floating in a garlicky, Béchamel-esque sauce and topped with red onion, capers and – most important – smoky lox.  My decision was perhaps influenced by that of my companion, before whom was set a mollete topped with goat cheese, capers, red onion and, yes, salmon.   

The formula is more or less repeated at two other Redman joints, which are like variations on one theme: tiny La Trompada, around ten minutes southeast of Caligari and giant P’al Real, which being a couple of blocks east of the Vallarta arches landmark strains the definition of “central” Guadalajara a bit.

P’al Real is the lumbering Spanish galleon to Calgari’s medium-sized catamaran and La Trompada’s cute little tug boat.  There’s a split level front patio, a front dining room, a long bar area, and a sizable back patio.  The restaurant boasts a full bar and serves a fine dinner after 7 p.m., in addition to breakfast and lunch.

La Trompada, meanwhile, seats less than 15 people and has barely enough room for a postage-stamp-sized open kitchen and a cramped barista station.  Aside from the well-executed N/A beverages, they serve only Corona.

Judging by the steady business enjoyed by this three-headed Hydra of Guadalajara daytime dining, and the general air of heedless joie d’vivre of its clientele, Mexicans share little of the disdain towards brunch de rigueur in some neurotic stateside cultural enclaves.

Now, who’s got a straw? I need to suck up this here pool of Hollandaise sauce – sans guilt.

Three ‘Redman’ brunch choices

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Caligari Cafe, Juan Manuel 1406, open every day 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. except Tuesday.  Beer and wine only.

La Trompada, Argentina 70, open everyday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. except Tuesday. Corona only.

P’al Real, Lope de Vega 113, open Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Monday. Full bar.

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