A tater tot breakfast casserole on the stove.

Brunch: From the Other Side of the Menu

img_8578I’ve worked in the restaurant business since I was a junior in high school, so the terror, stress—whatever you would like to call it—that Gabrielle Hamilton describes about her restaurant, Prune, is oh-so very real for me.  I began as a host and I remember looking at the staff around me on a Sunday morning brunch shift and saying a silent prayer for the hell we were about to experience.

Hamilton’s emphasis in her excerpt from Blood, Bones & Butter is on the importance of not “going down” throughout the long hours of your shift.  She says, “You are always, always going to face forces that can bring you to your knees.” Whether that means pouring pancake batter over yourself and your station (it was blue cheese in my case), or going hungry in a place that is literally full of food, the food service industry is one that can definitely make you look yourself in the face when you’re at your worst.

I’ve often caught myself entering the kitchen with an angry and dissatisfied customer’s meal, with words flying from my mouth that would probably make my mother faint.  I’ve heard nagging undertones of my subconscious telling me to make a snarky comment at the creep who keeps calling me “sweetie.”  I constantly ask myself: Why do I continue in a job that all but consumes my physical and mental capacities?

One answer comes in Hamilton’s last line in her excerpt.  She states, “I’m just punching and hoping I land one on the guy’s jaw.”  The hope of every restaurant employee, or even owner in Hamilton’s case, is that a customer’s experience is one that lands the punch.  It may just be for the likelihood of a good tip, or the promise of customer loyalty, but most of the time it takes more than money to help someone survive the food service industry.  It takes a heart for the job to really thrive.

My secret to survival is simple.  I too enjoy brunch.  In fact, if I have a day off, there’s a ninety-five percent chance that you could find me scarfing down some French toast or hash browns at the restaurant that most strikes my fancy that day.  I enter closer to opening time and wait my turn to be seated, and then I patiently hold up my menu, even if I know what I want, and wait for my server to arrive at my table side.

I can always tell the difference between a server that’s new versues someone who’s been in the business for a while.  You can tell by the amount of fear showing in their eyes when they’re given three tables to serve in a row.  The more experienced server, instead of showing fear, gets a little dead behind the eyes.  This is just a typical work day.  However, the newbies show a sense of panic.  They over fill their drink tray, trying to hit all tables at once.  Orders are taken in immediate succession, with little thought as to how much food they’re going to have to deliver—before it gets cold—in about fifteen to twenty minutes.  I tend to forgive them whenever they’re my waiter or waitress.  I understand the struggle.  I know the panic.

So, to maybe give the restaurant crowd a bit of a break, I’ve decided to bring brunch to you.  I’ve got your main dish, Cheesy Tater Tot Breakfast Bake, so make your own huevos and mimosas for the day.  This dish is packed with every flavor you could want in a brunch casserole.  Bacon, sausage and tater tots are the primary tastes, but they’re subtly coalesced by an egg and milk mixture that will even please those who don’t like the flavor of eggs. But if you do decide to go out, please don’t forget to leave your waiter or waitress a nice tip.

img_8576Give Us a Brunch—I Mean Break—Breakfast Bake

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 lb ground breakfast sausage, no casings
  • 2½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 extra large eggs or 3 large eggs
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • pinch of table salt (1/8 tsp)
  • 2 lbs frozen tater tots
  • 3 TB freshly chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

  1. In a very large skillet, cook sausage on medium high heat, breaking up the meat and browning it. Once cooked through, drain and layer onto the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan. Evenly sprinkle 2 cups of the cheese over cooked sausage.
  2. In a large bowl, hand-whisk together the milk, eggs, pepper, onion powder, and salt. Once mixed, pour evenly over the cheese and sausage in baking dish. Layer top with frozen tater tots. If not baking right away, cover tightly with foil and chill in fridge until the next morning.
  3. When ready to bake, set oven to 350F with rack on lower middle position. Once oven reaches 350F, place casserole in oven for about 35 minutes. Top with additional ½ cup cheese, cooked/crumbled bacon, and bake another 5-10 minutes or until sides are bubbling and top is golden brown.
  4. Don’t forget to share extra bacon pieces with hungry kitties.
  5. Garnish with chopped parsley, let rest at room temp 10 minutes, and img_8584serve.img_8582

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