While I like breakfast very much, I feel that, in general, the standard American idea of what can be eaten before (and just after) noon is limited. Eggs are delicious. So are bread-based items—both the savory and sweet varieties—and it’s always nice, too, to add a side of meat. Yogurt, when pressed, can hit the right and light (yet still tasty) notes as well.
And yet, I’ve never been a happier breakfast eater than when I lived in Asia. In Japan, every morning, I had none of the things listed above, but have never felt more satisfied, yet less weighed down after my first meal of the day. And that’s because what I ate was miso soup, rice, and fish—sometimes in combination with each other, sometimes just one of them alone. But all of it felt clean, perfectly substantial, and tasted excellent.
Which is part of the reason why I was very excited to learn that Insa—the excellent Korean restaurant, bar, and Karaoke epicenter in Gowanus, which opened early this year—has recently begun brunch service.
Last week, we stopped by to visit sous chef Yong Shin, who showed us why in his (perhaps biased) opinion (yet one I happen to agree with) these fish, broth, and rice-based meals (plus plenty of egg and meat options to boot) are some of the most underrated breakfast options out there, and why you should make it a point to go to Insa for brunch this weekend, and find out for yourself.
We stood around an assortment of dishes that he’d cooked early that afternoon, as 1 pm overcast skies streamed into the large dining room that is filled with communal tables and built in grills. “I think congee is the most underrated breakfast meal,” Shin told us in his Chef garb. “One bowl and you’re good to go for the rest of the day.” He called it a “classic peasant dish” that you’ll find all over southeast Asia. His congee is a hearty bowl of mushrooms and rice grits, to which soy-scallion, nori, and a soft-boiled egg are added—hearty yet balanced and delicious.
And that was just the beginning of his less traditional (in America, that is) breakfast abundance. There was also an incredible broiled fish of the day—Mackerel in this case, which he salts and leaves to dry for two days, and then broils and serves with lemon—and he pairs it with rice and classic Kimchi and vegetables. “This is something typical you might have on a Korean breakfast table,” Shin explained—and, he said, if he had his breakfast druthers, it might be this he’d opt for on a daily basis.
And while he did not forget to include something for those with a sweet tooth, he did it with a twist: Mochi waffles served with pear compote and maple syrup. Think of it as the waffle equivalent to the potato roll—still soft and delicious but with a texture that is chewier, and more interesting. Shin said he adapted the recipe from Lucky Peach, but added his own flare, and included a base of evaporated and coconut milk. And, health-obsessed New York: This dish is gluten free. No going wrong here.
Next, the crispy rice cakes are something like a Korean version of Poutine, in as much as it looks like fries covered in delicious sauces and meat. In reality, it is fried rice cake that has been cut into sticks, covered in a spicy sauce, and then served with Spam (another war-era Korean staple) and a fried egg. Finally, Shin made us a traditional kimchi and pork stew, and his own Shin ramen. And who, really, can go wrong with that (i.e. a big bowl of noodles to start the day off right)? It’s made of bone broth, brisket tendon, and a soft boiled eggs.
And, we’re sorry, we almost forgot about the most important part of any Brunch in Brooklyn: Hair of the Dog. And there is plenty to choose from there—beers on draft, and cocktails, but why not go with a true classic (plus some extra spice while you’re at it): The Insa bloody. It’s a party in a drink (plenty of wasabi, Tabasco and soy sauce, and even some Kimchi—”like a boozy gazpacho,” said the bartender that day), plus those pickles fun garnishes. So even if you are full (but not weighed down!) you’ll leave this new-comer brunch much happier than before you arrived.
Brunch at Insa is served Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4pm; 328 Douglass St., Gowanus
All images by Jane Bruce