SAN DIEGO (
) -- The season of outdoor dining is officially here.
And whether it's the surrounding scenery and architecture, the sunshine or the bottomless mimosas, nothing beats enjoying brunch on a fabulous patio or in the courtyard of one of the nation's top restaurants and hotels.
"I think everybody loves to sit outside, have a nosh and a glass of wine," says Mike Letterman, general manager of the OAK Long Bar + Kitchen at Boston's Fairmont Copley Plaza, "Especially these days, when people are inside so much, being outside and in the fresh air and people-watching -- it's important to have that offering."
One of the newest outdoor brunches on our list -- having just finished construction of their courtyard in January 2012 -- the Fairmont Copley Plaza brunch has become known as a great locale for people-watching. But the spot isn't alone in this distinction. San Diego's Searsucker, in the heart of the Gaslamp District, is another brunch location making a name for itself as a great people-watching perch.
And then there's the food. Several of the nation's newest brunch locations are redefining brunch menus, offering such things as tapas to redefine traditional breakfast fare. Others on our list are noteworthy because they're among the "greenest" brunch locations in their city.
To help with the annual hunt for fabulous outdoor brunch destinations, here's a few places you might want to keep in mind.
1. OAK Long Bar + Kitchen
The Fairmont Copley Plaza, Boston
With 11 tables scattered in a shady courtyard on the edge of Copley Square, the brunch at Fairmont Copley Plaza's OAK Long Bar + Kitchen is not to be missed. The view alone is prime Boston real estate.
"On one corner, from the courtyard, you can see the Boston Public Library, on the other is the Trinity Street Church. And if you peek your head down the street, you can see the Charles River," Letterman says. "The view goes from old, historical buildings to the most modern of buildings."
But it's not just the view or the people-watching that makes this brunch a destination; rest assured, the menu is also worth the trip. Whether it's lobster Benedict, local spring seafood dishes or corned beef hash, the food is as inviting as the view.
For now, this brunch is available only on Sundays. As the weather warms up (likely by June 1, Letterman says) the hotel will begin offering brunch on Saturdays as well.
2. Sotto 13
New York City
This is Sotto 13's first summer brunch season, making it the newest venue on our list. The restaurant opened its doors in December on a quaint street in West Village lined with brownstones.
It also offers one of the most unique brunch menus. Owner Brad Nagy likes to call it "social Italian."
"It's about sharing," Nagy says. "Coming in with friends, meeting people. Our whole menu is designed around Italian tapas, and we extended that to brunch."
"We're one of the only places I've seen that does a tapas-style brunch," Nagy says. "So if you're trying to figure out whether you want pancakes or eggs, we've designed the whole menu around small plates to share. You can have the pancakes, the eggs, French toast and bacon -- and have a really social brunch."
The price is also worth noting: $25 per person for a selection of three tapas and unlimited brunch cocktails.
3. The Fairmont Washington, D.C.
The Fairmont Washington D.C. is one of the greenest dining locations in its community. And that's not just because of its outdoors.
This venue developed an environmentally conscious reputation because it also uses primarily locally sourced food and keeps bees on the roof, from which its make its own honey. Executive sous chef Ian Bens grows many of the herbs used in the restaurant's food, including chives and basil, right in the lush courtyard where patrons enjoy brunch.
"We have a beautiful courtyard that you can sit in," Bens says. "It's got a beautiful marble fountain in the center and all kinds of indigenous trees."
The menu includes a seafood buffet display stocked with local oysters and smoked salmon from Catskill, N.Y. There's also a creative selection of salads, a dessert buffet and more standard breakfast items, including chicken sausage and bacon. Brunch also includes your choice of an entree, such as eggs Benedict or an omelette. And no brunch would be complete without bottomless mimosas, which are part of the $48 price.
"We also have house-made sodas, ginger ale and cherry vanilla sodas that are made onsite," Bens says. "And we offer a lifestyle cuisine menu that includes gluten-free, macrobiotic, vegan, raw, heart-healthy and diabetic."
Brunch runs from May to September.
San Diego Outdoor Brunch
Half the fun at Searsucker is the names of menu items and the conversations they inspire, says Chris Puffer, general manager and partner.
There's menu items such as "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Monty Cristo Waffles," "Huevos Divorciados" and "Green Eggs and Ham."
"A lot of the names of the food and the descriptions are based on this being a social dining experience," Puffer says. "The guests have to ask the waiter about the food in order to get more information. We really think that helps enhance the guest experience. You can't just point to something and order and not acknowledge the waiter. We purposefully dumbed down the menu."
Searsucker is also fairly new -- it is going on its third brunch season. And it's one of the best people-watching spots in San Diego.
"We have an outdoor patio right there in heart of the Gaslamp at 5th and Market streets, one of the busiest streets," Puffer says. "It's great for watching street performances and for being right in the heart of the downtown area. If you're coming from out of town, you get to be part of San Diego with that outdoor experience."
But there's one more thing you should know about a brunch at Searsucker: the music. Puffer likes to refer to it as "a side of soul" with brunch. The restaurant has a disc jockey spinning in the restaurant's front window. This adds to the social dining experience, Puffer says.
5. Hornblower Cruises
New York City
It's hard to top the New York skyline being part of your brunch experience, and that's what Hornblower cruise ships offer.
After success on the West Coast, the company decided to expand operations to New York City last June. Hornblower has two ships docked in New York City -- the Infinity and the Hybrid. The Infinity is 210 feet. The Hybrid is 160 feet. Both just underwent $25 million renovations that included full restaurant kitchens on each.
"Very often on brunch cruises the focus is just on the view and the food is just OK and they hope to get by with that," says Mark Robertson, director of sales. "We certainly don't believe in that approach here, and both ships were designed with restaurant-quality kitchens so that the food is top quality. And we don't buy anything until the day before the brunch. Everything is cooked on the day of the brunch, and it's all cooked onboard."
The cruises leave from Pier 40, head north up the Hudson River and back down to Downtown around Wall Street, under the Brooklyn Bridge, passing the Statue of Liberty. The experience takes about two and a half hours. And you can soak it all in from the outdoor decks and rattan furniture lining each of the ship's three levels. (There's also indoors dining.)
The experience is not just for tourists, Robertson says.
"We definitely get tourists who want to see iconic New York landmarks in a way they would not get to see them if they were having brunch on a land venue," Robertson says. "But then for locals -- they know these sights, they haven't often visited them even though they walk past them every day, but if you live in New York, it's a very busy city, so when you get out on the water there's a sense of getting away. It's very relaxing, like a mini-vacation."
That's a mini-vacation with the New York skyline and bottomless mimosas -- for $81.55 per person.
Not a bad deal.