brunch bunch

To the delight of their grateful friends, three Charles Village roommates hold big Sunday breakfasts, often with imaginative themes

October 10, 2001|By Michael Scarcella | Michael Scarcella,SUN STAFF

It's not listed in the Zagat Survey and don't expect to have its carryout menus stuffed in your mailbox or stacked like pancakes in your vestibule.

This eatery, if you can call it that, is actually a Charles Village apartment, and it's not going public any time soon. The Papermoon Diner, that quirky 24/7 spot in Remington, needn't worry about a nearby newcomer at the breakfast - uh, brunch - table.

Welcome to Brunch at the Booth, where three guys in their mid-20s - Mike Janczewski, 27, Jason Forster, 24, and David Wright, 25 - serve brunch to their friends every Sunday.

The fruit-filled crepe-fest was a delightful assortment of blueberry, raspberry and mango treats, each dainty, impeccably fresh, bursting with flavor.

A Southern-style menu brought the troops out in full force, and the praise was unanimous. The biscuits and gravy, grits, sausage and bacon couldn't have tasted better in the backwoods of Alabama.

And one of the more peculiar themes, the "truck stop" brunch, saw what is believed to be a culinary first: the "grease grenade," strips of bacon pinned between two sausage patties. Patent pending.

"It's disgusting," declares brunch regular and punk rocker Christopher McGarvey, 22, about his artery-clogging concoction. McGarvey - whose idea was immediately adopted by the Booth's cooks, Wright and Janczewski - says a bounty of greasy breakfast items at the Booth inspired the grenade's manufacture.

At 11 a.m. Sundays, when the doors to the first-floor apartment swing open, there is no explosion of patrons trying to get the first spoonfuls of Wright's scrambled eggs with pepper jack, tomatoes and green peppers. Rather, friends of the Booth trickle in up to an hour later - unwilling or unable to rouse themselves from deep slumber brought on in part by extended Saturday night partying.

McGarvey, often first to arrive, swears he attends brunch every Sunday because he has nothing better to do.

Wright, ever one to peer deep into the peculiarities of human behavior, thinks otherwise.

"Our idiotic lives are amusing to people," says Wright, as he and several friends sit on the stoop of their apartment, which overlooks the busy intersection at Maryland Avenue and West 29th Street. Clutching a cigarette in one hand and a coffee cup in the other, Wright sums up the appeal of Sunday brunch: "It's also the idea of being hyper-social. Nobody in our scene ever hosts anybody at their house."

Wright moved into the apartment early this year, but the brunch tradition didn't begin until April - and didn't start to boil until summer, when as many as 20 people would crowd the living room of the three-bedroom apartment. With no air conditioning, it was often hot inside the living room, compelling brunch patrons to gather outside on the stoop.

It's tough knowing just how many people are going to make a Sunday appearance. "We cook until people stop showing up," Wright says. If more people show up than anticipated, Wright says the trio starts "digging for stuff" in the tiny kitchen.

Only four people were at the first brunch in April - the three roommates and Rachelle Detweiler, Janczewski's girlfriend. It was held "in honor of unemployment on Sunday," says Janczewski, who had been working part time at the Daily Grind's Fells Point location. "It was for celebration of quitting my job."

The first brunch - much like a more recent one - didn't have a theme. It was, he says, a large-scale Continental breakfast with sausage, bacon, waffles, mounds of grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe and endless cups of coffee.

"The first brunches were pure joy," says Wright, the Booth's chef de cuisine. Wright, a reference specialist at the Johns Hopkins University's Abraham M. Lilienfield Memorial Library, admits his gastronomic repertoire is grossly limited. "The only thing I know how to cook is breakfast."

Janczewski, the sous-chef if there must be one, is known for two items: latkes and pancakes. He periodically whips up piles of buttery, fluffy pancakes - slabs of which sometime swim in a moat of melted vanilla ice cream.

"These pancakes are ... good," said Benjie Loveless a couple of Sundays ago. Loveless, 26, a brunch regular who waits tables at one of the city's underappreciated gems, Zodiac, added that Janczewski's pancakes remind him of those at Pete's Grill on Greenmount Avenue, a Baltimore mainstay known for breakfast.

But Janczewski, Forster and Wright know they aren't chefs, and they don't pretend to be. Brunch is the only meal they put any effort into. And it's the only meal they share; the guys often find themselves around town come dinner time.

Further, they don't have cable television, so the Food Network's popularity hasn't caught on with them.

Recipes? The guys own one cookbook, but they say it's too fancy for them to make any sense of.

"It's a lot of improvising and it's a lot of stealing off the packages we are using," Wright says of his technique. "But most of the time, we just make stuff up."

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