Invented by the British and turned into a full-blown occasion by Americans, brunch has become the best way to waste a perfectly good Sunday. Finding the right place to spend hours among friends, coffee, bloody marys, and eggs, can elevate this midday ritual from good to great. So we’re in pursuit of the best brunches around, no matter where that journey takes us. This week, we venture to Santa Monica, California, where Esters Wine Shop & Bar serves a boozy brunch with elegant sweet and savory dishes.
Across Paris you’ll increasingly find caves à manger, which are wine shops that double as bars. Walk in and the shelves line the walls with wine you can purchase to take with you, or stay to enjoy it with some charcuterie (Septime la Cave) or a full-on meal (Le Verre Volé). Back in Los Angeles, Esters has recreated that experience inside a renovated 1937 Art Deco building, with an expertly curated selection of bottles from co-owner and wine director Kathryn Coker.
Coker opened Esters in 2015 with her husband Tug and restaurateurs Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, owners of the Rustic Canyon group of restaurants. She remains the wine director of those other eateries, but Esters gives her the opportunity to make wine the star of this establishment. She focuses her 250+ bottle list on smaller producers from around the world, helping her customers identify winemakers who emphasize craft. The space doubles as a market where you can take not only wine to go, but preserves and food as well, like the exceptional chicken liver in a jar.
Those who work at Esters like to call their cooking operation “The Little Kitchen That Could.” It’s a tiny space tucked behind the u-shaped bar that opened serving assorted snacks, charcuterie, and cheeses by chef Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon. With chef de cuisine Chris Ono running the kitchen day-to-day, the menu has only grown, adding a Sunday brunch service this past July.
As with any restaurant located a stone’s throw from the famed Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, the menu changes seasonally with current standouts including the French toast with figs; heirloom tomatoes with burrata, pan con tomate, and basil; and a smoked trout bagel with tomato, cucumber, red onion, and capers that has a beautiful brininess that’s cut with the refreshing tomato.
But as with any trip to Esters, it’s all about the wine. For brunch, mimosas and French 75s are made with prosecco by Glera Drusian Valdobbiadene, and the 30 bottles of bubbly on Coker’s list are available at the retail price. So enjoy your food while sipping on a cremant du Jura, a grand cru from Champagne, a sparkling rosé from the Loire Valley, or even a sparkling red wine.
Even when Esters is packed, it still manages to feel relaxed, which is perfect for a soothing Sunday. The brunch may be boozy, but not in the bottomless mimosa-variety that can somehow turn a late morning appointment with some eggs into a night club.
Lounge on a sofa inside, belly up to the bar, or head outside to the patio to relax in the California sun. From your vantage on the patio, you’ll see people much more motivated than you at the fitness studio across the street spill out onto the sidewalk to jump rope and sprint up and down the block. Marvel at their dedication while you order another cocktail of cold brew coffee, mezcal, and mole bitters. If you linger long enough, you can transition right into the afternoon for one of Esters themed Sunday Tastings.