I have no doubt this will be the first in a grand series of brunch bites. New York, as it turns out, may very well be the brunch capital of the world. From Jewish delicatessens in the Lower East Side to an unwavering monopoly on the bagel ‘biz, this city has made mid-mornings the time to eat.
Brunch (the seamless blending of breakfast and lunch that typically happens between 11:00 in the morning and 2:00 in the afternoon) has a vast and varied culinary background. Growing up, brunch meant Sunday afternoons at my parent’s long, teak table – with the extra leaf inserted – and my cousins, aunt, uncle, and Grandfather reaching simultaneously for the plate of smoked white fish and lox, reaching over bowls of pickled herring, passing kosher dill pickles from Rein’s NY-style deli, and fighting for the last half of an everything bagel with cream cheese, red onion, and tomato.
Sunday brunch, whether you’re eating a typical Jewish feast, or making eggs a hundred ways, is an American culinary tradition, that has absorbed a wide spectrum of different culture, dishes, and flavors. And with so much variety, it’s easy to find healthy dishes with bold, international flavors, especially here in the big apple.
736 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY [Crown Heights]
Today, my roommate Ethan and I walked a few blocks away from our Brooklyn apartment to Chavela’s, a highly-touted Mexican restaurant outfitted with talavera tiles, sangria on draft, and a special brunch menu that includes a variety of Mexican sweet breads that are distributed, random roulette style throughout the restaurant.
Brunch, especially at a Mexican restaurant, isn’t usually a “little bite.” With potato hash, eight kinds of queso, and sweet, doughy pastries, it can be difficult to find healthy options for this Sunday afternoon bite.
Fortunately, Chavela’s has an extensive selection of vegetarian dishes and – in addition to their Brunch menu – always offers their full menu as well. I ordered an ensalada, a unique mix of thin, confetti-cut zucchini and bell pepper with roasted corn, tomato, mushrooms, and avocado served over a bed of mixed greens. It always helps to remember, however, that brunch is meant to be two meals. To add protein and a little brunch-flair to my dish, I had them top it with a single poached egg and cilantro.
Ethan enjoyed the Breakfast Enchiladas, tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and baked in tomatillo or mole sauce, crema, and served with refried beans.
Of note is the Plato Don, which is perfect split with a friend or two as a fun way to do brunch, Mexican style. A round platter of fillings for corn tortillas sits high on the table, and includes pico de gallo, roasted vegetables, and guacamole. The Frittata Verduras is filled with all the ingredients in my ensalada, and is served with mixed greens and potato hash. Frittatas at a restaurant typically include three eggs – always ask for egg whites to keep from a cholesterol overload.
142 West 10th Street, New York, NY [West Village]
In Manhattan, a table for brunch typically requires a reservation, early arrival, or a wealth of patience most people don’t have by the time the afternoon rolls around and they still haven’t eaten.
Recently, my friend Sirma and I were on a hunt for brunch, and had exhausted a number of places in the West Village. When we happened upon Louro, it was as if fate had pushed us through its wide, wooden doors.
The quiet, sophisticated restaurant was a welcome reprieve from the loud, grease-filled eateries we had hurried past and the over-priced, hour and a half waits that we were debating. Their menu features creative American cuisine and is heavily focused on seasonal ingredients. The brunch menu is unbelievably well-priced and offers and innovative look at how traditional brunch ingredients (eggs, sausage, and mimosas) can revived and elevated.
In my typical style, I opted for a salad – their Mizuna, with marinated eggplant and charred onions – topped with a poached egg. I could almost go so far as to say the egg should always be included. The creamy yolk was a perfect alternative to high-calorie, sugary dressing, and balanced the acid from the eggplant.
For once, the only reason I didn’t order from the “Eggs and Things” brunch basics was because Sirma opted for my dish of choice. And we are both big on tasting and sharing.
Sirma ordered the Poached Eggs on Farro. With roasted heirloom squash, under a generous flurry of fresh-grated Parmesan, this plate combined all of the flavors and textures we crave at Brunch – runny egg yolk, a carb to soak it up, and cheese – with healthier alternatives. Instead of a thick slice of cheese, the Parmesan was modest in comparison (and lactose-free). The chunks of squash had the texture and heartiness of breakfast potatoes, without the grease or starch.
The Market Omelet (with a “daily vegetable inspiration”) was broccoli-cheddar, and the mushroom frittata with olives and arugula was a strong contender, were it not for the potatoes. Kimchi-fried-rice with eggs could easily be made vegetarian (holding the duck sausage, which is still a classy alternative to the average pork link) and if you’re going all out, the cactus pear bellini should not be overlooked; unless you go for the watermelon rose sangria.
133 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn, NY [Williamsburg]
After 30 years serving acclaimed Moroccan and Mediterranean fare in the East Village, the family-owned operation finally opened a Brooklyn outpost in 2012. When I moved to New York, this was one of the restaurants that came recommended again and again, be it for brunch or dinner, a cocktail or a quick lunch.
One of the draws is the atmosphere – eclectic, casual, with a North African flair; the only thing more appealing than the main dining area is the terrarium-style garden. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, as early as 9, you can find patrons from across the borough feasting on their selection of poached egg specialties. From the traditional Benedict with Canadian bacon to the Moroccan Benedict beneath a spicy tomato sauce, to a selection of Middle Eastern specialties served tapas-style for appetizers (think babaganoush, labne, spiced carrots, and a spicy cooked tomato salad known as matbucha) there were no shortage of options.
I ordered the Halumi Eggs; two poached eggs served on thick slices of roasted tomato and halumi, served with olives, a mixed-greens salad and heavily-spiced zahatar pita.
A Little Note: My single complaint about Cafe Mogador was their staunch commitment to the menu request for please, no substitutions. As I typically avoid dairy when eating out, I had requested the halumi be replaced with another roasted vegetable from the menu; a slice of eggplant or even a modest dollop of hummus. There was no flexibility when it came to modifying the plates. So I halved the halumi, if not more, and regretted the wasted pita (while a wedge is worth having, the serving was enormous).
My two brunch-buddies were with me that day; Sirma and Ethan. Ethan ordered the Moroccan Benedict, and Sirma chose the Frittata, an impressive vegetarian array of zucchini, red pepper, spinach, and potatoes, served alongside arugula salad and seven-grain bread.
Carnivore, vegetarian, gluten-free or straight-up New York (Cafe Mogador offers a Bagel breakfast spread complete with cream cheese, tomato, onion, capers, lettuce, and smoked salmon not unlike what my Grandfather used to assemble at the family table on Sundays), there’s something for everyone.
Until next time – or next Sunday –