From the Waldorf Astoria to a few humble neighbourhood joints, here’s where to pair your eggs benny with a mimosa
New York City didn’t invent brunch. But it certainly elevated this Sunday (and often Saturday) meal into a fine art – to a large extent by adding alcohol into the mix. Whether it’s an all-you-can-drink deal or a cocktails brimming with exotic ingredients, libations play a key part in the Big Apple brunch experience.
Here’s a sampler of hot spots. Some are simple, some are swank; one of them may have invented eggs benedict. All are bound to get your morning – all right, your afternoon – off to the right start.
Tavern on the Green
Although brunch is served throughout this sprawling space, a familiar site from countless New York-centric movies, the Central Park Room – with its glass façade looking out over the hills and dales of the namesake park – is the place to be. (A close second: the rustic Bar Room, dominated by oak beams and a parquet floor.) The hearty American menu is divided sensibly and straightforwardly into breakfast and lunch options, accompanied by a full bar of international wines, bottled beers and cocktails named after New York’s boroughs. You’ve probably met the manhattan; now get to know others like the brooklyn (featuring rye, dry vermouth and maraschino liqueur) and the queens (vodka and pomegranate molasses). Local bonus: The drinks feature brands distilled within New York.
67th Street and Central Park West, 212-877-8684
Maison Premiere gives off the vibe of a classic French café (a dimly lit one, if you come at night: It’s illuminated by votive candles). Fittingly, given the fin-de-siècle vibe, it’s all about the absinthe here. Close to 30 varieties of the licorice-flavored “green fairy” are on offer, available in cocktails concocted by nattily dressed bartenders behind the horseshoe-shaped bar, or in “drips” (mixed with sugar and chilled water from an ornate green marble fountain). To go with this morning eye opener: hearty, spicy small plates that range from truffled scrambled eggs to shrimp and grits to duck confit hash, plus a market-fresh array of oysters from both Atlantic and Pacific waters.
298 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, 347-335-0446
Courtesy Maison Premiere
Here it is: your Southern roadhouse in the city. The décor is all Formica tables and rough wood walls – not that you can really tell, since in between the sports-team pennants, celebrity photos, licence plates, tin advertisements, baseball cards and album covers; every solid inch is covered. Beer taps hang from the ceiling, beer bottle caps under urethane cover the bar. Christmas tree lights twinkle, 1970s music blares, TV screens glow with the latest game. The downhome country cookin’ includes jumbles of eggs, sausage and cheese served in cast-iron skillets, pancakes, and buttermilk waffles. And for a set price (currently $17) you get unlimited refills of three brunch drinks, including a screwdriver, a mimosa, and a hyper-spicy bloody mary.
560 Third Ave., 212-949-5400
This 17-year-old veteran on the Greenwich Village scene comes across as a hip farmhouse, with rustic touches (beamed ceiling, tin chandeliers, hanging wood window frames) mingling with modern art and wallpapered pillars amid a cool, gray-and-beige color scheme. The Village people love a bargain, and on weekends and holiday Mondays, they flock here for one of the best brunch deals in town: a prix fixe that includes an entrée, a side dish and a drink. And the drinks go beyond the usual mimosas and bloody marys to include a fruity vodka punch, a bourbon/ginger beer cocktail and vodka/Káhlua/espresso concoction they call the “good morning martini.” The food goes the extra mile too, enlivening the classics with touches like kale to give an omelette some crunch, or ricotta cheese to fluff up pancakes.
89 Greenwich Ave. 212-691-8080
Norma’s at Le Park Meridien
Imagine a place where it’s brunch all day, every day. Such a heaven on earth is this restaurant in the Parker Meridien hotel, which serves only until 3 p.m. Although the bright environs suggest an American mid-century modern coffee shop, the cuisine revels in Gallic luxe: comfort food revamped for a sophisticated palate. Cases in point: fruit-stuffed waffles crackling with brûléed sugar; seared lobster and asparagus omelettes; eggs Benedict on griddle cakes (vs. the usual English muffin); and French toast with slabs of foie gras and mushrooms. To accompany such decadent diner fare? Champagne and champagne cocktails, bien sûr: mimosas, bellinis and the like, made with thick, freshly squeezed citrus juices and purées.
Le Parker Meridien New York, 119 W. 56th St., 212-245-5000
Courtesy Le Parker Meridien
Norma’s is enormous
Every New Yorker has his or her secret place, the you’d-never-think-it-but-it’s-really-good neighbourhood haunt. Such a one is The Stand, a tiny venue set above a comedy club of the same name. Dominated by the bar, the digs are simple, even a tad shabby: stamped-tin ceiling, bare wooden tables and chairs, distressed black-leather banquettes. But a set price (currently $19) buys the table never-ending rounds of expertly mixed mimosas, bellinis and greyhounds (vodka and grapefruit juice) – or any combination thereof. The menu offers comfort food for grownups, like eggs benedict with shredded duck and hoisin-infused hollandaise sauce or – as if you weren’t consuming enough alcohol already – a “boozy PB&J french toast”: beer-battered bread, filled with peanut butter and grape jam, accompanied by a bourbon-berry compote.
239 Third Ave., 212-677-2600
Why not try something with a little south-of-the-border style? This Mexican city-wide chain offers over 100 brands of tequila, served straight up or frozen, along with various mezcals and beers. The brunch prix fixe includes a frozen margarita (we recommend the prickly pear version) or one of the usual gringo drinks; coffee or tea; and an entrée. Those mains are testimony to the good neighbour policy in action: Beef ribs or eggs nestle inside tacos, cuddle up to chorizo or make the acquaintance of avocado and poblano cornbread. Visit the Hudson Street location for exposed brick walls and colourful, woven chairs create for a cheery interior; come the warm weather, a wide patio offers a perch to watch the trendy denizens of the Meatpacking District strolling by.
675 Hudson St., 212-699-2400
Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria
We’d be remiss not to cite at least one place carrying on the buffet brunch tradition. (Culinary historians posit that brunch began in Britain as an array of dishes laid out on sideboards for returning hunters in the early afternoon. You may need it after morning sightseeing.) One of the most sumptuous in town is set up in a corner of the Waldorf Astoria’s gilded Art Deco lobby. First, you settle at your white table clothed table, and order a beverage: perhaps a “breakfast bronx,” made of vermouth, gin and orange juice, or a “bloody bunny” (a bloody mary, only with carrot juice), or any other wine or spirit from the fully stocked bar. Then, in the shadow of the hotel’s towering 1893 carved bronze clock, you wander around hot and cold stations, choosing among 50-odd dishes – some, including the Waldorf salad, the eggs benedict, and the red velvet cupcakes – reportedly originated here. Return to your table, where colourful beverage awaits. Consume, rise, and repeat. When it comes to brunch, sometimes nothing succeeds like excess.
301 Park Ave., 212-355-3000
Courtesy Waldorf Astoria
Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria