Tasting Menus: New York City (Brunch!)

There are many things I miss about living in New York City, but the brunch scene has got to be in the top five. Typically it went like this: Sunday you wake up late, feeling slightly woozy from the previous night's libations. Then whenever it takes your fancy you head out to meet friends for happy plates of comforting food, washed down with spicy, reviving Bloody Marys.

At least, that's how I remember it was back then. Now I'm a visitor in town; I arrive at brunch before noon, usually with assorted family members, bummed to hear there's a long wait. By the time we sit down everyone's starving and grumping. Maybe the scene has changed, or more likely, maybe we've just gotten old. Anyway, the consistent crowds are a sign of just how well this city's restaurants can turn out a brunch and I encourage you to go. Like walking over the Brooklyn Bridge or arguing with a taxi driver, it's a classic New York City experience.

Most restaurants do not take brunch reservations. This is important to know. Your best bet is to arrive on the earlier side. Not too early now — most don't open until 10am — but before noon is smart. Beware that on Sundays restaurants in NYC aren't legally allowed to serve alcohol before noon, so you may have to order your Bloody Mary later in the meal.

If you need to stick to a schedule, as we did one Saturday (matinee show of for Anything Goes with my parents) I recommend CookShop, as they take bookings. The menu is de-lightful, it's de-licious, it's de-lovely....

I'm definitely a savory-selector when it comes to choosing off of a brunch menu. While I love a few bites of fluffy pancakes or french toast, I'd much rather have the variety of tastes and textures that come with an egg-based dish. My favourite brunch dish, Huevos Rancheros, is a brilliant example of this. Here, this Mexican inspired dish is made with three baked eggs, black beans, ranchero sauce, Monterey jack cheese, crispy tortillas, lime creme fraiche and pickled jalapeno salsa. I love how they bake it in this dish, and bits crisp up around the edges.

Fortunately I was with my sister, and she's happy to share dishes with me — double the tasting! Alex is... not so keen on swapping plates ("If I wanted to eat that, I would've ordered it."). So, dish number two I enjoyed half of was the CookShop Scramble: carmelised onions, creme fraiche and chives on a buttermilk biscuit.

A word now about biscuits at brunch in New York City. Two elements of the traditional Southern breakfast are widespread here now, the buttermilk biscuit and grits. In my final years as a NYC resident, grits were just starting to come on to the scene, delighting my Georgian roots. Now the creamy corn meal and the fluffy biscuit are on just about every doggone menu around. You'd think they moved the city hundreds of miles South when the brunch menu comes out. Anything egg is now served with a biscuit — the bagel, English muffin, and toast have left town apparently.

While I love biscuits, they are buttery rich and quite filling. For non-Americans, a biscuit is similar to a scone, but they are flaky and always eaten in a savory context. And at CookShop they're huge. After eating half of the biscuit and egg combo at CookShop I was worried about how much space remained for my amigo Huevos. Fortunately my other friend, Bloody Mary, helped wash it all down nicely.


The essential brunch cocktail, Mary is spicy, salty, refreshing and piquant. She's an interesting one to order in restaurants as there's not one standard recipe for her, a variety of ingredients and garnishes grace the glass she fills. Coat the rim in celery salt and you've got me.

Bonus tip: The CookShop is perfectly placed for a post-brunch wander on The High Line, an old elevated rail line that has been transformed into a beautiful linear park.

Next up, the adorably named Buttermilk Channel, found on a corner in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The restaurant — named after the 'churning' tidal strait between Manhattan and Governors Island that dairy farmers used to cross to sell milk — is popular. You're going to have to wait. But before you get all huffy, we found a nice way to while away the time. Pop down the block to Black Gold Records, a curious mix of antiquities, records, and stellar iced coffee made with Rook Coffee. The hostess will call you when your table is ready, so relax. We waited just under an hour.

Now you're seated and boy it's a busy, buzzy place, eh? I recommend you immediately order a Bloody Mary. They've got a little Mary menu here, with some interesting versions including my dad's choice, The Otis (doused with Jameson's whiskey and Sixpoint Otis stout). I went for The Classic as it came garnished with a house-made dill pickle. Garnish win!

The menu offers comforting choices and fresh seasonal ingredients. Obviously they have buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk biscuits. I had Eggs Huntington (poached eggs and hollandaise on buttermilk biscuits which normally come with ham but they were happy to substitute it with smoked salmon for me; appreciated.

The beauty of brunch of course is you can combine eggs, soup and waffles in one meal. And that's exactly what I did here. The chilled zucchini and basil soup was topped with Lively Run feta and olive oil croutons. I don't think it could've tasted much fresher had you taken a blender into a garden and pureed on site. Bursting with zingy flavour it was a great contrast to the rich and creamy egg dish.

They say cheddar makes it better, and it's true even with waffles. But then again not much isn't improved with the addition of cheese. As soon as my eyes locked on the words 'Cheddar Waffle' I knew I had to order one. The combination of sharp cheese and sweet syrup is breakfast and lunch coming together in one tidy square-stamped package. They're dangerously delicious.

Our final NYC brunch took place on a Monday. Now beware that many restaurants only serve brunch on the weekend. Some do breakfast during the week, but some don't open until lunch. The Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant serves brunch every day, and good thing as the waiting times have been known to reach two hours on weekend days. Monday, we thought, we'll breeze in. Upon approach we saw a small collective outside the entrance. Three members of one party were perched on some steps tapping away at their iPads. Others circled anxiously, thumbing their guide books (this place is obviously listed in quite a few). We forged our way inside, left our name on the list, and joined them in wait.

It's not a big place, and you can see how a queue can form quite easily here. Try to resist staring at the people eating in the window seats. Drooling is not dignified, at least until you reach your table. About 45 minutes later and we were at ours, ready to chow. (See photo at top of post for full spread)

Hola Senor Huevos Rancheros. We meet again. Here the dish was made with sunny side up eggs, red beans, guacamole, jalapeno sour cream, salsa picante, and pepper jack cheese on a flour tortilla. The sour cream was amazing, coolness laced with a delicate jalapeno flavour. Sister and I went halfsies on this, a side of incredibly creamy cheese grits, and the Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich: scrambled eggs, melted cheddar, homemade tomato jam, with hash browns.

 The eggs were so heavenly fluffy and the buttery, flaky biscuit was the best I'd had in on the trip.

Brunch, it's a little like breakfast, a little like lunch, and a lot like something I love. New York City does it damn well, and I always look forward to this special meal where soup, waffles, and spiced vodka are not only allowed together, they're encouraged.


  1. Wow!
    Love Brunch-what a great time to relax & enjoy amazing dishes!
    Your Blog is like a travel diary - keep it up!

  2. Unbelievable..we will meet ya'll in NY next time and take this brunch tour. Love this!

  3. I LOVE the New York brunches too. I'm originally from Melbourne where we do great brunches, and I miss that in London. In NY, we recently visited Egg in Brooklyn which was superb, and Pulino's in The Bowery is also good.


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