Friday, May 22, 2009

Weekend Brunch in New York City, Three Ways

Like most people stuck at work on the Friday before a holiday weekend, I've been fixated on the clock on the corner of my computer screen. Memorial Day Weekend (and the unofficial start to summer) is almost here. While I will be heading out of town for some much-needed time out of the city, I will not be boarding the Jitney on my way to a fabulous vacation house in the Hamptons.




I encourage those staying in New York (and those visiting for the long weekend) to enjoy the rare quiet that falls on the city on Memorial Day Weekend. Take advantage of the situation and partake in a quintessential weekend activity in New York -- brunch. If you're looking for a new place to eat, consider these three restaurants that I had the opportunity of trying within the last few weeks.

Penelope on Lexington Avenue in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

Penelope
159 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY
(212) 481-3800 | Map

To celebrate my friend Lauren's birthday (albeit slightly belatedly), she and I met up for brunch at Penelope. It was a perfect Sunday for brunch, so there was already a crowd of people waiting outside the restaurant for their names to be called. After putting our names on the list, we popped across the street to Brasil Coffee House to grab some much-needed caffeine and to catch up with each other before sitting down to our meal. About forty minutes later (not too bad given the number of people standing on the sidewalk), we were seated.

I'm not sure whether it was because we had already drank our weight in luscious coffee or whether it was because we weren't feeling all that adventurous, but neither Lauren nor I ordered off of Penelope's $13 Prix-Fixe Brunch Menu, which features Nutella French Toast and Pumpkin Waffles. Instead, we played it low-key.

Eggs Any Style at Penelope in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

Penny Egg Sandwich at Penelope - Photo by Taste As You Go

I ordered the Eggs Any Style (I had mine scrambled) with toast and homemade French fries ($7.75), while Lauren opted for the Penny Egg Sandwich with bacon on an English muffin ($7.95). Needless to say, we were a little underwhelmed. My scrambled eggs were dry and cold by the time I got them and I confess that I spent most of my time eating the French fries... because they were there. After watching the table next to us get served their food, we decided that we learned a valuable lesson. If there's a crowd of people waiting outside, there must be a reason. People in New York won't wait around for substandard food. So, next time, we're going to stick to the offerings on the Brunch Menu and order two rounds of that Nutella French Toast and ignore that inner voice warning us that it might be too sweet to handle!

Penelope on Urbanspoon

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Orange Juice at Cowgirl in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

Cowgirl
519 Hudson Street
New York, NY
(212) 633-1133 | Map

The following Sunday, Lauren and I met up for brunch again in honor of her friend Adam's first visit to New York City. This time, we braved the pouring rain and trekked down to the West Village to Cowgirl. We enjoyed our beverages and got a kick out of the tiny plastic bull riding the straw in Adam's orange juice as we perused the Brunch Menu.

French Toast at Cowgirl in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

There were so many delicious-sounding options that it took us a while to decide, but I think we all chose wisely. Lauren ordered the Paris, Texas French Toast ($9.95), which was served with a bowl of fresh fruit salad. The combination of the "secret egg batter" that the Texas toast was dipped into, the powdered sugar, and the maple syrup produced a very sweet breakfast. I managed the couple of bites that Lauren shared with me, but I'm not sure I would have been able to eat the whole thing.

The Southerner at Cowgirl in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

Adam was torn between The Northerner (three-egg omelet stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and Jack cheese; $10.95) and The Southerner (three-egg omelet stuffed with sweet vidalia onion, tomato, bacon, and cheddar; $10.95). When Lauren and I reminded him about the importance of bacon at brunch, he finally chose The Southerner. They don't mess around with the omelets at Cowgirl! Despite the bulk of the omelet, Adam cleaned his plate and left no morsel uneaten. I think it's safe to say he enjoyed his meal.

Huevos Rancheros at Cowgirl in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

As for me, I opted for the Huevos Rancheros ($9.95). In a restaurant called Cowgirl, how could I not? I was served a plate full of corn tortillas that were piled with black beans, adobo salsa, two fried eggs, and melted cheddar. (Trust me, the eggs are under there.) Toss some potatoes and a biscuit on the side and you have a Meal. There was just a tad too much food on my plate, so I didn't clear it like Adam did, but I ate most of it! It was so good that I hated walking away from the table knowing that I hadn't finished it all. But I did leave with the satisfaction of knowing that I inspired the couple at the table next to us to order up the Huevos Rancheros for themselves. The trip to the West Village in the rain was worth it for the food and definitely worth it for the company.

Cowgirl Hall of Fame on Urbanspoon

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La Giara
501 Third Avenue
(212) 726-9855 | Map

Rounding out my whirlwind reviews of brunches that took place weeks ago (*blush*) is my review of my birthday brunch at La Giara with my friends Candice and Mary Catherine. I initially started researching restaurants that were offering a Mother's Day special since my birthday fell on the Monday following the holiday. Eventually, all of that research led me to La Giara and their unlimited refill mimosa brunch, conveniently offered on Saturdays and Sundays.

As we were looking over the menu, we were given a complimentary basket of various breads and muffins. A perfect offering to help us begin laying down a foundation of food in our stomachs that would help soak up the mimosas. Let me tell you -- the servers at La Giara are very generous with their refills. I don't think our glasses were ever allowed to sit empty longer than 10 seconds, which was really impressive given the number of people who were packed into the restaurant for Mother's Day.

Tomato and Basil Omelette at La Giara in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

Candice ordered the Tomato & Basil Omelet ($7.50), which was served with a small salad of mixed greens. I loved the fact that Candice pushed the salad off her plate to make room for the side order of bacon ($2.00) that she ordered and offered us her salad. Seriously, brunch just isn't the same without bacon. We all ordered it.

French Toast with Bacon at La Giara in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

As is evidenced by the picture I had Mary Catherine take of her brunch choice: French Toast with Whipped Butter, Maple Syrup, and Fresh Berries ($7.50). The chef must have been feeling festive when plating the French toast since it also came out with freshly sliced bananas on top. Mary Catherine was smiling throughout the meal, so she must have loved her breakfast. Either that, or the mimosas were doing their job!

Season Vegetable Frittata with Country Potatoes and Bacon at La Giara in New York, NY - Photo by Taste As You Go

As for me, I ordered the Season Vegetables Frittata with Country Potatoes ($8.00). The frittata was perfectly cooked and the combination of asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes, and mushrooms was just fantastic. This time, I most definitely cleaned my plate! While I can't speak for either Candice or Mary Catherine, I know that the service and the food at La Giara have convinced me to schedule a repeat visit in the future.

La Giara on Urbanspoon

What are your plans for Memorial Day and will brunch play any part in your long weekend festivities?