Prune. I’m not really a fan of the shriveled, deep purple-colored, giant raisin(ish) fruit that also happens to be sort of a gross metaphor for wrinkly, wet skin.
On the other hand, I am unapologetically pro-Prune, the tiny, food-centric restaurant just west of the street grid nexus that is First Avenue and First Street. I first became smitten with Prune back in August, 2007, when the restaurant cameoed on the season 3, “New York” episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show, “No Reservations.” (Admittedly, I am a bit of a Bourdain groupie.)
But that was just the beginning. Every time Prune has crossed my radar since, it just gets better and better. You could say: j’ai été lèche-vitrine — French for “I have been window-shopping,” although I prefer the literal translation, which is, “I have been licking [Prune’s] windows” — for some years now.
So why did it take me until August 16, 2009, to get inside that door?
Not for fear of price point. Brunch entrees range from $13-$19, with some interesting a la carte items, such as a toasted caraway seed omelette with sour cream, under $10. You’re paying a couple of bucks more than most downtown brunch spots, but then again you’re not going to find a dish like the butter-crumbed eggs with spicy stewed chickpeas, preserved lemons and warm flatbread ($14) anywhere else in the city. Fresh, tomato-y, buttery: this is just an impeccably thought-out dish, a true testament of Gabrielle Hamilton‘s ability to look to the world’s kitchens for inspiration and transform them into her own.
The huevos rancheros— eggs baked in a light sauce of tomatoes, garlic and chilis, finished off with melting cheese and sidled up onto a plate with black beans, a giant hunk of avocado and a handful of homemade tortilla chips ($15) — is a Mexican breakfast that my mother, a dietician, could get behind (and delicious, too). Instead of satiating my curiosity, this first meal at Prune actually stoked my curiosity. I want to find out more.
So what took me so long? Well, no pun intended, Prune is tiny, popular and doesn’t take reservations, which means it always, always has a wait. On this day, my friend and I were told it’d be about 40 minutes — tolerable, in the right circumstances — and in actuality we waited about one hour, 10 minutes. We stopped in for coffee at Simon Sips down the block, and stood around in the summer sun, chatting as women do, which was fine.
But I am rarely in the mood to put my patience to this test for dinner on any given night, let alone brunch on a weekend morning. And even though I gave Prune what I consider to be one of the highest compliments a restaurant can receive (the bit above about “instead of satiating my curiosity…), I can’t think of when I’ll be back.
Sigh. I wish the restaurant didn’t use the tiny bar as designated “seating.” If I could wait it out at the bar, working my way through Prune’s fascinating list of specialty bloody marys ($9/ea.) — the Chicago Matchbox (left), which is made with homemade lemon vodka, has a veritable garden of pickled vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, baby white turnips, caperberries, green beens and radishes – I could promise to be back a lot sooner.
TIP: Might help to try a late lunch-brunch. By about 3 pm, a half-hour before the restaurant stops serving brunch, the wait had all but disappeared.