Saturday: The Bigger, The Better, The Boozier (aka the “Birthday Brunch at Essex” Post)

photo-11While other cities around the world have their own weekend-daytime drinking cultures, I think New York owns the boozy brunch.

No one eats that breakfast-lunch hybrid meal later on weekends than New Yorkers — brunch here often extends until 3 p.m., or later. A restaurant recently opened in the East Village entirely pegged to New Yorkers’ adoration of this meal. (It’s aptly called Permanent Brunch.)

So, Saturday. Possibly the one thing that I could love more than a boozy brunch at Essex restaurant — a great Lower East Side scene of a restaurant attached to the Essex Street Market — is a boozy brunch here at 12:45 pm on Saturday for a party upwards of 15.

The planner deserves both some props for their patience and their ultimate faith in the fact that the aforementioned brunch for the aforementioned party of 15+ will actually happen — in a reasonable amount of time. (Parties of 4 regularly wait for 45 minutes to get a table.)

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Well, it did, and I’m happy to report that it generally went off without a hitch. And once we started roping in other wait staff to refill our drinks — the whole premise of Essex Street’s boozy brunch is that brunch includes three mimosas, screwdrivers or bloody marys, but you hope that they stop counting after a while — done.

The first time I came to brunch at Essex Street I was a little too excited about the caliber of the menu, which extends far beyond the egg scrambles and pancake stacks of some of the more ordinary brunch suspects in the area. (You can see the full menu here.)

photo-12Slowly but surely I’ve worked my way through some prospects, and today I went out on a limb — crispy potato pancakes with sauteed apples and honey-cream sauce and spinach-shiitake-black bean hash.

Yeah, they don’t look so pretty. Although it tasted delicious, I found myself wishing for a couple of strips of bacon, and the part where the sweet, buttery apples and the savory, spinach-y, mushroom-y, black bean hash — I don’t like mixing.

… Well, unless it’s one of Essex’s excellent bloody marys. The more mixing, the merrier. My recommendation: Don’t overlook the Mexican Matzo Brei — scrambled eggs with tortilla chips, Monterey Jack cheese, avocado and pico de gallo (and no matzo) — still the standing favorite.

Essex, 120 Essex St., at Rivington Street, 212-533-9616.

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Saturday: Ugghhh … (aka the “Tour de Bar Food” Post)

Potato skins, followed by an appetizer sampler, followed by late night pizza, all washed down with copious amounts of beer. This just might be the blog post I submit to ThisIsWhyYou’reFat.

Let’s chalk it up to the fact that Saturday was a double special occasion, an out-of-town visitor and a local friend’s birthday. Here’s what went down:

photo-1photoFully aware of the endurance it would take to get through the evening — we were starting early, about 6 o’clock — we needed to eat something early to hold down the fort. Enter, potato skins at Murphy’s Pub in Midtown East. They were chosen purely for the fact that they were the cheapest, least fried and easiest shareable appetizers on the menu.

photo-2When we showed up at the birthday party at Rattle n’ Hum, the excellent craft beer bar in Murray Hill (just a little further south), my friends had apparently had the same idea and voila, chicken quesadilla and sampler platter arrived. We were now satisfactorily fortified for the copious amounts of beer that came next.

photo-5And as for the slices from La Mia Pizza … well, anyone who’s ever been out for a big night in New York City knows that there’s just something magical about the glow emanating from a pizza shop open late night. And, if you actually have to cross in front of it while walking home, it’s a lost cause — even if you don’t finish it until the AM.

$7 (and Under) Lunch: Meat and Potatoes, Kolache Mama Style

First impression of Kolache Mama: pink tiles, stainless steel interior, pop-y, cutesy, logo and fonts — some kind of Beard Papa’s copycat?

Then I read a blurb in Time Out NY, which describes a kolache is “a type of stuffed pastry from Central Europe.” Huh? I did not get that at all.

photo-3photo-2Truth is, Kolache Mama is all of the above — and then some. It has more sweet-style kolaches than savory — 10 of the 25 on the menu are listed under the “SweetieMama” section. But, there is a conspicuous bottle of Sriracha sauce sharing a counter with coffee sweeteners and stirs. And the whole interior is pretty, in that anime sort of way.

photo-4Which brings me to the menu: Many of the “MeatieMama” and “VeggieMama” options are even more difficult to grasp than the idea of a central European snack food gone anime rogue.

Options include everything egg-topped versions (presumably for breakfast but sold all day); a “Street Dog” version, in which the lightly-sweet buns that are used as the base for all of the kolaches — sweet or savory — are wrapped around an All Beef Hebrew National Frank; and the “Combo Nosh,” a veggie version, which is topped with hummus, tabbouleh, tzatziki and spices — and just about everything in between.

photo-1All are priced equally: $2.99 ea. or a pair for $5 ($5.44 with tax). Given that common denominator, I picked my two based purely on looks: The reuben, which, according to the menu, was a roll topped with corned beef, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and caraway seed, and the twice baked potato one, one of my favorite styles of potatoes, and came topped with mashed red potatoes with flecks of red potato skin, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives.

photoSurprisingly, I preferred the potato one, although the idea of starch-on-starch seriously unsettled me, at first. The corned beef version was okay; I ended up eating all of the topping and only about half the bun underneath, plus the whole thing was a little dried out — in part because, so far, people aren’t buying them quick enough. The only other people to stop in while I was making up my mind about the prettiest kolaches to try were two guys, who said something along the lines of, “We’re just stopping by to try to figure out what this place is about.”

My thoughts exactly.

Dinner: A Meal of Miniatures (the “More Excellent Lamb Chops” Post)

This is what happens when I’m left up to my own devices (and I have no specific agenda): I play. I mean that in the kindest, most creative way possible; no disrespect for any food here.

So on this occasion it began with more of the Australian lamb loin chops that we had the other night (someone went a little crazy with the ordering from Fresh Direct). They really are just such perfect miniature T-bone cuts!

photo-4photo-2 I was in the middle of cooing over their miniature perfection when I realized that we also had some new potatoes, also miniature! Add to that two cobs of corn that needed to be cooked (which, while full-sized, could easily be chopped into mini-cobs). Then I remembered the baby spinach in the fridge that needed to be used up (baby-sized!), and, while I was in there, I discovered the end of a container of cornichons — little, tiny pickles — just perfect for garnish.

photo-1At this point, I had my sights set on the finish line: Would you, could you, mock up a small plate of a little bit of each of these goods and have it pass off for real size, due to that slight-of-hand deception? …

So, what do you think? I think the only thing that’s throwing off this photo is the size of the kernels of the corn — monstrosities!

Really, this meal was just begging to be made, which is sort of how I feel about staring in the fridge sometimes. Sometimes, a meal leaps into your arms, and sometimes, you’ve got to coax it a bit.

One is not better than the other, although I think that the former has a greater tendency for disappointment, while the later will surprise infinitely more.

For a zoomed-out, macroscopic photo of the entire feast of food we ended up making, see after the jump: Continue reading “Dinner: A Meal of Miniatures (the “More Excellent Lamb Chops” Post)”