Hotel restaurants are not my first choice for having brunch. Brunch needs to be in a place that has some character with a lot of locals mingling about, and the somewhat staid environment of a hotel lobby doesn’t really offer that. I would, however, make an exception for Reynard, the restaurant at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. When you enter, you do feel like you are entering a very corporate version of what a nice Victorian-themed bar and restaurant should be like, and you wonder if you’ll find people wearing flannel shirts and raw denim jeans eating good old Americana-themed dishes like bacon-fat brussels sprouts or flap jacks.Read More
Planning brunch is a struggle. The criteria is always the same–somewhere cute, with good food, preferably with some healthyish options like avocado toast, not too crowded, no waiting and preferably downtown. It’s nearly impossible to coordinate a brunch that checks the box on all of these things, because everyone wants the same thing. Friends try to be helpful by recommending Egg Shop or Prune or Bubby’s, which really isn’t because these places are always packed and don’t take reservations.
So really your best option is to arrive on the early side as in before 11:30 am and cut your wait time by half. This is what we did when we planned for brunch at the new Two Hands restaurant in Tribeca. Two Hands is an enormously popular cafe in Nolita that somehow manages to be a recruiting center for the hot Aussies in New York. They’ve opened another bigger location that is now a proper restaurant, and it’s just as packed and just as Aussie as ever. We waited for 30 minutes for a table of three, something that comes with the territory.
It makes for good people watching. A lot of people wearing denim or leather jackets will be sitting around you. One afternoon I even saw Alexander Wang grabbing a coffee here. If you want something cute and sceney and downtown, you can’t ask for more. And the stylish girls always want something healthy, so you can expect lots of wholesome ingredients on top of toast or bowls with lots of nutritious grains and greens.
The avocado toast is solid, it has a little bit of a spicy kick from the chili oil and good texture from the pepitas and watercress that make it a little more interesting than all the other avocado toasts out there. I also liked the beet cured salmon on toast served with a creamy fennel yogurt spread, which was a nice, lighter and less carby spin on smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel. If you don’t want carbs at all, you can opt for the brassicas bowl, which has nary a bread in sight, only veggies that are mostly green–kale, brussels sprouts, broccolini, peas and beans. Truth be told, I’ve had better leafy green salad bowls elsewhere, like at Sweetgreen or El Rey, but it’s above average. And if you’re like eff it, I want more than rabbit food, then there’s a humongous Two Hands beef burger that comes with a side of potatoes on the menu. Everyone wins at Two Hands.
A lesser known secret for a fashionable brunch without the wait is Rose Bakery, the eatery on the ground floor of Dover Street Market. Dover Street Market is a boutique for the most fashiony of people, the ones in the know about obscure brands like Vetements and who can afford to blow their money on hugely impractical Comme des Garçon pieces. By virtue of that, you will be surrounded by well-dressed patrons with the most discriminating of taste, despite its odd location on 30th and Lex. I guess Dover Street Market attracts a pretty niche crowd so not that many people really know about the store, much less the restaurant.
Which is a big win for me since I can drop by at 12 and just slide into a seat. The cafeteria style seating isn’t the most comfortable, and the service can be a little slow, especially on a Sunday, and they seemed to be running low on things, but the baked goods are worth the wait. The house bread is incredible and on par with the best rustic breads that I’ve had at Wildair and Relae. I was also extremely pleased with the scone we ordered. It was not dry, had a little bit of salt to it, and came with the most amazing side of clotted cream that tasted like honey butter. Smearing some of that on with the marmalade was magical, a moment that ranks up there with opening a new package of Chessman Pepperidge Farm shortbread cookies.
The high end shoppers also like to eat light, so the menu is similarly geared towards wholesome items with an emphasis on vegetables and grains. The daytime menu has some key breakfast staples, all-day sweets, different seasonal vegetable sides and a small selection of entrees. I’ve already raved about the scone so you must get those, and the savory items are nutritious and filling. My farro bowl looked like spring was in full bloom, overflowing with a bountiful harvest of green peas, beans, mushrooms and farro grains. Each morsel was incredibly filling in the most meaningful way. You could probably get away with sharing this with another person and not be hungry. For something lighter the lentil soup should do the trick. It’s more liquidy than most lentil soups, but it’s in no way watery and tasteless.
The beauty of this place is that you can linger here, get some reading done, order another pastry or juice once you’re fully digested and then browse the store at your leisure. The prices of the clothes are sky high, so having a meal at Rose Bakery is a more accessible way of experiencing Dover Market without the same investment. And it’ll be your little secret to have in your back pocket the next time someone wants to do brunch somewhere cute and cool with healthy options and a good scene.
Two Hands Restaurant and Bar
251 Church St (between Leonard and Franklin St)
New York, NY 10013
Rose Bakery at Dover Street Market
160 Lexington Ave (between 30th and 31st St)
New York, NY 10016
Maman in Soho is an Instagrammer’s dream, which is why it’s packed with stylish, pretty little things with nice manicures and handbags drinking lattes and quiches off of exquisite china. Charming French cafes with croissants and avocado toasts is a pretty winning formula, and not surprisingly, the Maman team has opened a second location in Tribeca, knowing that they will appeal to those fancy yoga moms and their well-heeled kids.
If Maman Soho is where all the young people are, Maman Tribeca is where the young people with families graduate onto. You’ll see former bros sporting baby bjorns with their well coiffed wives by their side. It’s much roomier, which makes it better for pushing through multiple strollers and seating actual large groups of families. They are so accommodating to babies, in fact, that should your stroller not fit through their entrance, they have a side elevator that can. Families need more food and service, and so the Tribeca branch builds upon the light menu and counter service of the Soho location with a proper full-service, fully staffed restaurant.
No meal at Maman is complete without its famous chocolate chip cookie, and an order of the pastry basket assures you of one. The fact that there is only one piece is a bit of a disappointment, as the word “basket” suggests a bounty of treats, but there’s only one cookie, one financier and one croissant. They were all very good, but more would have been better.
They don’t skimp on the entrees, thankfully. The squash spaghetti “a la carbonara” lived up to its promise as being hearty and filling. Don’t be fooled by the healthy headlines of gluten free and squash on the menu, at the end of the day, pasta swirling in melted cheese and runny yolk is rich and tastes glorious. The papa poule’s chicken caesar also came armed with some meat and some heft. The generous slices of chicken and avocado ensured that you wouldn’t go hungry, and its tangy, yellow take on the traditional caesar dressing was much more interesting than the typical white variety. Like a good mother, Maman is keeping her children, and her grandchildren, very well fed.
211 W. Broadway (between Franklin and White St)
New York, NY 10013
Philly often gets a bad rap, but one thing that gets the city good press it its food scene. Several food franchises like Han Dynasty and La Colombe have successfully crossed over into New York, and now another one will join them. High Street on Hudson is the latest transport, and its cute, farm-to-table American cooking and Instagram-worthy breakfast sandwiches and pastries are sure to be hits with the brunch crowd.
The restaurant is in a prime location that straddles the West Village and Meatpacking. However, it lacks the character of the charming little eateries like a Buvette or Cafe Cluny that are representative of this area. It is an upscale fast casual restaurant, and it definitely looks and feels like one. The food quality is for sure better than a Pret or an Au Bon Pain, but I wouldn’t say that it’s quite as good as its full service counterparts.
The pastries were the biggest disappointment. The waitress described High Street’s sweets as being more savory than your typical pastry, which sounded very intriguing in theory, but not so in practice. I wanted so much for the hazelnut-fig escargot to taste like a danish, which it did, but one where the baker completely forgot the sugar. The disconnect between what I saw and what I ate was very troublesome, and I left the baked good largely uneaten.
What’s great about the menu is that there are equal parts devoted to traditional breakfast and lunch items. High Street raises the bar on egg sandwiches, although I wish they made them easier to eat. My Forager sandwich was stuffed with all the greatest hits from the local farmers’ market–the dreamiest soft scrambled farm eggs, creamy green meadow swiss cheese, braised kale and a handsome slab of earthy king oyster mushroom–but they could hardly be contained between the unstable infrastructure of flimsy poppy seed brioche buns.
The ancient grains salad held up much better, which is something you might expect from a dish that has been around since the age of the cavemen. It completely lived up to its Paleo mantra of clean eating, with a little cheat day of goat cheese and cider cranberries thrown in. The clear winner of the day was the humble sweet onion parsnip soup. The flavors were exactly as advertised, which made it such a success.
One upside of the fast-casual nature of High Street on Hudson is that the operations are pretty efficient. We were quoted a wait time of 40 minutes on a Saturday but were seated in 20, and the food all came out pretty fast. And if it doesn’t, you can always browse the interesting clothing stores in nearby Meatpacking, or you can take some things to-go and eat it on the High Line instead of the High Street.
High Street on Hudson
637 Hudson Street (between Horatio and Gansevoort St)
New York, NY 10014
C&B Cafe is another one of those impossibly tiny, perennially packed East Village cafes with a no-reservations policy that make getting a table something of a headache. The place is quite well known for its breakfast sandwiches, and in a young neighborhood where hearty egg sandwiches are popular cures for hangovers, C&B is crammed with millennials and young hipster families at all hours. The table situation is especially annoying given that some of the millennials have complete disregard for people with food in hand waiting patiently for a table, hogging valuable space with unnecessary chess games and coffee chats about start-ups and breaking into investment banking. Just know that this is what you’re dealing with.
Once you do get a seat and can focus on the food, you’ll be pleased to know that the enormous egg sandwiches are very satisfying. The ingredients live up to their promise of being fresh and locally sourced, and I was very impressed by the robust slab of fatty pork belly that was in the pig and egg sandwich. For those who want something lighter but no less hearty, the egg bowls are the way to go. I liked how the mushroom and egg bowl was filling, but not so much that I couldn’t go for a slowish run after. The bready croutons were also a nice textural touch, although they were a bit soggy towards the end, probably because we were waiting so long for one of those millennial coffee chats to wrap up.
I did enjoy the very sensible American cooking at C&B Cafe. The seasoning is pretty minimal, so at times I felt like I was eating off of a grocery list rather than a cohesive recipe. But the ingredients are pretty good to begin with, so I guess that’s half the battle. What’s really a struggle is dealing with the seating situation. I’d probably come here early in the morning or order take out, because it’s not so good that you can deal with waiting for a coffee chat about how one is lucky to take two unpaid internships in a row to wrap up.
178 E. 7th St (between Ave A and B)
New York, NY 10009