It’s Friday afternoon at 4:30, and I’ve got the weekend on my mind (and The Weeknd in my ears). Of course, I had the weekend on my mind on Tuesday morning at 9am, when I stumbled into the office after the Labor Day holiday. While it’s always difficult to return to work after a vacation, no matter how brief, this week was particularly difficult for me. Literally everyone in our small firm had been out of office on vacation and working remotely the last two weeks of August – which meant that, by extension, I got to work remotely out of office as well. This essentially involved sleeping in and waking up when I wanted to, staying in bed with PJs and coffee and watching The Haindmaid’s Tale while periodically checking emails (there were none) and scheduling meetings (okay, maybe a few). Eventually, I would put on clothes and go out to buy an iced latte from my favorite place two blocks down the road from my apartment. I would call it quits at 5pm and head off to an early kickboxing class. None of this went against my paid time off days, so you could kind of say that Tuesday, September 5th was the end of an era for me – a return to reality and its u-shaped desk scattered with notebooks and hi-lighters and stressed out finance guys scheduling a backlog of meetings from the last two weeks. This week I was just begging for Friday to come as I mourned the true end of summer.
When you live in a city as busy and full of things to do as New York, though, it’s hard not to think about your weekends and make plans in advance, regardless of the time of year. I am already SUPER Type-A and, if I could, I would have my life for the next thirty years squarely planned out, down to my semi-annual dentist appointments. Sometimes I need to learn to relax and play things by ear – to let them come to me, to allow room for improv and the impromptu. Alas, that lesson will not be learned this month – my next four consecutive weekends are already scheduled. Oh well, #OctoberGoals maybe?
In any event, no New York weekend would be complete (at least for the twenty-something lady) without a weekend brunch. Brunch in New York is one of my favorite things to do. I know this does not make me unique; in fact, it makes me pretty much as basic as the rest of the apple-picking, pumpkin-spice-latte-sipping white girls in Manhattan. But that does not bother me one bit – bring on the basic! – nor does it negate the fact that I do indeed love a good brunch.
Brunch in New York is unlike brunch anywhere else I’ve ever experienced it. In New York, brunch is just that – an experience, an institution; it’s a time-honored, respected weekend tradition. It’s not your flyover state’s version of breakfast + lunch, which usually includes some awful hotel dining room buffet combination of cold and watery scrambled eggs next to a plate of roasted meat and congealed spaghetti, and maybe an omelette or waffle station if you’re lucky. No, brunch in New York is in a class of its own – eggs are there, yes – but in the form of benedicts with a side of home fries, or poached on top of a brunch bowl with kale and quinoa. Brunch is avocado toast and mimosas with your french press coffee, it’s steak and eggs, it’s seasonal dishes with locally sourced produce and inspired cocktails. Brunch is where you bond with your girlfriends over socially acceptable and societally sanctioned day drinking, it’s sleeping in and passing a lazy afternoon drinking a Bloody Mary and enjoying a meal before strolling through the city and grabbing a post-brunch dessert pastry to enjoy in a park or city square.
Have I mentioned how much I LOVE brunch.?
While everyone has a different opinion – many of which are influenced by location and proximity to one’s own bed and train line – the following are some of my never-fail favorite brunch spots~
- Gemma (335 Bowery, New York, NY 10003)
A rustic, European-chic Italian restaurant located on the ground floor of the Bowery Hotel, Gemma is just that – a gem of a place with delicious cocktails and consistently good food and service. While the charming, dimly-lit interior and its stylish bar create a scenic atmosphere reminiscent of old-school New York, Gemma is best enjoyed in the summer months, when sidewalk dining is at its peak. I went to Gemma on my birthday and lauded its praises in my post-birthday blog post – so no need to go into it all again. I will, however, say that I took my parents there when they were in town visiting over labor day and had the opportunity to try their mouth-wateringly delicious Polenta Truffle Fries. My life will never be the same. Also, their protein breakfast (pictured below) is extremely healthy and also paleo-friendly – another reason they make it to the number one spot on my list.
- Jack’s Wife Freda (224 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012)
Jack’s Wife Freda is a simple and quaint no-frills establishment with locations on both Carmine and Lafayette streets. One of the trendiest brunch places in Soho for tourists and locals alike, it’s wildly popular among your typical twenty-something post-yoga millennial Instagrammers and moms-with-strollers, because #Soho. Places like this usually drive me nuts – and, to an extent, Jack’s Wife Freda is no exception. The people are uber pretentious and while the food is good, I find that the cost-benefit analysis of the hour long wait + lengthy commute usually renders it not worth it. However…my last visit there – or should I say, the Breakfast Bowl – changed my mind; I haven’t been the same ever since. The Breakfast Bowl is a savory assemblage of kale, red quinoa, spaghetti squash, poached eggs, pickled onions, grilled tomato, and avocado. It was OMG-delicious. To top it off, that day Jack’s Wife was featuring fresh watermelon juice that you could either drink on its own, or have made into a cocktail – so of course I got a watermelon mimosa. Yes, it was as delicious and refreshing as it sounds, and yes, I got another one.
- Blue Dog Kitchen Bar (308 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019)
Located in a surprisingly quiet corner of Hell’s Kitchen, Blue Dog Kitchen’s versatile menu is its greatest selling point – it has something for everybody. Feeling something savory? Try one of their grilled cheeses or quesadillas. Have a killer sweet tooth? Satisfy it with their chocolate chip pancakes or dulce de leche waffles. Trying to stay relatively healthy? Create a tailored omelet or choose from one of their many fresh salads. A stickler for brunch classics? Their selection of benedicts has you covered. I find this is a great place to send your out-of-town guests, as it is relatively close to the main touristy attractions they’ll want to see (Times Square, Theater District, Herald Square, etc) without being obnoxiously Times Square-ish. Plus, the food is really exceptional, i.e. Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast – need I say more?
- The Bonnie (29-12 23rd Ave, Astoria, NY 11105)
If you’re feeling adventurous, take the N/W line out to the last stop in Queens to check out The Bonnie. Maybe I’m biased because it’s located right around the corner from my old apartment, but I have a soft spot for The Bonnie (and its seasonally-offered blue cheese buffalo brussels sprouts!). Run by the same owners of Lower East Side staple The Wren, The Bonnie is located in a quaint and charming section of Astoria filled with coffee shops, redbrick houses, local Greek bakeries, and ample people watching. If the weather is nice, it’s lovely to sit outside – but cozy enough to hunker down in when it gets cold or rainy. Using locally-sourced ingredients, The Bonnie’s menu changes seasonally, though they do have some famous staples – like their smashed avocado toast, Breakfast Burger, and Fried Chicken and Waffle – that stay in the rotation. My personal favorite is their take on a brunch classic – steak and eggs.
- Jane (100 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012)
High energy and trendy while still keeping it understated and not over-hyped, Jane is exactly the kind of place you take a group of friends when you want to be surrounded by people without feeling crowded. Jane is open and bright, serving classic American fare and brunch staples.
The best part of Jane? You can choose one of four cocktails that come complimentary with your breakfast – among which is a killer Bloody Mary. I had never had a Bloody Mary until I met up with a friend of mine at Jane one Sunday for brunch before watching the NYC Pride Parade. She ordered one and let me try a sip. I was leery; even though I’m practically Italian, I actually really dislike tomatoes and am not crazy about vodka or horseradish – I couldn’t fathom a savory cocktail made from tomato juice, vodka, and horseradish being any good.
Oh. My. God. I have never been so happy to be so wrong. Four hours (and four Bloody Mary’s) later, and I have been singing their praises ever since. The best one I’ve had though is still at Jane (seriously – it’s called “The Best Bloody Mary” for a reason).
Honorable mentions go to a favorite that I’ve written up before – Queens Comfort (probably my favorite place to take people, but one of those cardiac-arrest-inducing outposts that you should really only go to but once in a scant while), as well as Friend of a Farmer near Union Square.
Let me know if I missed any of your favorites – I’m always keeping my eyes out for new brunch spots to check out. Happy Friday and have a lovely weekend!