Let's Do Brunch
Go ahead, sleep in. At these area restaurants, fusing breakfast and lunch is the order of the day.
Coffee, Tea or Brie? Whether charmingly casual or fetchingly formal, this often overlooked meal is one of life’s little pleasures.
By Judith Hausman Photography by Michael Polito
Ah, Sunday: no alarm, no lunches to make, no train to catch. Roll up in your quilt and doze. Snuggle in until the sun is high, like a bright slice of lemon in your window. Hmmm…lemon? A slice for your smoked salmon? Creamy hollandaise? Yellow-orange mimosas? Golden omelets? It must be a Sunday to indulge in brunch, that one-of-a-kind leisurely meal that creates a unique time slot, a way to steal a little time that otherwise would likely be frittered away.
And one staple of this weekend-only meal of course is that poached egg-ham-English muffin-and-hollandaise combination known as eggs Benedict. Legend has it that eggs Benedict was the brainchild of the maître d’hôtel at Manhattan’s Delmonico’s Restaurant and a regular patron, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict. When Madame Benedict and her husband became bored with the usual lunch offering, they put their heads together and came up with this namesake dish without which brunch might never have existed.
The Inn at Pound Ridge (914-764-5779), always leisurely and country-inn old-fashioned, is just the spot to enjoy this brunch favorite. Diners can gaze out a picture window onto the blooming side garden in spring or warm up by the crackling stone fireplaces in winter.
Barbara Posner, who has lived a stone’s throw from the Inn for 33 years, describes it as “a serene and sumptuous way to spend a Sunday.” Begin with silky, dilled gravlax or wild mushroom strudel and move on to crunchy cornmeal pancakes, stained pink with strawberries or crisp-browned crab cakes. Desserts, which change often and include tropical grilled pineapple with coconut ice cream and dreamy chocolate silk pie, are part of the deal too; you won’t be hungry until dinner.
Also country-house elegant, Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua (914-666-8044) is decorated with bouquets, candles and greenery. Walls of windows look out onto gardens and surrounding hills, and the effect is cozy and welcoming yet “special occasion.” The generous Sunday brunch buffet at the Kittle House has much the same appeal. According to chef Greg Gilbert, “There’s something for everyone at brunch. It’s a relaxing way for families to get together and hang out for awhile.”
Children love the dress-your-own-waffle station where they can heap on berry syrup, fluffy whipped cream and piles of thick sausage and smoked bacon. Gilbert says the selection of East and West Coast oysters and the smoked trout and salmon display are the most popular adult stations on the buffet. “We go through a lot of shellfish,” he chuckles. A helping of colorful pasta primavera and white bean/red onion salad lead to entrées such as cedar-planked salmon, slices of smoked ham or rare entrecôte.
When all that has settled a bit, brunchers return for sweet berries and cream or take on the more luxurious terrine of three chocolates or warm pecan-packed pie. Especially when the gardens are in bloom, brunch at the Kittle House makes you daydream about weddings and other celebrations.
Maureen Steppe, pastry chef and co-owner of Purdys Homestead in North Salem (914-277-2301), describes brunch as “a perfect escape from the hustle.” The cheddar-herb biscuits alone are worth the trip to Purdys where you’ll find off-beat lighting and colors that contrast with the restaurant’s massive wood beams and working stone hearths. Tender, buttery and rippled with sharp cheddar, the biscuits appear on the table right away. “We’ve had those biscuits on the menu since we opened,” comments Steppe. Here they are served under warmed spinach, sliced mushrooms and shirred eggs, soaking up the egg yolks deliciously.
“Brunch is a wonderful way to introduce people to our restaurant,” Steppe says. “They love discovering a cozy, warm atmosphere on a Sunday, and then they come back for dinner.” You can be a purist with seasonal fruit and crêpes or Grand Marnier French toast—or not, and work your way through crisp Long Island duck or a golden roasted chicken instead. A hot tip for the new season: Chef Charles Steppe, Maureen’s husband, has just added a sensational blue crab chowder to the menu. No matter what, don’t miss Maureen’s cloud-like strawberry shortcake, gingery pear upside-down cake or rich chocolate bread pudding as a finale.
Brunch can be celebratory and impressive. Out-of-towners? The in-laws? An anniversary? The sweeping view of Greenwich Harbor from the suave, red-and-cream dining room at L’ Escale (203-661-4600) is attention-getting on any occasion. Continental and cool with its white interior, orchids and red couches, L’Escale invites you to linger over its brunch buffet that features home-baked croissants or made-to-order omelets. On the lighter side, choose herb de Provençe roasted chicken or a juicy platter of mangoes and berries. If the salty air is giving you an appetite, edge over to a midday meal with grilled vegetables and the salt crusted roast beef with horseradish cream. L’Escale also offers a perfect Continental breakfast (7 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily): a bagel (for the New Yorker in all of us) or pain au chocolat for the self-indulgent.
Sip a nose-tickling mimosa in the trellised garden room at Equus, the restaurant at the Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown (914-631-3646). The origin of this cheery cocktail, also a defining element of our betwixt and between meal, is more obscure. Its name refers to the yellow-orange color of the blossoms on a mimosa tree. While there are those who believe a mimosa is just a mixture of orange juice and Champagne, a true mimosa requires the all-important two dashes of Grand Marnier.
The proportions of the Equus brunch feel royal, and the elegant service does, too. Begin with tender pink shrimp, fresh local greens and tomatoes in season, translucent slices of Scottish smoked salmon. Then, cut into feather-light Belgian waffles that catch the raspberries in every square, perfectly grilled sirloin or seared scallops still soft inside. End with an oozy Camembert cheese or pungent Stilton, a custardy cinnamon bread pudding or the signature Castle cake with dark chocolate that melts in your mouth.
Brunch can be more impromptu, though, less dressy and less planned. Imagine yourself lingering over a late breakfast in a Parisian neighborhood café at Le Jardin du Roi in Chappaqua (914-238-1368). In fact, Le Jardin serves breakfast every day, all day, from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. Young and casual but comfortable with bistro tables and billboard-sized French affiches, Le Jardin plants umbrella tables on the patio out front when the weather warms. Try the buttery pain perdu with jam or the delicate omelet du Roi; smoked salmon mingled inside a golden envelope of eggs with a drizzle of earthy truffle oil. French classics include salade Niçoise with fresh tuna, eggs and olives, or a pressed croque monsieur, gooey with cheese.
B4 in Valhalla (914-328-4199) is the same crew but with a distinctly more modern American menu. B4 also serves breakfast/brunch from 10 a.m. to midnight weekdays and 8 a.m. to midnight weekends. The eatery’s caviar with homemade buckwheat blini would make an impressive wake-me-up any day.
Chiboust in Tarrytown (914-703-6550) is another spot for the Francophile, but with the more contemporary appeal of spare décor and designer lighting. It’s hard to resist lingering at the curving pastry counter in the front where you can select a round country loaf or a ciabatta to take home. The café, and this ravishing little pastry, a cashew-crust filled with passion fruit and papaya purée, are named after an influential French pastry chef. Make sure to try one after a deep-dish Florentine quiche, for example, served with a ruffle of salad, breakfast-like but substantial. The gravlax on a croissant with crème fraîche would almost trump Barney Greengrass. Chiboust serves brunch Saturday and Sunday. (For a review of Chiboust, see page 133.)
Café Antico in Mt. Kisco (914-242-7490) is a brunch favorite of Bedford resident Ann Price. “Brunch is a nice way to end the weekend,” she says. “It’s a more laid-back meal with the family rather than a hectic Saturday night dinner.” Antico is inventive with eggs, going way beyond the Benedicts: eggs with a veal steak and grilled vegetables; three eggs in the frittata Antico with Gorgonzola, mushrooms, truffle oil and basil; eggs with asparagus and pancetta; or eggs over breaded veal medallions and spinach. Of course, you can always hold the eggs altogether and choose light homemade ravioli or the whole lunch menu of salads, etc. Café Antico is intimate and hospitable, says Price, “and my husband can follow the game on the TV over the bar while he enjoys his eggs Benedict. I usually like the Tuscan salad.” There’s a small, enclosed dining patio for warmer weather, too.
Of course, Ruby’s Oyster Bar and Bistro in Rye (914-921-4166) offers a selection of oysters for brunch: briny, raw ones from both coasts, velvety, pan-fried ones with Champagne, butter and spinach, or the occasional special of spinach-stuffed baked Rockefellers. Lobster turns up, too, in a luxurious, toppling lobster club sandwich. Make new friends at the long, communal table over a crispy-browned smoked duck and Gouda quesadilla or an apple and crab salad sandwich that will hold you until dinner. And here’s a bonus: A bottle of wine is half-price on Sundays at Ruby’s with brunch.
No babysitter for the little ones? No problem. Unglue the kids from the cartoons and make brunch a family occasion. Simple but special spots include the Meetinghouse in Bedford Village (914-234-5656). After church or before the movies next door, families cut into puffy, thick French toast with a grilled banana on the side and plenty of wavy bacon. Edging over towards lunch, that bacon becomes part of a BLT with fried eggs and slices of beefsteak tomatoes in between the layers. The Asian shrimp salad tossed with apple bits and sesame-scallion dressing is a guiltless alternative.
Traditional Chinese dim sum brunch does not require a trip to Chinatown or Flushing. Aberdeen in Harrison (914-835-0880) has the same big round tables and the hobbling metal carts stacked with bamboo steamers and little white dishes. Warm up with skinny spring rolls, a few succulent shrimp dumplings or vegetable dumplings made with green dough and filled with rippling tree ear mushrooms. Move on to pork buns, chicken feet, bold Chinese broccoli or satiny eggplant, each glossy with garlic and oil. You pay by the portion, and picky children can choose just what they like.
The bright and popular Lexington Square Café in Mt. Kisco (914-244-3663) serves a real roll-up-your-sleeves, we’re-not-fooling-around brunch. The airy, multi-leveled space is fine for children and a covered side terrace is pleasant in good weather. Eat hearty: A burrito that packs eggs, salsa and beans into a two-fisted breakfast, a plate of house-made corned beef hash with crispy diced potatoes. Create your own omelet (might I suggest sour cream, scallion and bacon?) or get that great big buttermilk pancake ready for a syrup soaking. Grilled chicken salad, a salmon club sandwich or a burger are ready for those who already ate Cheerios at 7, thank you.
Judith Hausman, food critic for The Journal News (Gannett Suburban Newspapers) is an early riser so she has a good appetite by brunch time. Michael Polito is a freelance photographer with Bump Images, based in Wappingers Falls.