Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brown Cafe in Black and White

In the wild and crazy brunch scene that fearlessly devours the better part of Saturday and Sunday in this city, it is probably true that at one time or another you've caught yourself waiting in line for a $15 omelet to be washed down with a $6 glass of orange juice - all the while asking yourself why, and better yet how, you exactly managed to get yourself into such a predicament. Mind you this omelet is probably made with imported Pancetta, locally produced cheese, and organic "yes we can" eggs - but is it really worth it?

The answer most of the time to this question is a fervent "no". In fact, if there is anything about eating in the New York that truly bothers me, it's brunch. It is an entirely illegitimate pseudo-meal that is more or less breakfast parading around in its mother's sexy lingerie half-hoping to be outed. Like Rupaul circa 1993, Brunch is the transsexual of the culinary world - once breakfast, almost lunch - nobody knows what the hell it is, and even more telling, nobody seems to care to find out. I've always felt as though brunch is the emasculated version of breakfast. If, as in the romance languages, English nouns carried gender, brunch would most certainly be a feminine word, while breakfast would be its masculine counterpart. More clearly - if breakfast is Robert DeNiro, then Brunch is Richard Simmons.

And when was the last time a guy connected with his inner manhood upon uttering the words, "What time are we doing brunch fellas??"

Like everything else in our greedy little world today, we have managed to compromise the valor, honesty, and purity of a working man's meal through unfettered infatuation with hedonistic refinement.

And with all that said, rather ironically, I have come to actually enjoy brunch. Not for its epicene disposition, or its dainty displays, but for its exquisite exhibition of flavor and surprising ability to join civilly (not marry), savory with sweet. This brings me to my recent morning meal at Brown Cafe on the Lower East Side, where humble surroundings encase noble culinary excellence.

A short walk from the F train's Essex/Delancey stop, this truly tiny cafe rests on the gritty corner of Ludlow and Hester in a section of the Lower East Side that couldn't be any more Lower East Side. Right at home among the weather-beaten sidewalks, excoriated metal storefronts, and countless crop of sign-less bodegas, Brown's windows and mute white facade are probably the most tame for the block.

Outfitted with a small (albeit quite sleek) coffee bar on one side, a birch-colored wooden bench lines the other to provide seating for 5 or 6 tables. Immaculate, simple, and open all at once, Brown Cafe is as fit and trim an establishment as I've ever seen in this bottomless pit of shoebox shops we call New York City. And thankfully, so is the food.

Seemingly more and more popular along the brunch (-er breakfast) circuit these days, I was utterly and thoroughly impressed with my baked eggs, which was the menu item that originally compelled me want to check this place out. Re-evaluating my menu choices as I often do, I can't help but refer back to the centuries-old Knight's epic statement at the end of Indiana Jones the Last Crusade..."You have chosen...wisely."

Indeed I did.

Within minutes I was happy to find sitting before me, a piping hot mini-skillet home to a comely culinary cacophony of food groups. Together, tall, bulbous sunny-side up egg yolks butt heads with brawny chunks of sausage amidst a semi-firm cloud-white sea of perfectly cooked egg-whites and melted mozzy - specked carefully with bitter leeks and slightly sweet roasted peppers. Flanked by a proportionately-sized mixed green salad, two hearty slices of Bastone, and a small bowl of roasted potatoes, this treacherously tasty triad of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber is more than worthy of the svelte cutting board on which they are served. To be served on a plate would be outlandish.

Here, the presentation is outdone only by the undeniable freshness of the ingredients - which for me goes a long way. When it comes to something like baked eggs, less is more, and Brown's version celebrates the eggs, with the help of the added ingredients, not in spite of them.

A strong cup of coffee, and laid back yet attentive service made this one of the more relaxing morning meal's I've had in the city. Absent from the long lines of androgynous Euro-couples with matching hair-styles, snooty over-pierced hipster hostesses with harsh bangs, deafening dining room noise, and of course, requisite egregious price-gouging, the concept of brunch - or breakfast at an hour when everyone else seems to wake up around here - isn't so bad after all.

Brown Cafe is as impressive a presentation for brunch as I've yet to see in Manhattan. This cozy shop's simple, earthy approach to its food has brought to light, quite aptly, the possibility that brunch, sans the ear drum busting bells and whistles of campy culinary cache', can actually be had in peace, and at reasonable prices.

So, while its grandiose reputation of caste and class will always precede itself, a new iteration of our old conceptions of brunch has risen to the forefront, availing hungry, down-to-earth New Yorkers the opportunity to gorge themselves on honestly prepared, hearty foods that embrace their high-quality ingredients instead of exploiting them.

Take that Richard Simmons.

Brown Cafe (map it)

Food: A (simple, smart, and honest)
Service: A (polite, interested, and natural)
Ambiance: A (relaxing, humble, and sleek)
In a thought: "Redefining brunch, and making me a believer along the way."

1 comment:

Meghan said...

apparently the oatmeal i had wasn't good enough to write about?! it was the best oatmeal with fresh berries that i have ever had! the one bad thing was that my OJ was more expensive than my meal.