A few weeks ago when we were celebrating my friend Raija’s birthday at Trade, she told us about an amazing brunch that she had on her birthday visit to NYC. The nine-course brunch, complete with great conversation, sounded like the perfect way to spend a few weekend hours, and luckily, her cousin’s husband caught the event on his iPhone, which takes better pictures than my camera, apparently. . .
Raija had perfect timing in delivering the below guest post. My weekend away, followed by a totally manic work week, complete with terribly ache-y training runs has made blogging impossible and eating less-than-interesting.
So, while I wait for the weekend to arrive, work the day away, and attend a cocktail class at Art Bar tonight, I leave you in Raija’s capable hands to brunch vicariously through her.
For the past several years, I’ve enjoyed what has become a tradition of visiting my family in Brooklyn, NY to celebrate my birthday. This celebration includes the typical fun of hanging out with my nephew and cousins and enjoying their Carroll Garden neighborhood, but most importantly a dinner at a fun new restaurant. A few years ago, we had one of the best meals I’ve ever had at Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s restaurant, Babbo.
This year, we really overdid ourselves – eating-wise that is. An opportunity arose to go to unique pop-up like event. M. Wells, restaurateurs from Quebec, were doing a brunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, Manducatis Rustica in Long Island City, Queens. They closed their diner last summer and have not yet opened their new place. My cousin’s husband works nearby and had experienced the delicious and unique vibe at M. Wells’ diner before they had closed. He told a story of going in for lunch and watching a whole swordfish being prepped on the diner counter across from his booth. This is creative cooking in a city where space is at a premium!
The brunch was $50 per person, and one flat seating starting at 10am. They told people to expect to stay for a couple hours. And stay we did – through 9 courses of delicious, and unique twists to what you might consider traditional brunch fare. We waited in line for a short while before they let us in. (Photos courtesy of my cousin’s husband’s iPhone)
Once in, we were treated to a really cozy atmosphere and were surprised to find that they only had tables for 4, 6 or 8. Which meant odd folks like the pair of us would have to share a table. Typically, this is not the kind of set-up I would look forward to: having to make small talk with strangers instead of relaxing and enjoying a meal with family or friends. But this turned out to be a totally wonderful surprise. The entire crowd was full of people who enjoyed great food and drink, and we were sat with a young couple that was very friendly (and equally apprehensive about the seating plan like us).
We sat at a table, ready with warm, fresh rolls and a warm, pork pate spread (Course #1). It was salty and just slightly sweet and perfect to get us started while we waited. We were served great cocktails: choice of Bloody Mary’s, champagne cocktails, espresso with liquor, or a sweet red wine, and with plenty of refills, by friendly, energetic and casual wait staff.
Course #2: Bacalao (cod) fritters, with a tangy remoulade type sauce. Salty and crisp and light, like hush puppies.
Course #3: Pork belly smoked and glazed with maple syrup – smoky and sweet, crispy and fall apart delicious pork.
We were really warmed up at this point – not having any idea of how many courses were to come, we watched other tables anxiously to see what was to come.
Course #4: Homemade, chewy, pizza, topped with the same sweet and salty sausage that was in the pork pate, and – my favorite – runny eggs. Some tables got pizzas with vegetables on them – alas, our table didn’t see a vegetable for the entire brunch (I don’t think we minded )
Starting to feel full, we looked around and saw two courses being passed, which were new. One of our table compatriots asked the server if we were set to get the huevos rancheros, too (Course #5), curious if there might be more variety across the tables. We got a knowing look from our server, and when it came to the table, he said with a smile, “You asked for it.” Did we ever. We were starting to need deep breaths to keep going. More great runny eggs, a bright tomatillo salsa, these were some great huevos rancheros.
Course #6: The M. Wells breakfast sandwich with pickled green tomato, jalapeño, house made sausage patty, cheese and grilled biscuit. This was apparently famous at the diner. I understood immediately why – I could only eat a quarter of one of these by this time in the meal. But the mix of spice, pickle, salt, sweet, all together was fabulous. Maybe the best egg sandwich I’ve ever had.
Did I mention that they had a DJ playing upbeat tunes the whole time? It was awesome! We needed the upbeat music to keep us from being lulled into a food coma!
Course #7: Spanish tortilla with potatoes and… veal brains. With a basil and garlic sauce. Yup. You read that right. We didn’t know that ingredient until after we had all had a few bites and were trying to decide what the rich and interesting flavor we couldn’t quite place was…was it onion? The oil? Nope. Must be veal brain.
Did I also mention that we had reservations this same evening for dinner? Yeah. This was a day of serious marathon eating. At this point I started getting worried – are we there yet? Will we make it?
Course# 8: Cannoli with hazelnut cream filling. Finally! We must be coming to an end. My stomach couldn’t take it…or could it? I ordered a coffee to help with digestion, and enjoyed the sweet and creamy mini cannoli.
We aren’t done yet. Course #9 was a little cup of homemade peanut butter and jelly gelato. Manducatis Rustica makes their own gelato, and this little taste makes me want to go back for more in the summer. This was the final scene of the delicious crime.
We left remarking how wonderful it was to talk for 3 hours about nothing but restaurants, food, wine, and travel, and with strangers! We never asked or were asked the typical “What do you do for work?” question, and it was a relief. If you don’t love your job, what fun is it to talk about? This was definitely the most fun and adventurous brunch I’ve ever been to. And the owners of the restaurant and servers were all so friendly and happy to be there, it was contagious. My cousin’s husband got a lovely response to an email he sent thanking them for a lovely event. The crowd was a pleasant and patient and fun-loving one. It was well worth the $50 ticket price. I can’t wait to see their new place when it opens. Perhaps at next year’s birthday weekend eating extravaganza…