When wanting to book a large table in NYC, your options are limited. For a friend’s birthday with a party of nine, we tried out Essex, a restaurant on the Lower East side with a modern, chic design, lots of natural light and a great value-for-money brunch menu.
The brunch menu is a fixed price, $23.95 for your entree plus three bloody marys, screwdrivers or mimosas. They’re quite liberal with the drinks, particularly mimosas, and several members of our party think they actually ended up with four each. The drinks aren’t super strong, which is good when you’re drinking that many cocktails at noon …
We were seated at our table even though we were waiting on the last two guests. The restaurant quickly filled up — clearly word has gotten around that this is a good brunch bet.
While there wasn’t a kids’ menu, we ordered sides off the menu for Missy E (French Fries and Fresh Fruit) straight away while everyone else decided on their order. Her dishes arrived quickly — two generous servings which we helped her with.
Our party ordered a variety of dishes: Challah French Toast (bananas foster sauce, fresh fruit), Baked Eggs (crisp black forest ham, roasted peppers, shitake mushrooms, Monterey jack), Omelet (spinach, tomato, sheep’s milk cheese with mixed green salad and home fries), Short Rib Hash (two eggs any style, duck fat potatoes), Grilled Shrimp & Avocado Salad (poached egg, baby spinach, pico de gallo).
The meals were all a great portion size, with generous amounts of fresh ingredients. My omelet was delicious, filled with tasty cheese and tomatoes, and slightly spicy home fries. The French toast “tastes better than it looks!”, and the baked eggs xxxx.
Our server wove in and out of diners with a large jug of mimosas, topping up glasses as soon as they were empty.
Last bite: A great brunch spot for large groups, especially those wanting mimosas with their eggs.
When you want good pancakes in New York City, it’s a well-known fact that you head to Clinton St. Baking Company. The bakery and restaurant was opened in 2001 by husband and wife team Neil Kleinberg and DeDe Lahman, with a mission to make the best baked goods in the city, hand-mixed in small batches.
Fast forward to 2014 and the once tiny bakery is now a bustling restaurant, with their pancakes awarded the title of “the best in the city” (twice!) by New York Magazine. Clinton St. Baking Co. is such a popular breakfast and lunch spot that if you turn up for brunch on a weekend, you’ll often find yourself facing an up to TWO HOUR wait. They have the waiting system down to a fine art, and even have a page on their site devoted to “the wait“.
Don’t let this dissuade you from going, however. To avoid a wait on weekends, your best bet is to arrive by 8:30am and put in your name for the first seating at 9am. To avoid a long wait in general, visit during the week or at night when the waits are shorter, if at all. Don’t worry — they serve breakfast during the dinner hour. We visited on a weekday at 8am. The restaurant was full by 8:30am, but the wait outside was pretty short, with most diners not having to wait too long for a table. If you find yourself waiting for a table, the surrounding streets have some really cool graffiti/street art that’s worth checking out.
Since Alec had to get to work, we ordered and ate as quickly as we could. I ordered the Pancakes with Warm Maple Butter (choice of wild Maine blueberry, banana walnut, or chocolate chunk pancakes, $14) and Alec ordered the Southern Breakfast (two eggs any style, sugar-cured bacon, cheese grits, and fried green tomatoes, $14). We also ordered a side of sourdough toast for Missy E ($2), which arrived with Vermont butter and the most amazing raspberry conserves I’ve ever tasted. As well as the toast, E shared my pancakes when they arrived — the novelty of chocolate for breakfast was just too exciting for her to handle.
My pancakes were fantastic. I chose chocolate chunks, and my three big fluffy pancakes were absolutely chockfull of the chocolate. The pancakes were warm and the butter atop them was slightly melting. I really enjoyed their warm maple butter instead of maple syrup as it wasn’t anywhere near as sickeningly sweet. Alec’s southern breakfast was a bit on the dry side — he would have preferred some kind of sauce to go with it. He did, however, thoroughly enjoy the cheese grits and fried green tomatoes — both novelties to an Aussie.
So are they the best pancakes in New York? I’m afraid I can’t say as I don’t really eat pancakes often enough to be able to rank them! I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed mine and would absolutely go back for more.
Last bite: How can you resist trying some of NYC’s best pancakes? Be prepared for the wait and you’ll enjoy a really great breakfast.
Clinton St Baking Co & Restaurant
4 Clinton St.
New York, NY
Phone: (646) 602 6263
Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, 4pm-5pm (pastries/ coffee to go only), dinner 6pm to 11pm; Sat 8am-9am (pastry & coffee to go only), 9am-4pm, dinner 6pm-11pm; Sun 8am-9am (pastry & coffee to go only), 9am-6pm. Get Directions
Beauty & Essex is the type of restaurant you’d usually visit with a few friends for a champagne brunch — adult friends, I might add. I didn’t know this when friends suggested we go for brunch (a departure from my usual hyper-organized self).
We arrived to some confusion with our party of six adults and one energetic toddler for a Sunday brunch. We thought we’d reserved a table via Open Table, but it turned out the booking hadn’t gone through, and we were left table-less at peak brunch hour.
Even though they were fully booked, they quickly found a table for us and set up a high chair – not a squishy table out of the way, but a large, centrally placed table under a skylight, with plenty of room for our large party. Score. The stroller wasn’t an issue either – after we collapsed it, someone whisked it away and checked it with our other bags.
While the staff were setting up a table, I realized that we had a diaper “situation” that needed to be dealt with, and fast. Walking down stairs to the restroom, I was dreading what I might find there – picturing a tiny, dark bathroom (the kind you usually find at restaurants and bars on the Lower East Side) and wondering if I’d need to put my toddler, whose nickname is “Cheese”, on the dirty floor. Amazement doesn’t cover how I felt when I opened the door and saw a huge lounge room, with a giant chaise, perfect for our urgent needs.
Back at the table, our server introduced himself – and made a beeline for Cheese to say hello. While Cheese was a bit overwhelmed with the attention, our server was so welcoming to her that any doubts I had about bringing the only child under the age of 10 to this restaurant were immediately dissolved.
If you’ve never brunched at Beauty & Essex before, this is what you need to know: Brunch here is all about the shared experience. It’s really designed for groups to share a delicious meal together, and to enjoy the communal experience. The menu has lots of options to suit the fussiest of eaters, including the two vegetarians at the table, and a special gluten-free menu for another member of our party. Each plate is actually tiny, and arrives with enough small portions for everyone to have a taste. Some dishes you’ll need to order two of (the pancakes, for example, come in servings of three small pancakes. If you want a pancake each for a table of six, you’ll need to order two servings). Actually ordering the right amount of food requires a strategic approach, so designate one person to organise your group – and who can figure out the right amount of food for the table (two to three dishes per person) – more if you’re all big eaters.
The dishes come out in a special order — eggs first, followed by any other savoury dishes, and the sweet dishes last. They also have a dessert menu that looks amazing (but for which we had almost no more room in our bellies), so save room if you love the sweet stuff like I do.
We ordered the following dishes: Oven Baked Frittata (with grilled vegetables & goat cheese, $14), 3 Eggs & 1 Yolk (skillet baked, with grilled asparagus, roasted tomato, goat cheese, $14), Lemon Blackberry Pancakes (with sweet ricotta, $11), Vanilla Beignets (with raspberry jam, $8), Free Range Scrambled Eggs (with sweet roasted tomatoes & cheddar cheese, $11, with spicy merguez sausage +$3). The star dishes were the Free Range Scrambled Eggs, which were creamy, fluffy and flavorful, thanks to the roasted tomatoes; the Vanilla Beignets, which resembled tiny little donuts dusted in icing sugar, and the Lemon Blackberry Pancakes – light and fluffy, topped with a sweet ricotta, and with a surprise blackberry compote underneath the pancake.
We ordered a few sides as well: Skillet Roasted Potatoes (with roasted peppers, herb sea salt), Salt & Vinegar Fries, Roasted Sweet Corn (with avocado, lime, manchego), Lobster & Chorizo Hash (with peruvian potatoes, cilantro butter) and the Mac & Cheese (with pancetta, tomato, sicilian-style bread crumbs). The favorites among the sides included the Roasted Sweet Corn, with its perfect combination of sweet and tanginess, and the Skillet Roasted Potatoes, which has a great punch via the roasted peppers sprinkled over the outsides while they were baking.
This may seem like an insane amount of food, and at first we thought we had over ordered when we kept seeing dish after dish appear on the table. We devoured every dish, however, and each diner reported feeling perfectly satiated rather than overstuffed. The perfect brunch had been achieved.
What was our toddler doing, you may ask, during this parade of dishes? Cheese was on her best behaviour (lucky for us!) and was amused by new Elmo stickers, iPhone apps (her favorites are “Endless Alphabet” and “Beck and Bo”), the food (she inhaled my portion of scrambled eggs and loved the fries) and our obliging server, who repeatedly checked back in with us, not just to see how we were doing, but to specifically ask our toddler how SHE was doing.
The last happy surprise for the day was when the bill arrived. The menu had sounded expensive when we browsed it initially, but the total per person (including a cocktail for five of the six adults), was $33 each before tip. You really can’t do better than a restaurant that’s incredibly stylish, that serves decadent cuisine, that is welcoming to people of all ages, AND doesn’t put a huge dent in your weekly budget. Beauty & Essex — we will be back for more (especially more of those Vanilla Beignets!)
Last Bite: For a brunch venue that will please discerning adults and toddlers alike, Beauty & Essex delivers fine food for sharing fun.
Highchairs: Yes. Stroller storage: Yes, but bring a stroller that folds. Our stroller was “checked” and whisked away somewhere magical. Easy access: Yes. Change tables: No, but there’s a large lounge in the women’s restroom area that is perfect for changing babies if you need it. Kids’ menu: No.
Beauty & Essex 146 Essex St
New York, NY
Phone: (212) 614-0146
Hours: Mon-Fri 5pm-1am, Sat-Sun 11:30am-1am Reservations: opentable.com
On an unexpectedly rainy day, I did something I NEVER do — I let my friends (without kids) choose a restaurant for brunch. My only prerequisite was that they have vegetarian options and that it was below Union Square so I didn’t have to travel much. Their selection was Freemans, a restaurant they discovered not long after they moved into the Lower East Side a few years back, and that they love so much that it has become their go-to place for a reliable, delicious (and somewhat hipster) brunch.
Sign number one that the restaurant you’re going to is probably hipper than you are — it’s hidden at the back of an alley, and the only sign of it is a chalkboard at the end of the alley way to guide you.
Down the alley way … would we really find brunch??
As promised, a super-stealthy (and adorable) entry awaited us — with the air of a secret club that you have to be invited into (wait — am I cool enough for this??? I HAVE A TODDLER).
Our friends made the reservation for our party of six adults and one cheesy toddler. I was travelling solo while I waited for Alec to arrive with Cheese after her nap, so my friends and I sat at the bar watching the bearded bartender in flannelette light drinks on fire (they don’t seat you until your entire party has arrived).
This was one of those restaurants that I walked into and immediately thought that it was NOT going to be the best choice for our family. I was happy to be mistaken. The creepy taxidermy on the walls actually entertained Cheese (“DUCK!!” “QUACK QUACK!”). Thankfully even LES hipsters are entertained by a cute, well-behaved toddler.
You could call the space “cozy”. There’s enough room to move and there are plenty of tables, but the layout is twisty and turny — little rooms lead into more little rooms with multiple bars. There’s an air of it being an exclusive party.
When Alec and Cheese arrived, we were sat immediately at our table, with a high chair. Menus and water arrived quickly, and after we ordered, the food was also fast to arrive. LOVE when that happens. Let’s move it along so we can GET THE TODDLER OUTTA HERE.
We ordered a few dishes, including the Poached Eggs with Roasted Tomato (with cheddar cheese grits & buttered toast, $12). The eggs were cooked to perfection, delicious tomato and toast, but not a huge fan of grits in general … must be because we’re Australian? I had to ask what grits were.
I ordered the Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes (with whipped cream, $12). The pancakes were a delicious surprise — light and fluffy, with a lot of juicy blueberries cooked into the bottoms of the pancakes.
Alec ordered the Open Faced Egg White Omelet (with charred zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil and mixed greens, $13). It was delicious and had a very attractive presentation — but it wasn’t very filling. We also ordered the Hot Artichoke Dip with Crisp Bread, $11, for the table to share (it was devoured in minutes — highly recommend), and a side of fries for Cheese to eat and play with.
I balanced Cheese on my lap while we ate — she highly enjoyed dipping fries into tomato ketchup, and THEN into my pancakes. Yum? It was pretty noisy inside and the loud environment made her a little anxious, hence my lap and NOT the highchair being used.
Outside it was wet and dreary. It was much more fun inside our secret, cozy tavern.
Last bite: Nothing special for kids, but fast service and reliable reservations make this a great choice for a kid-friendly brunch that will impress your trendy friends.
Highchairs: Yes. Stroller storage: Yes but minimal. Bring the umbrella stroller. Easy access: Yes. Change tables: No. Kids’ menu: No.
Off Freeman Alley
191 Chrystie St,
Phone: (212) 420 0012
Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri 11am – 4pm, Brunch Sat, Sun & holidays 10am-4pm, cocktails & bar menu daily 4pm-6pm, dinner daily 6pm-11:30pm Reservations recommended, but they also take walk ins. You can order the full menu while seated at the bar. Book a table via opentable.com
As a vegetarian, a good (non-meat) meatball is hard to find. Obviously. When I read that The Meatball Shop served vege meatballs as well as a wide range of vegetarian sides and options, I was there the next day. Or a few weeks later, when I got the chance – doesn’t sound as good though, does it?
The Lower East Side Meatball Shop is right near Alec’s office, so Cheese and I dropped by one Friday to take him to lunch. I walked right past it twice before realising it had no signage at ground level. Look up people, so you don’t look like the fool I did.
I adore any menu where I can pick and choose exactly what I want. I especially love when I can tick boxes so the server doesn’t get confused by my accent.
We chose the naked balls (snigger) and two sides – mashed potato and steamed spinach.
It’s worth noting here that we had an outdoor table as it was the best option with Cheese. The interior looked a bit small to squish in with a toddler and all of her gear. The helpful staff did store our stroller somewhere though – perhaps through some door that opened up into a magical portal of extra storage space.
The food arrived really quickly . It didn’t look like a huge amount, but afterwards I was so full I thought my stomach would explode.
We gave Cheese some of the vegetarian meatballs and spinach, but all she was interested in was the mashed potato. What can I say, the girl loves carbs. Last bite: The Meatball Shop is for carnivores and herbivores alike. Come hungry, pack light and be prepared to squeeze in and eat big.
Highchairs: Yes. Stroller storage: Minimal. Easy access: It’s a bit tight, but no stairs. Change tables: No. Kids’ menu: No.