Calle Ocho

There’s no problem a little sangria can’t solve, and sangria is Calle Ocho’s answer to all of life’s challenges. The subway’s running late? Some homeless guy stole your last cigarette? DSW is closed? The moment you walk into Calle Ocho and name your (first) sangria selection, all of your issues melt away.

I’m not sure where Calle Ocho — Eighth Street — is, considering the restaurant calls the Upper West Side (and, specifically, The Excelsior Hotel) its home. Provenance aside, Calle Ocho is where to go for brunch — plain and simple.

One of the things I like best about Calle Ocho is its surreptitious bottomless brunch. That’s right — you order an entree and get all the sangria you want. Calle Ocho makes you read between the lines just a tad to know that you can order glass after glass (after glass), and won’t wind up with an $84+ bar bill tacked to the end of your tab.

So what about this infamous sangria?

Calle Ocho Sangria

calle ocho sangria

It’s bold, it’s fruity, it’s delicious — and, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s free. The Latin restaurant serves up eight varieties, four each of red and white. MDP and I tried three of the eight: Tropical, Spanish Harlem, and Fresas.

Let’s start with Fresas and work backwards. Designed with raspberry vodka as its base, the Fresas sangria is almost too fruity and sweet for my taste. MDP termed it “just like what red sangria tastes like,” which is true. I chose Fresas as my second glass, and ended up with a headache about an hour later. Coincidence? I think not.

MDP opted for the Spanish Harlem variety, which packs a punch with dark rum and cinnamon as the forward flavors. I enjoyed this one immensely, and so did MDP.

My first glass was of the Tropical white, and I was very pleased with this selection. It has three fruits — orange, mango, and pineapple — with a light rum mixer. Occasionally, I got a bit of mango in the straw, but it was an overall delightful drinking experience.

Amazing Bread Basket

calle ocho bread basket

On the way to Calle Ocho, I considered asking for a bread basket — thinking, of course, there would be a fee involved with receiving a robust, multifaceted bread basket such as what Calle Ocho offers. I was wrong — it’s completely complimentary.

The highlight of the bread basket was definitely the pandebono, which are little round rolls made with Yuca flour at Calle Ocho. Pandebono can be made with other flours, and usually have cheese as an ingredient. No typical butter should be served with such delicious little breads, so Calle Ocho provides a strawberry whipped butter, seemingly made with real strawberries. It’s slightly sweet and more than satisfying.

The Actual Food

calle ocho gallitos

On the brunch menu, you’ll find a list of beautiful dishes, such as eggs benedict and omelettes, all inflected with a Latin flair. If you’re with a friend, however, I implore you to order the gallitos.

The menu indicates it serves two, and, at first, I was skeptical. Is it really going to be enough for me and MDP? We ordered the plantains, as well, as back up, if the gallitos proved to be a too-small portion for our appetites.

Well, the gallitos platter was enormous. A giant serving dish held mini dishes filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo, home fries, condiments, and mini tortillas to wrap everything up in. It was amazing.

If you know me at all, you know I love to build tiny breakfast sandwiches at every chance I get. I stole a forkful of the chorizo and spooned some eggs onto my tortilla, with a bit of guacamole, sour cream, and salsa inside. I proceeded to methodically spoon-and-fold such taco-like creations for about 30 minutes, silently building and eating, building and eating, until all ingredients were gone.

I was in heaven.

The sweet and green plantains were very good, as well. I particularly enjoyed the green plantains, which were in patty form and not sweet at all. They were delicious.

If you end up opting for a different dish, I recommend avoiding the home fries as a side. For $8, you’re not getting much more than an expensive version of your local diner’s breakfast potato fare. They were flavorless, and an unimpressive part of the overall incredible gallitos dish.

I can’t say enough good things about Calle Ocho. The ambiance is pleasant and inviting, although the dining room’s acoustics do not make for extremely intimate conversation.

Do make a reservation, but don’t expect to get one for this upcoming weekend. I made a reservation in mid-February and got a table for two …. for yesterday, March 12.

I’d like to try their dinner menu, too, but I suspect it’s the brunch that is the big draw at this fine restaurant. Happy brunching.

Calle Ocho
45 W. 81st Street (between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West), in The Excelsior Hotel
Upper West Side, New York
Take the 1 to 79th Street and either take the 79th Street crosstown bus or walk a few avenues over to Columbus. Head up to 81st Street. I recommend this route over the closer subway stop (B/C Museum of Natural History) because the B does not run on the weekend, and, if you know anything about New York, you know the C is more elusive than Moby Dick.

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Upland

I’m surprised I’ve never been to Upland before. For one, it’s the type of place I categorically love: clean, quasi-modern aesthetic with luxurious green leather booths and jars of fermenting lemons lining the walls. There’s something very charming about the interior, although the facade itself won’t tell you much about what’s inside. But, the other perplexing part of today being my first and only visit to Upland is simply that I worked down the street from it for three years.

Upland’s namesake comes from the California town that “laid the groundwork” for chef Justin Smillie’s love of cooking. Wherever Upland is, whatever it may have in store for discerning palates, I’m extremely pleased that chef Smillie brought his talents and affinity for California cooking to Flatiron, NYC. When I tell you this place is awesome, I surely hope you believe me.

Our smiling waitress brought over a complimentary bottle of sparkling water to us and handed us a few brunch menus. That Upland labels the menus with the current month speaks to its reliance on seasonal cooking–something I admire. Yet, chef Smillie doesn’t go overboard with his consultation of the seasons: there are dishes you’ll actually want to eat and seem “normal.”

upland pastry basket

pastry basket

We started with the pastry basket, which is chock full of sweet and savory treats. The lemon poppyseed muffin, grapefruit poundcake, baguette, and cheddar and bacon (!) scone were true standouts. It’s no error here that I’ve named the majority of what came in the pastry basket–everything was that good. MDP even commented that the grapefruit poundcake had just the right amount of lemon flair, unlike some confections we had recently sampled.

upland eggs in hell

eggs in hell

MDP opted for a dish called “eggs in hell” that tasted very fresh and enticing. The eggs were runny–not my cup of tea–but he was unfazed and gobbled them up. The sauce was rife with fresno chiles, oregano, and truly spectacular tomato. Grilled bread came on the side, the perfect accompaniment for sopping up the delicious tomato goodness.

upland cheeseburger

upland cheeseburger

I’ve been building up to the moment when I would tell you about this burger I had at Upland. Here’s the spoiler: it was one of the best I’ve ever had. New York magazine tipped me off to this gem, and boy am I glad they did. It’s like a Big Mac but oh so much better. Two cheese-topped patties sat upon a fantastic sesame roll whose crust was crisp and yet the body of the bun was soft. And true to California cooking, chef Smillie put delicately sliced avocado slivers on the burger. I didn’t even have to ask. I was in heaven. The combination of flavors–the unique peppers, the ideal bun, the perfect amount of grease, I could go on–made this a memorable dining experience. At $20, the burger costs a pretty penny but is well worth the fee, ounce for ounce. And the matchstick fries that come with the burger are plenty, offering enough bite to be satisfying.

Our lovely waitress asked if we’d like dessert at the end of the meal, but I was already so stuffed we had to decline. But, given my love for both the ambiance and food, I’m sure MDP and I will return to try dinner one night.

Now, be aware that the burger is only served for brunch and lunch. So plan accordingly.

Upland
345 Park Avenue South (at 26th Street)
Flatiron, New York
Take the 6 to 28th Street and walk south a few blocks.

Butcher Bar

It’s the end of March and, here in New York, it’s actually snowing. Whatever happened to “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? While the weather may be distressing, the meal I ate this morning certainly was not. If you’re looking for a unique answer to “where can we go to brunch?” in Queens, Butcher Bar is it.

butcher bar burnt ends and scrambled eggs

burnt ends and scrambled eggs

This borough has been experiencing a sharp influx of hipsters. Brooklyn transplants have been making their way across the county line to settle in Astoria, Long Island City, and, now, my dear Sunnyside. Butcher Bar is precisely designed for the newcomers. It’s an organic, sustainable barbecue joint with a quaint, yet plain interior. I’ve never been to the proper South, but I imagine this is the type of place you’d find in Austin, TX. These new Queens-bound millennial types enjoy this kind of thing, and I can guess that Butcher Bar has capitalized on their sensibilities.

That’s not a bad thing, of course–especially when the quality of meat and dining experience feels unparalleled to anywhere else in the neighborhood.

This morning, MDP and I wanted something different for brunch and decided to take the subway to Astoria. Butcher Bar is just a few blocks away from the N/Q 30th Avenue stop, so we hiked through the falling snow to find the lauded restaurant (it has a four-star rating on Yelp, which is pretty good considering that people love to complain on this site).

butcher bar brisket hash

brisket hash

Butcher Bar only recently began to serve brunch. Their menu is chocked full of egg dishes, with the occasional pancake item making an appearance. But the real star of the menu is the meat. Butcher Bar only sells the finest grass-fed meat, and the sheer quality of their cut selections is readily apparent in their offerings.

MDP opted for the brisket hash, while I ordered the burnt ends with scrambled eggs. Both dishes were incredible and accompanied by a complimentary alcoholic beverage of our choice (sangria, cocktail, beer). Let’s start with the brisket hash, which features diced potatoes and peppers with–you guessed it–brisket mixed in. It’s covered with a white gravy and an egg on top. MDP seemed to enjoy it, and I had a taste and agree that it was top notch. My burnt ends were phenomenal. They were silky, smooth, and very flavorful. The burnt ends were situated atop scrambled eggs with a layer of cheese, to my delight. Expertly cooked potatoes and mixed greens also came with our selections.

In addition to the mains, we got the creamy macaroni and cheese as a side dish. I found the simplicity of the dish to be satisfactory, but MDP wasn’t as impressed by it. The pasta was drenched in a delicious cheese sauce, and paprika was sprinkled on top.

butcher bar creamy macaroni and cheese

creamy macaroni and cheese

At the end of our meal, the lovely waitress asked if we’d like a piece of apple cake on the house. I enthusiastically said yes, and she brought us a sliver of the cake. It featured a drizzle of caramel on top, and the rare apple piece inside the cake. Despite the lackluster showing of fruit, I found the crust to be thick and authentic tasting. I was pleased with this addition to our meal.

I’d say that the value of brunch at Butcher Bar is amazing. Although the burnt ends with eggs plate cost $18 or so, it came with 10 – 15 pieces of meat and the plate was filled to the brim with food. The cocktail I ordered would have been $10 a la carte, and I quite enjoyed it. Plus, let’s not forget the apple cake that was a surprising finish.

Even if you’re not a Queens dweller, I’d suggest making the trip to Butcher Bar for brunch or even dinner. If they can serve up masterfully crafted dishes for the Saturday-Sunday morning set, I’m confident in their ability to do this during the evening, as well.

Butcher Bar
37-10 30th Avenue (between 37th and 38th streets)
Astoria, NY
Take the N/Q to 30th Avenue and walk north several blocks. It’s on the east side of the street.

Corner Shop Cafe

I’m in total Sunday brunch mode. Every week, I scour Yelp, looking for high-rated places (not that Yelp reviews really mean anything, as you know). One of my coworkers recommended two places to me that I’ll keep in mind for future Sundays: Robert and Cafe Gitane. But this week, I decided we should try Corner Shop Cafe.

corner shop cafe croissants

mini croissants

I didn’t really look at what people said about Corner Shop Cafe on Yelp. I just saw that it received about four stars overall. That was enough to get me to look at their website. And, after reviewing their delicious-sounding menu, I thought it would be a nice place to spend Sunday morning. I was right.

Located down on Broadway and Bleecker, Corner Shop Cafe is, well, on the corner. Lots of natural light bathes the interior. And cute wooden tables and seats line the walls. Beautiful curtains drape over the centers of windows and the waitstaff are all dressed in black T-shirts with “Corner Shop Cafe” emblazoned on the backs.

To start, we ordered off the specials/extras menu: mini croissants with lemon chantilly, strawberry preserves and chocolate-almond paste. The croissants were delicate and covered with sugar crystals–a light, sweet take on the traditional croissant. I enjoyed each of the spreads, but I declared to MDP that I could have eaten the chocolate-almond paste on its own. It was like a Nutella, but much better.

corner shop cafe breakfast bagel

breakfast bagel

I opted for the bagel sandwich as my brunch entree: an everything bagel toasted with fried eggs, andouille sausage, stone-ground cheddar grits and cheese. Recently, I told my coworker from Australia that the everything bagel is the quintessential New York food. It’s diverse, it’s egalitarian–it’s everything New York strives to be. And here it was, sitting on my plate, with such wondrous treats stacked on top. When I read the (poorly designed) menu, I assumed the grits would be on the side because who would put grits on a sandwich? Well, Corner Shop Cafe would. And I’m glad they did. The grits were perfectly cooked and the spicy andouille sausage added a certain kick to the sandwich. The sandwich was accompanied by some flavorless home fries (which were chopped potatoes, barely seasoned) and a mixed greens salad with a kind of citrusy vinaigrette on top. Though the home fries weren’t stellar, the sandwich was mighty fine (though hard to eat!).

MDP got the chive biscuit with eggs, bacon and home fries. There was some (expected) confusion about what the deal was with the biscuits. The menu is surprisingly poorly written and may have, in MDP’s words, “been created by someone who was illiterate.” Though the ordering process was arduous, the resulting entree that he received was very good. He enjoyed his chive biscuit, the eggs, the bacon and home fries very much.

I recommend Corner Shop Cafe for brunch. I saw someone get the pancakes, which looked fantastic. And the breakfast burrito looked delightful, as well. If you steer clear of the biscuits section of the menu, ordering will be nice and easy. All in all, Corner Shop Cafe offers some delicious cooking reminiscent of home. Try their brunch next weekend–and arrive early, before all the hungover NYU kids crowd the place.

Corner Shop Cafe

643 Broadway (at Bleecker Street)

West Village (?), New York

Take the B/D/F/M/6 to Broadway-Lafayette. Walk up Broadway to Bleecker Street.

Sanfords

On Saturday morning, I had an appointment in Astoria, so we decided to try some place in the neighborhood for brunch. We scoured Yelp, looking for a suitable restaurant to serve our needs. Sanfords received rave reviews about their brunch, so we decided to give it a go. The moral of this story will be: Do not trust Yelp. (How many times do I have to say this?)

Located on Broadway by the subway station, Sanfords is essentially a glorified diner. They may have nicer menus and better furniture than diners typically have, but don’t be fooled by the aesthetics. The sprawling menu lists dishes such as croque madame, frittatas, omelettes, peanut butter pancakes and a handful of lunch items, including wraps and a burger. (Their menu is not on their website, which ticked me off before we even got to the place.)

They offer a prix fixe brunch deal for $14, which includes an alcoholic beverage (i.e. a bellini) and a coffee or tea, as well as a brunch entree. MDP and I both ordered mimosas and coffees, and MDP had a strong, negative reaction to the coffee. I thought it was okay, but it could have been the Splenda masking the poor quality of the coffee itself.

Our entrees arrived soon after we placed the order, and MDP was dismayed to find his croque madame sitting singularly on the plate. No fries, no salad. Nothing to accompany it. The sandwich also lacked the signature bechemel sauce, which is something even I know belongs on the croque madame, and my personal specialty is Italian food. He finished it, but he didn’t look happy.

My zucchini, tomato, ricotta and pesto frittata was served to me in a mini cast iron pan with cold home fries and toast on the side. The frittata was dry and had way too many competing flavors in it to be enjoyable. The pesto vied for my taste buds’ attention, while the smooth ricotta dollops dominated my sensory experience. The best thing about the meal was the toast, I swear.

I wouldn’t recommend Sanfords. MDP said, “If this place was in our neighborhood, maybe we’d go here.” And I stopped him. No, we wouldn’t. We have far better “diners” in Sunnyside.

Don’t listen to Yelp. Sanfords is not good. I wouldn’t even suggest going there and getting something that we didn’t order, just to see if it’s up to snuff. Try the Neptune Diner instead. At least Neptune owns up to its diner status.

And I don’t have any pictures of the crappy food because they sat us in the middle of the restaurant where there wasn’t much natural or ambient light.

Sanfords

30-13 Broadway

Astoria, New York

Take the N/Q to Broadway.

MoonShine Modern Supper Club (Millburn, NJ)

So, what the heck was I doing in Millburn, NJ, you ask? Well, my mother lives in a nearby town and I wanted to take her somewhere nice for her birthday. She had seen MoonShine Modern Supper Club on TV at one point, and chose it for our outing.

moonshine modern supper club biscuit

biscuit & sausage gravy

I’m not quite sure what constitutes a “modern supper club” and MoonShine’s website doesn’t exactly illuminate the matter, but they do have a reasonable description of their approach: “Opened in November 2011, MoonShine Modern Supper Club presents Contemporary American cooking executed with style, finesse, and an updated comfort-food sensibility.” Yes, yes and yes. MoonShine certainly achieves all aspects of their description.

Thinking the place would be packed at brunch (they were on TV, after all), I made a reservation for noon on what would be a rainy Saturday. When we walked in early, we were the only guests in the whole restaurant. I guess New Jersey people don’t “do” brunch.

MoonShine graciously offers a nice prix fixe brunch menu, with a handful of salads and other types of dishes for appetizers, and delicious options, such as croque monsieur, chicken paillard and salmon, for entrees. We ordered coffee and took in the menu.

moonshine modern supper club omelette

omelette with goat cheese & tomatoes

The extremely accommodating waiter made small talk with us, about the weather and other topics, and brought us three banana muffins, which were exquisite.

For my brunch, I ordered the biscuit with sausage gravy and the omelette with goat cheese and roasted tomatoes. My mother also opted for the biscuit dish, but decided to try the MoonShine burger, which is topped with cheddar and Applewood bacon.

The biscuit appetizer was amazing. I couldn’t get over how delicious the sausage gravy was. MoonShine clearly uses top-notch ingredients, as the sausage had a distinct flavor of fennel and it was evident that it was high quality meat. The biscuit itself was pretty standard, not made with lots o’ lard like Bubby’s, but definitely solid. My mother and I both polished off our plates and felt quite sated following the biscuit course.

moonshine modern supper club burger

burger

Then, the entrees came out. And I’ll tell you, the burger is the entree to get at MoonShine. So do go there for brunch! Because I had eaten a burger last night, I couldn’t order the burger, something I rather regret now. It was, in a word, heavenly. Extremely juicy, the patty had flavors of sirloin, as my mother pointed out, and was cooked to a perfect “medium” level of doneness. The whole package–the bacon, the cheddar, the patty, the bun–made the burger one of the best I’ve ever had. Really. It was that good. And the shoestring fries that accompanied the burger were outstanding–lightly salted, crisp and flavorful. You can’t beat that dish.

As for my omelette, well, it was just okay. I didn’t sense the tomatoes were roasted, but merely diced and tossed into the omelette, disappointing. The egg itself was slightly overcooked, and I ended up only eating about half of it.

I highly recommend MoonShine Supper Club for brunch. It’s pretty easy to get to Millburn from New York. Just take the NJ Transit train to Millburn and walk a few blocks to get to MoonShine. I’d trek a hundred miles for that burger. You might, too. And Millburn has a beautiful downtown area to perambulate, and an adorable park just across the street from the restaurant. Go sometime. You won’t regret it.

MoonShine Modern Supper Club

55 Main Street

Millburn, NJ

Clinton Street Baking Company

You don’t want to come here for brunch. What I mean is: you absolutely do want to come here for brunch because it’s to-die-for. But you don’t want to stand in line for an hour (before the place even opens!) to get a table.

fried chicken dinner at clinton street baking company

fried chicken dinner

The Clinton St. omelette is outstanding. The blueberry-drenched pancakes are perfect. Really, you can’t go wrong for brunch. But, little known fact: They serve omelettes and pancakes at dinner time, too.

MDP and I stumbled into Clinton Street Baking Company last night, after being pushed aside at Schiller’s. I had been to Clinton Street many times before–for brunch, of course, but I had heard they also served a mean burger. (Because I was planning to have a burger tonight–I have a one-burger per week rule–I ended up ordering something else, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

The place was packed but for one tiny table squeezed between two other tables for two. I sidled into the booth and felt instantly comfortable among Clinton Street’s warm ambiance.

On the chalkboard on the wall, they listed the specials for the evening and the day’s fish and the farms where their food came from. MDP and I both ended up ordering two different permutations of fried chicken, and boy, were we pleased.

I opted for the fried chicken dinner, which comes with four pieces of delectable chicken, a honey-Tabasco sauce for dipping, homemade slaw and two sides (I chose the jalapeno-inflected corn bread and the sauteed spinach–both were incredible). The fried chicken is in a category all unto its own. I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken, in fact. It was moist and flavorful, and the flavor seemed to seep deep into the chicken itself rather than just superficially penetrated in the fry batter. In a word, fantastic.

carrot cake at clinton street baking company

cute carrot cake

MDP got the fried chicken sandwich with lemon-pepper mayo, a pickled green tomato and shredded romaine on a pain d’avignon roll, which came with less-than-impressive fries. They were limp and flaccid, and unappetizing to me (but MDP finished them off–so they must have been okay). He enjoyed his sandwich.

Though I was beyond full, I knew we had to order something off the dessert menu. After all, it’s called Clinton Street Baking Company for a reason. We chose the walnut-studded carrot cake, which manifested as an adorable slice of lightly frosted cake situated on a wide white plate. I couldn’t put my finger on the flavor of it, but it was surely different. Quite enjoyable.

Do try Clinton Street Baking Company, even if you go for dinner and order brunch. I highly recommend it.

Clinton Street Baking Company

4 Clinton St. (between East Houston and Stanton)

Lower East Side, NY

Take the F/M to Delancey Street/Essex Street and walk a few blocks over Rivington to Clinton Street, head north two blocks.

Jacob’s Pickles

Milk and Coffee at Jacob's Pickles

milk and coffee

I rarely make it to the Upper West Side any more. Having gone to college in Morningside Heights (aka White Harlem) and having worked at my alma mater, I’ve had my share of westside snobbery and exorbitant lunch prices to last me a lifetime. But this morning, My Dining Partner and I decided to go to the marvelous Jacob’s Pickles, on Amsterdam near West 85th Street. With the 7 train only partially running, we trekked all the way up there, taking nearly an hour to arrive, but brunch was well worth the trip.

Boasting a clean aesthetic on the interior, Jacob’s Pickles is across the street from The Mathnasium, an academically struggling child’s ultimate nightmare. MDP and I sat outside, gazing across the street at The Mathnasium, and wondering who would actually take their child there. I wanted to know what child would ever consent to going to such a place. “Maybe it’s for kids who really like math,” I said. “I think it’s for the opposite,” said MDP. I guess he’s right.

Western-Cheese Omelette at Jacob's Pickles

western-cheese omelette

Anyway, back to Jacob’s Pickles (JP). The delightful waitress seemed surprised to see us so early. JP opens at 9 am, and we were there five minutes after. I didn’t know if there’d be a crowd, so I thought it best to brunch on the early side. Our waitress informed us that JP makes its own pickles and bakes its own homemade biscuits. As an aside, I never understand why restaurants claim to make “homemade” anything. It’s not homemade. It’s made in a restaurant. But I digress.

Ample, delicious coffee flowed our way for the fifteen minutes that we spent waiting for our food. The waitress was good about that and even gave us our own bottle of water to pour at the table. Overall, I was impressed by the service.

Sausage Gravy Smothered Chicken at Jacob's Pickles

sausage gravy smothered chicken biscuit

I knew I had to get a biscuit, so I inquired as to whether the western-cheese omelette was accompanied by one. The waitress said no, but could put one on the side for me. This reply pleased me.

My omelette came out looking rather well done for my taste, but it was scrumptious. Packed with ham, green peppers, onions and scallions, the western omelette also featured a handful of aged Vermont cheddar cheese. Though the homefries’ texture was right (crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, as MDP observed), they were overseasoned and lacked any real bite. I generally prefer diner homefries. And, as for the biscuit, well, it seems that JP bakes a sheet of biscuits and cuts them into giant squares (as you can see in the above photo). They are fluffy and require consumption by fork, rather than by hand.

MDP ordered the sausage gravy smothered chicken biscuit, which generously came with two pieces of chicken and a side of cheddar grits. I tried the chicken, and it was fantastic. I highly recommend this dish. Plus, the grits were so smooth and creamy, I couldn’t believe they cooked them up in just 15 minutes. They certainly weren’t instant grits, but a magical creation.

We didn’t try the pickles, but there’s always next time. And I’m fairly confident there will be a next time. MDP and I may try JP for dinner some night. MDP says he’d like to try some of the drink offerings at JP. I concur.

As for the prices, they were reasonable, especially for the UWS. We walked south along Amsterdam and noticed a long line outside Good Enough to Eat, a much-heralded brunch spot. I felt like telling the waiting schmucks to walk uptown a bit and try out JP for a hearty, delicious meal at a more palatable price point. Oh well, I’m sure, by now (two hours later), they’ve finally gotten a seat.

Jacob’s Pickles

509 Amsterdam Avenue (between 84th and 84th streets)

Upper West Side, New York City

Take the 1 to 86th street. Walk east one block and south 1.5 blocks. JP is on the east side of Amsterdam.

Sage General Store, Long Island City

With its cutesy decor and dishtowel napkins, Sage General Store is definitely aspiring to be something–perhaps a country general store, as their website claims. It isn’t clear. What’s evident, however, is that their food and service are aspiring to be something and falling just short of making it.

sage general store ranchero burrito

ranchero burrito

We started our brunch with some coffee, sweet tea, and cheddar biscuits. The coffee tasted bitter and required extra sugar. The sweet tea was okay–no complaints there. We accidentally ordered two cheddar biscuits. This turned out to be an accident because the biscuits arrived in the size of a baby’s head, with some butter on the side. We ate our way through one, wishing it was warmed by their brick oven that is obviously dedicated to pizzas-only, and took the other home. The biscuits had a crisp, crusty exterior and warm, cheesy interior. There was definitely a kick of cheddar in them.

For my entree, I ordered the Ranchero burrito, filled with organic eggs, caramelized onions, ham, tomato, and cheddar. The potatoes on the side came out cold and lacked flavor. The burrito tasted fine–perhaps too ham-heavy for my taste–but needed something to distinguish itself as a burrito, said my dining partner. Hidden Valley Ranch, of course, would have been the ideal condiment to accompany my lacking burrito. HVR! HVR! HVR! Too bad there wasn’t a Hidden Valley Ranch party in my mouth.

Sage General Store Wisconsin Pizza

wisconsin pizza

Sage General Store offers a bevy of pizzas as part of their brunch menu. My dining partner ordered the Wisconsin pizza, which was topped with Neuske’s bacon, caramelized onions, ricotta, and creme fraiche. To my surprise, the pizza was excellent. The crust was on the thin side and golden brown. The ricotta-creme fraiche combo definitely delighted the senses. It was delicious.

A word about the service: My burrito came out at least five minutes sooner than the pizza did. I noticed this trend at every other table in Sage General Store. As my dining partner said, “They just bring things out here”–without any order or synchronicity. I didn’t like this, and don’t think you would either.

Overall, Sage General Store is an okay brunch spot, but definitely do not go out of your way to get there. If you happen to be at MoMA PS1, you might try Sage afterward. Otherwise, stick to your trusted Manhattan reliables.

Sage General Store

24-20 Jackson Avenue

Long Island City, Queens

Take the 7 train to Court Square and walk a few blocks.