Buon Natale: Brunch edition

Panettone, it wouldn’t be a Buon Natale without it!

One of my now favorite holiday traditions started a few years ago when I was living in Italy and realized that during the month of December, at any given moment, I was surrounded by a billion panettones. You know panettone, we have them on this side of the pond too: those large, sort of muffin-shaped cakes, speckled with candied fruit and usually covered in some sort of decorative wrapping paper or in a festive, beribboned box. They’re the Italian version of holiday fruit cake, but actually good.

They were everywhere, and while I liked them, I was getting sick of eating just plain ol’ slices of panettone. One day, during a transatlantic phone call with my aunt who lives in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, I mentioned that I was basically drowning in an italian sea of panettone.

“Oh, well you should just make panettone french toast!” she explained matter-of-factly.

I immediately Googled recipes, of which I have to warn you, there are precisely one for every panettone in Italy, and went with one that seemed simple enough to pull off. I don’t remember where it was from, but for your viewing, reading, and eating pleasure, here it is below: Continue reading

Extreme decadence

Go big or go home, right? Well, let me tell you, never was that more the case than at brunch this weekend at Norma’s at Le Parker Merdien.

All joking aside, I probably had my caloric intake for a good solid week all in one sitting.  All on one plate. And I’m not exaggerating or kidding in the least bit. It was intense. What I had might very well be the single most gluttonous thing I’ve ever eaten, but it was worth every hour I’ll spend at the gym this week paying for it.

The menu at Norma’s was a wonderland of edible awesomeness. There were chestnut pancakes, foie gras brioche french toast, and mango-papaya brown butter cinnamon crepes among other things.  But for me there was nothing else to get, nothing else to think about, nothing else but those four sweet words: Chocolate Decadence French Toast. (Yes, decadence was actually in the title.)

Norma's Chocolate Decadence French Toast: about 6 inches tall and 6 inches wide. Forget your diet.

Equal parts awe and intimidation filled my head when the waiter placed the chocolate mountain before me. Was this actually French toast made with chocolate cake and not bread? And were there really three spongy, thick slices of it, stacked one on top of the other, between layers of fat, bright red strawberries, topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream, all of it dusted with powdered sugar , sprinkled with whole pistachios and drizzled with valrhona chocolate syrup? Was I ever going to be able to finish this without falling into some sort of sugar induced coma?  Yes, yes and of course yes.

More than just a standard brunch option, the Chocolate Decadence French Toast was just one massive dessert, and because I’m ok with starting the day with a huge quantity of chocolate, I was in heaven. Even though I worked slowly through the huge stack, each mouthful of moist chocolate cake maintained its fresh-from-the-kitchen heat, so that every bite was warm and rich, with the tart sweetness of the strawberries and the nutty crunch of the pistachios only magnifying the deep chocolatey perfection of the french toast.

With the exception of maybe only the “Zillion Dollar Lobster Fritatta” (which is packed with lobster and caviar and costs $1,000), the Chocolate Decadence French Toast was probably the most ridiculous thing to have ordered. Large, over the top, and decadent to the point of obscenity, I can’t think of a better way to have started my Saturday.

Brunch in other boroughs

Spicy Bloody Mary

The big news in my life these days is that I’m leaving New York… temporarily anyway (more on that in upcoming posts). My lease ended on Saturday so I had to be out by then but because I’m not leaving the city until Wednesday, my friends in Astoria were kind enough to put me up for a few days.

After a day of moving out of my apartment and into a storage unit in Brooklyn, then trekking out to Queens, all while trying to mentally prepare for living in a new city and having my boyfriend be in a different continent, I was more than ready for the Bloody Mary coming my way. (Make that plural.) And of course the food. Continue reading

Brunch amongst the hipsters

Sometimes you just have to get out of Manhattan, even if only for a few hours and even if only to go as far as a different borough. This Sunday I did just that when Flaneur and I left the frat-tastic world of Murray Hill to go explore Brooklyn.

Sunday funday at egg

And what better way to start off a Sunday morning than with brunch? The answer is there is no better way because every Sunday should involve brunch. After consulting my trusted guide to, well, everything in life (Google) I found the perfect place: egg, in hipster haven Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

It only took one menu item to convince me: biscuits and gravy. I will do cartwheels and somersaults for biscuits and gravy.  It’s such a fatty, comforting, almost nostalgic food that I try and eat it whenever I see it, which isn’t often. In Gainesville, biscuits and gravy were on any menu that included breakfast but not in New York City. I always search amongst the pancakes and French toast, the omelettes and the breakfast sandwiches but nothing. Sometimes they have biscuits, but no gravy. Must be a southern thing.

When we got to egg (yes, it really is with a lowercase e), the small waiting area in the front was packed. Guys in skinny jeans, tattered sweaters and Ray Bans squeezed in next to girls with thick-rimmed glasses, funny shoes and in the case of one girl there, mullets. It was like a live commercial for Urban Outfitters.

We wrote our name on the list and waited outside, enjoying the relative silence of Brooklyn compared to the constant cacophany of Manhattan, which most of the time appears to be concentrated outside my window. Maybe 30 minutes later, our name was called and in we went.

My game plan from the beginning was biscuits and gravy. When I picked up the menu my eyes immediately went to them on the menu, first on the list. “Homemade buttermilk biscuits in sawmill gravy made with pork sausage or pan-seared mushrooms,” I read to Flaneur, bouncing my feet on the ground in excitement.

But then my eyes wandered and saw something else. And then something else. And then something else again. Before I knew it, I was having second thoughts on the biscuits and gravy.

Everything sounded so good. Why do I have to choose? Why isn’t there some kind of sampler breakfast feast? Why God why?

Flaneur's French toast

Flaneur sat there looking at me, already set on what he wanted: French toast and a side of bacon. Easy. Me on the other hand, I was in the midst of a crisis.

“Are you guys ready to order?” asked our waitress, who seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, pen and pad in hand, ready to take our order now or never.

Flaneur gave me a look. Pick something already, I’m hungry.

“Uhm, uhmm,” I stalled, “you go first!”

Flaneur’s order was simple. It would only buy me about 15 seconds. I had to act fast. My eyes flew over the menu one last time, just as the waitress turned towards me.

“Uhm, ok, well, uhh,” I started. Her look was bordering on a glare.

“Ok, got it,” I blurted with newfound resolve. “I’ll have the country ham biscuit, please.”

“Great, thanks,” she said, collecting our menus and zipping off.

I let out a sigh of relief. I had ditched the plan and opted for something I had never had. It sounded interesting and as much as I love biscuits and gravy, the tally of how many I’ve had in my life is probably in the hundreds. I felt I was being adventurous in trying something new. Go me, I thought. A biscuit with country ham, Grafton cheese, and what sold me on it—fig jam, all with a side of grits. (Note: grits are another breakfast staple for me. My mom recently mailed me a box of instant grits because she knows how I feel about them.)

While we waited, Flaneur and I drew on the paper tablecloth with the Crayons provided. He drew a head. I drew asparagus and the icing on a cupcake. Before I could draw the base, our waitress was back with plates in hand, leaving my half finished cupcake with its cartoonish swirl looking like a purple cartoon poo.

Breakfast faves

I have to admit, when she set the plate down, it looked like something was missing, like it wasn’t as visually appealing as I wanted. Grits are never exactly great looking in general, so I felt a bit of food envy when I saw Flaneur’s plate and the fat French toast and thick strips of bacon sitting on it.

Yet when I took the first forkful of grits, all my envy disappeared. These grits were delicious! They tasted worlds better than the instant mush I make at home. They actually tasted like corn! I had almost forgotten that’s what grits were made out of. They were thick but smooth, not too dry and clumpy, or too watered down.

Almost makes you want to lick the screen doesn't it?

But the star of the show was definitely the biscuit sandwich. If you’re like me, and you like a mix of both sweet and savory, this is the way to go. The homemade fig jam added a subtle sweetness between the biscuit, ham, and the melted cheese that oozed down the side.

And what I first had thought wasn’t going to be enough food, was more than enough. The biscuit was stacked up pretty high, making it even too much to get from top to bottom in just one mouthful. The grits, which came in a large mound, were also pretty filling and by the time it was all gone all I could do was sit back and say, “Man, that was good.”

During all that I did manage to sneak a bite of the French toast and it was pretty delicious too, soft and thick without being chewy. The menu said it was made with a slice of Amy’s brioche. I don’t know who Amy is but she deserves a pat on the back at the very least.

A trip to egg was everything I could have asked for out of a Sunday: a welcome mini escape from Manhattan, a change of scenery, a slight twist on an old favorite, and a very delicious, belly filling brunch. And best of all, I now know where I can find biscuits and gravy, and it’s safe to say they’re probably awesome.