Full Complement

Bread Alone, NY: “We think by feeling. What is there to know?”

I HAVE been sadly remiss in joining in the documentation of The Great American Breakfast Quest. I certainly have had my fair share of amazing breakfasts in the past several months, but have not been faithful to my quester status. A shame, I say, a shame….

But no longer….

So, to re-enter the fray I will tell the tale of a breakfast brunch. There is something so special about brunch: lazy weekend days, taking our wakings slow, and tantalizing the tastebuds. For my mom, a woman who has eaten the same breakfast everyday for as along as I can remember, brunches are most definitely a treat.

We (my sister Claire, my mother, and I) decided that this year we would celebrate my mom’s birthday in upstate NY. Claire has recently moved into her first apartment in the tiny town of Red Hook and it was on a rainy Saturday that we all converged and headed out to the next town over, Rhinebeck. After some debate we chose Bread Alone over another equally tempting option (Another Fork in the Road).

The decor is a warm red and there are nice, solid wooden tables lining the walls. This is a place for fall afternoon cups of endless coffee and rainy day brunches. The heat had been unbearable the day before but the gray morning brought the wet cool of late summer showers–making the enjoyment of the brunch that more possible.

We all opted for pots of tea.  The tea was blended in the small town of Millerton by a family owned tea shop Harney and Sons. I had the simple breakfast of over-easy eggs, toast, and morning potatoes. The toast was a chewy dense whole grain smeared with fresh creamy butter and the morning potatoes has been fried with rosemary and red and yellow bell peppers to add some sweetness and earthy muskiness to your standard homefry. The eggs were done perfectly with the yolk spilling out from the thin white skin in a cascade of deep orange-y yellow. My mom had the Toad in the Hole–perhaps the more fun way of eating over-easy eggs. Claire chose the special omelette of the day: fresh scallions with melted brie. The scallions were sauteed just enough to sweeten them but not enough to take away their sharp, fresh, green bite. Claire’s boyfriend ordered the Bread Basket–a selection of muffins, scones, croissants, and toast from the bakery. The Bread Basket is an option I would love to see on more menus–there is something delighful about having a whole basket of bread, pastry, and butter presented to you.

We sat for a couple of hours lingering over our pots of tea, stories of the past several months, and snatching bites from each others plates. The wait-staff was patient and let us be.

When the last sweet crumbs of blueberry muffin and lick of butter had been consumed, Claire and I gave our mother her presents and sang a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

Then it was time to push back our chairs, give a big sigh of contentment and head out into the watery light of mid-morning.

So, if you are ever in Rhinebeck, NY and are hankering after simple, well-done breakfasts, turn your feet to Bread Alone.

Quest on, quest on.


Full Complement

Marigold, Philadelphia: “Sometimes you have to just let art … flow … over you”

IN The Big Chill, a group of friends come together for the funeral of another friend.  While today’s brunch at Marigold did not have a somber air, it did have a  similar reunion-esque vibe.  Among our gang was Wee, who’s been MIA for ages due to med school hooplah; Nicole, ensconced in West Philly but who can be teased out with quizo and dim sum; Megan, who I’d heard lots about but had yet to sit down over coffee with; and Paige, passing through but stilling for long enough to eat and laugh and catch up.

We also bumped into three other college acquaintances over the course of the meal, which just goes to show that Philly is a city that holds its people.  Kind of like Paris, or Cairo.  Sit anywhere on the Champs Élysées or at Tahrir Square (preferably not in the square itself, but adjacent–say, at the Egyptian Museum) for long enough, and you’re sure to see a parade of faces from your past.  It’s comforting to know that Philly is growing into one of those cities.

Today was another one of the city’s beautiful days: we woke with the hint of snow on the ground and the promise of more to come; I woke to a reminder of a friend’s production of The Tempest.  The trolley came almost on time (a positive sign for Septa).  All good things, and they just contributed to the general air of satisfaction.

I met Wee and Nicole outside Marigold, and we proceeded into the cozy inner vestibule to warm ourselves and start the adventure with laughter and reminisces.  Megan and Paige showed up a few minutes later and Wee taught them how to make stars out of rubber bands; and then we were ushered inside the restaurant proper to our window-side table.  With my back to the street and surrounded by glass, I felt both part of the scenery and an on-looker onto the world outside.

Because Paige was catching a train, we had to order fast and eat quicker.  We made our selections contingent on each other’s selections — which sounds a bit balmy, but which meant that once the food came, it rotated.  Nicole’s brioche french toast made its way to each of us; Wee passed his salmon around; Paige and Megan split the mini pumpkin muffins; I passed around forkfuls of surry sausage and mushroom crepe; Paige handed off her sandwich to anyone who wanted a bite.  Family-style, and very easy.  Conversation, coffee, and food passed from person to person, punctuated by laughter, happy sighs, and “remember whens?”

At the end, as we sat contentedly in our star-shaped 5-person formation, the general consensus was clear.  “What’s for dessert?”  Wee was satisfied, but had enjoyed his meal so much he wanted more. 

Marigold provides perfectly proportioned dishes–not too much, but just enough that you know you’ll be back.  The walls are a delicate yellow, bearing bright paintings and, in the vestibule, copper-pipe light fixtures.  It feels like a house, but like no home you’d ever known.  Nicole and Megan mused for a moment on whether or not they could turn their West Philly address into a brunch kitchen; they certainly have enough chairs for it.  But the thought of coming “home” to dishes, or waking up knowing you have to put on your brightest face and bring out the fresh coffee…Well, it was all a bit much.  Maybe one day, when we’re a little more established, a little more settled.

As for me?  I bid my goodbyes and went to see The Tempest.  Talking about theater is not my forte, but this was a haunting performance that stripped the text down and rebuilt it around three faces, three sets of hands, and three voices — and what “rough magic” they could cull from their own artistry.  (Shout out to the lighting, sound design, and set, too–magic.  Magic!)  And from there, to home; and once at home, I settled in for a quiet evening, watching the new snow fall in the city and letting the scent of fresh blackberry muffins rise in the oven behind me.

At its heart, isn’t that what a Sunday is for?


Brunch · Full Complement

Over Easy, Chicago: “What About My Dynamite?”

HOLIDAY weekends are prime for scouting new brunch places. Even better is scouting new places in new cities with friends you haven’t seen for a while. So for this July 4th, I left Philadelphia behind and high-tailed it to Chicago, where I met up with Bizzy & Neal for an afternoon in the Lincoln Park Zoo, an evening sketch comedy show, and a celebratory brunch the next day at Over Easy.

We picked Over Easy for convenience: it’s close to Neal’s apartment and the wait isn’t long, even on Sunday. There’s an outdoor coffee stand set up so you can get started on the caffeine while you wait for your table, and the menu posted on the window allows you to start making your decisions before you’re even in the door.

Over Easy is an incredibly aesthetically pleasing place. From the brightly colored menus to the low-hung wall art, Over Easy soothes the senses and promises mealtime respite. We all remarked on the well-planned color scheme and cohesive décor. There doesn’t seem to be a detail left unmanaged here, giving the impression–correct, I’d say–that Over Easy has it all under control. Not just the food selection (which was dauntingly inspiring), but the whole experience. It’s all taken care of. All you have to worry about is deciding what to eat, and then digging in.

Because, let me tell you, it is good. The level of detail they put into the decor here is just as evident in the food. Neal went for the sassy eggs, getting a laugh out of our waitress with his sassy delivery of the name. (Bizzy and I agreed that, were George Clooney to ever make it to Over Easy, he’d have to order the sassy eggs, simply for the name alone.) The mound of egg and guacamole and and sheer mass of food speaks for itself. I think we were all in awe of the aptly-titled sassy eggs.

Bizzy and I went for a little more manageable fare. Bizzy ordered the corncakes, with her two eggs sunny side up. I got the blueberry french toast, garnished with crème anglaise and a strawberry coulis, along with a side of applewood smoked bacon. And we also got their specialty juices: “freckled orange juice” (with strawberry) and “blackeye oj” (with balckberry). Delish!

The conversation revolved around the food (scrumptious) and the Clooney (equally scrumptious). But eventually we settled into our dishes and ate in companionable silence, one of the true marks of great food. But the hallmark of Over Easy is the aesthetic standard, which is as stylized (and as contemporary) as a quirky Wes Anderson movie. We walked in with eyes smarting with anticipation, and left with heads full of conversation and ideas. Indeed, the mark of a good, satisfying meal.