For many New Yorkers, the highlight of every weekend is catching up with friends over brunch. Luckily, the city offers both incredible casual and upscale brunch options in a wide variety of cuisines. Start your brunch tour off at EJ’s Luncheonette, Cafe Un Deux Trois, Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, and The Russian Tea Room.
EJ's Luncheonette has mastered the art of American comfort food... and beyond. This was the go-to spot for my kids in the morning, whenever they spent time with us in our East 73rd Street apartment. The eatery churns out perfectly toasted bagels, omelets, homefries, French toast and pancakes. When in the mood, my family members also appreciated their greasy hamburgers (meant in the most loving way), and my husband was a huge fan of the milkshakes.... while I always appreciated their healthy, vegetarian choices. Sadly, I now live on the Upper West Side, so we do not get here as often, but visiting EJ's with the Manhattan Sideways crew was a real treat. On one visit we met Eric J. Levine, also known as EJ. Despite the fact that his initials are “EJ, ” the restaurant name is also a combination of his plus that of his partner, Jay Silver. While sitting at the counter, he talked about his background, which is also partly his father’s story. Eric explained that his father wanted to open a restaurant/bar in his later life “like every other Jewish businessman with a mid-life crisis. ” Unlike many other men, however, he went through with it. He left his job in the garment district and fell into the restaurant business at fifty-five years old with Dock’s Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill. Growing up, Eric worked in various restaurants, but when he reached adulthood, he tested out a series of different paths. He dropped out of college and became a stockbroker for four years, during which time he “worked 100 hour weeks. ” He then went back to college at NYU. When he dropped out, he told me, “The only business I knew was the restaurant business. ” He opened EJ’s on the Upper West Side in 1990 and became one of the pioneers in resurrecting Amsterdam Avenue. “We were busy day one, ” he said, and the business kept accelerating from there until they sadly closed in 2013 after the lease expired. Although the luncheonette appears to come straight out of the 1950's, Eric opened his second EJ's on the East Side in 1991. His team was comprised of people he had met while spending time at Dock’s. Jay, for example, was the chef at Dock’s and their other partner, Robert Eby, was the General Manager. Eric admitted, “My father was always involved by extension. ” Eric was also inspired by his father, who helped open the restaurant Carmine’s and Angelo & Maxie's Steakhouse. “That’s the whole tree of life, ” Eric said with a smile, reflecting on the two intertwined careers. Eric has branched out to other restaurants throughout the years. He and his partner started a consulting company and owned a few pizzerias that he has since sold. EJ’s on East 73rd, however, is at the core of everything he does. “I guess this is my baby, ” Eric admitted. He is proud to be an independent business, despite how difficult it is. “Being the mom and pop guy... it’s a different environment, ” he said soberly. This is especially the case for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurant. “You always have to be on your toes, ” Eric stated. “People gotta eat! ” He is open every single day of the year. He is often busiest on holidays including Thanksgiving and Christmas, since EJ’s is “the only game in town. ” Eric confessed, however, that he enjoys being at EJ's on the holidays. “It’s the best day to work – people are in great moods. ”EJ’s also has a healthy delivery and catering business, though Eric much prefers it when people come in to eat. He also admitted that while EJ’s is lauded for its breakfast, he would like more people to know about his dinner specials. “All our food’s home cooking, ” he said proudly, adding that EJ’s is the closest thing the Upper East Side has to a casual seafood restaurant – it is one of the few places where a customer can get a fresh piece of fish for $20. EJ's menu continues to evolve in an effort to suit people’s taste. Eric sited an example of having recently removed the egg cream from the menu, since no one was ordering it anymore. He has now added a power smoothie with flax seed and greek yogurt. The cooking staff presented us with their latest endeavor - gluten-free pancakes, along with their classic spaghetti and meatballs. “There’s a lot of love and attention put into it... We make food to make people happy. ” When I questioned Eric about his continued passion for running the restaurant, he reigned in the emotion like a true New Yorker and quipped, “It’s better than being in a dentist’s office! ”
Perhaps not as old an institution as some of the clubs on 44th, but this cafe has certainly had a long run, and I have enjoyed being one of their patrons for several of these decades. Occupying space on 44th since 1977, Un Deux Trois has hosted generations of artists and theater district figures. "We were very hot in the '80s, " explained manager Pierre, name dropping celebrities from Andy Warhol to Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. And Pierre went on to say that today, long-time regulars who grew up eating in the restaurant are now bringing in their own children. Breakfast is served from opening at seven thirty until midnight every day of the year. The food is traditional French brasserie style, with a prix fixe menu available for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Steak tartare continues to be a popular choice, as does the quiche lorraine, but on my visit while walking 44th, I opted for another typically French favorite, a spinach and cheese stuffed crepe with a simple side salad. The decor remains from a past life as a hotel lobby, with a mosaic-tiled floor, stained glass windows and Corinthian columns amid all the festivities. Now appearing in various travel guides to Manhattan, it plays host to tourists, theater-goers and locals alike.
Around the corner from the well-regarded traditional restaurant, Il Buco, is Alimentari & Vineria, the market and wine bar that sells imported Italian foods. Up front, there is counter seating for a quick bite as well as more leisurely, contemporary dining down a few steps in the back. The food not only looks enticing, but it tastes amazing, and the people who work here are helpful and knowledgeable. Shortly after they had opened in the fall of 2011, we sampled some sandwiches on their house-baked breads - Tuscan Kale Panini with Stracchino cheese spread and a Soppressata panini with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Simple and delicious. Garnering instant popularity and acclaim from The New York Times to Zagat, we are confident in adding our enthusiastic support and highest recommendation to this authentic hotspot.
Stepping inside this iconic restaurant, after having not been for quite some time, the first thing I noticed was the dazzling array of colors. Red and green conjured up images of a dramatic Christmas party and the gold-leafed ceiling reflected the large collection of samovars placed atop the booths. Almost every inch of wall space was covered in dance-themed art and photography, likely a tribute to the restaurant's 1927 founders, who were members of the Russian Imperial Ballet. Ken Biberaj, the Vice President, took the Manhattan Sideways team on a tour of the enormous restaurant, which includes three private dining rooms and seats up to 450 people. Upstairs, I marveled at the sixteen-foot crystal bear aquarium, filled with gold fish, and felt like I was walking into a fairytale. Back downstairs, I learned that the glass-encased decorative replicas of the Faberge eggs, were made entirely of sugar by Zhar-Ptitsa Troika. As the chef continued to present a variety of Russian dishes, I recalled my dinner some three decades ago where I tried chicken kiev for the first time. When I commented about the array of food including the warm buckwheat blinis, red borscht made with pickled beets, the house-cured salmon gravlax and the beef stroganoff, Ken was quick to respond, "People come to the Russian Tea Room for more than the food - they come for the whole experience. " Indeed, a meal or high tea at the Russian Tea Room can be a momentous event as visitors join a crowd that spans generations. We had the pleasure of joining Ken Biberaj and Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, to discuss the official launch of the. nyc web domain. Watch our interview here.
For a classic brunch in a casual setting, EJ's Luncheonette on 73rd Street has mastered the art of American breakfast staples. If you prefer traditional French brasserie style eateries instead, then head over to 44th Street and check out Cafe Un Deux Trois’ prix fixe menu. If you like to sleep in on the weekend, Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria on 3rd Street offers its seasonal Italian-Mediterranean fare starting at 11 am on weekends. Late risers will also enjoy The Russian Tea Room on 57th Street for both its Slavic brunch offerings and brunch tea menu.
The warmly painted walls inside Veselka envelop the room in folky florals and traditional Ukrainian symbols. Hanging from the ceiling are glowing milk glass globes that seem to replace the sun or moon depending on the time of day — and it could be any time at all, as Veselka is open for twenty-four hours, seven days a week, serving a smorgasbord of pierogis, bowls of borscht, and other expertly prepared comfort foods — Ukrainian and otherwise. Wlodymyr Darmochwal planted roots for Veselka when, as one of the founders of the neighborhood Plast organization (akin to the Ukrainian boy scouts, teaching survival skills and Ukrainian language), he was asked to create a weekend study program for the boys. In response, he opened a five-and-dime style counter at the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue where the boys could buy paper clips, cigarettes, lighters, and, notably, bowls of borscht and other basic Ukrainian foods. The business expanded into another storefront on East 9th Street a decade later. After Wlodymyr’s passing in 1972, it was taken over by his stepson, Tom Birchard, who was later joined by his son, Jason. Today, having worked at the restaurant since he was a teenager, Jason has “done every single job possible here except cook the borscht. ”When Jason joined the team, one of his first projects was to find out, “How late can we stay open? ” It turns out the answer was “all night. ” As Tom and Jason once again prepare to expand the restaurant into an adjoining storefront on 9th Street, they are eager to continue serving the next generation the kind of traditional Ukrainian food that Wlodymyr would have had at his counter more than sixty years ago.
At Paris Baguette, the Manhattan Sideways team grabbed a tray and a set of tongs and indulged. We found each baked bread to be more desirable than the next, from the simple white loaf to the peanut crumb to the chocolate cream bread. The cakes are magnificent pieces of art. We were particularly drawn to the strawberry and fresh cream, and the chocolate and banana. A chain that originated in Korea, Paris Baguette now provides baked goods to almost three thousand stores. Although not everything is prepared in-house, the aroma alone makes it worth a visit, as does the show of people who come through Paris Baguette each day.
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel. The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine. I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
"We are the oldest restaurant on our block. We try to keep a low profile while doing the best we can, and every day we appreciate that we are living in this country, ” said Guadalupe, who has been married to Rafael Rivas — affectionately known as Papa Bear — for over forty years. The restaurant was founded by three Cuban cousins, who took Rafael under their wing when he came to the U. S. from the Dominican Republic in his twenties. With their encouragement, he started out as a dishwasher, then a lineman, and eventually ran the show up front. When the cousins decided to retire in the mid-1980s but could not find a buyer, Rafael stepped up to the plate and asked if he could take over Margon. With years of hard work and small payments, Rafael has upheld the cousins' tradition of serving Cuban favorites, such as roasted pork, oxtail, fried sweet plantains, and rice and beans to the line of customers that stretches out the door on any given day. Little by little, each member of Rafael's family was brought from the DR to join the fold. Guadalupe — who met her husband while they were both on a tour of the Statue of Liberty — along with Rafael's brother, sister, sister-in-law, and many of their children — are all part of this warm and loving family affair. Papa Bear's smile lights up Margon — and his entire family smiles with him. They work like a well-oiled machine, serving a constant flow of customers ranging from construction workers on break, to ladies meeting for a leisurely lunch, to a gentleman in his eighties who never misses a day to sit down and enjoy his usual. According to Guadalupe, “We have the best customers. They come from all over the world. We have every accent. They visit once and then they tell their friends.
Jon Eisen is not only one of the partners of Between the Bread and its director of strategic growth, but he is also heir to one of the pioneers of the venture, which has delivered sandwiches to office workers since 1979. Ricky Eisen, Jon’s mother and the company’s president - who was born on the outskirts of Tel Aviv - decided to use large-scale catering to bring healthy meals to her clients in a more efficient way. Jon claims that the result was the first catering company in New York City. Ricky’s idea to use only healthy and local ingredients proved to be a pivotal moment in the way catering to corporate clients is done today. In 2013, Ricky put her son in charge of the retail and café side of the business, which up until that point had been secondary to catering. Recognizing the recent popular trend of eating healthy and local, Jon quickly began streamlining the production process, including installing digital cash registers to track customer orders. This lead to a doubling of revenue. His success prompted Ricky to name him partner in 2015. Despite these changes, the core of the business is still the same: using organic, fresh, and seasonal to serve “high quality meals. ” And to hear it from Jon and the head of brand strategy, Victoria Rolandelli, this core seems to resonate well with customers. Between the Bread opened two more locations in October 2015 and has plans to have a total of twelve locations throughout the city. Located in the Chelsea Terminal Warehouse, the 27th Street Between the Bread is in a massive space that was previously an unloading station for trains. In the not-too-distant future, once Hudson Yards is complete, it is Jon's hope that they will become the "new Chelsea Market. "
No matter what time of day we have stopped by Grey Dog, the restaurant is pulsing, but in a quiet, relaxed sort of way. Despite the lines to order food from the menu on the chalkboard and the crowded tables, everyone is calm and content. Apparently, this has been the vibe since two brothers opened their first restaurant back in 1996 on Carmine Street. Today they have expanded to four different locations, each one incredibly successful. The formula seems to be quite simple – a chill atmosphere, easy-going but efficient staff, a menu that covers all of the basics with a bit of a flair, hefty portions and, most importantly, everything tastes great. Beginning early in the morning, there are pancakes, French toast, eggs, homemade granola and coffee being served. As the day progresses, lots of sandwiches, salads and other creative dishes are available for lunch and dinner. Without a doubt, if I lived nearby, I would also become a regular.
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
Since its inception, Cafe Mogador has become a beloved East Village institution. In fact, it gained such a devoted following from both New York locals and celebrities that it later opened a second location in Williamsburg. The two successful restaurants, which specialize in inventive Moroccan-inspired dishes, owe their fame to the family that has continued to run both cafes. Cafe Mogador was founded by Rivka Orlin, who was born in the Moroccan city of Mogador that has since been re-named Essaouira. Though she and her family later emigrated to Israel, Rivka fostered a passion for both cuisines as she spent her childhood cooking alongside her mother. When Rivka and her brother moved to New York, there was no question that they would dedicate their new business to celebrating their heritage. The cafe is now known for Moroccan classics such as succulent braised tagines, warm homemade pitas, and a variety of dips, as well as its unexpected fusions with other cuisines, from Middle Eastern Eggs Benedict to duck confit.
On a perfect summer day, the Sideways team sat down for lunch at Tacombi, a relatively new and thriving addition to Manhattan’s Mexican food scene. Sitting at one of the higher tables near the front of the restaurant, with a breeze blowing in from 24th street, one can’t help but notice that the restaurant practically gleams (at the time of writing, it is just about seven weeks old). Even the painted sign advertising “Frutos Naturales” above the juice bar looks as if it was finished that morning. We sampled a variety of tacos and other Mexican staples (including their remarkably flavorful rice and beans), as well as some of their fresh-squeezed juices. Although all of it was delicious and satisfying, we were particularly taken with a few of the dishes we tried. Their El Pastor tacos, prepared with pork roasted and marinated with pineapple for two days before serving, were tender and savory. For our vegetarian readers, the Quesadilla Maiz Azul, prepared with dried chili sauce, Chihuahua cheese, and corn on a blue tortilla, and the Black Ben Y Sweet Potatoes taco, are must-haves. And, for the scorching summer days to come, their pineapple juice with ginger and mint takes refreshment to another level. Our food came with sides of salsa verde, salsa roja, escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables), and radish and mint, as well as an optional extra-hot habanero sauce for the adventurous — all fresh and prepared in-house. Fresh, in-house, and local is the name of the game for Tacombi’s executive chef Jason DeBriere. Everything from the tortillas — which, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch them make in their tortilleria — to the guacamole, to the meat used in their tacos, is prepared fresh every day. DeBriere even goes personally to markets around New York City to select the vegetables for the escabeche. Alan, a chef at Tacombi with whom we had the privilege of speaking, described DeBriere as a mago de comer, which roughly translates to “food wizard. ” “He never cuts corners, ” he added. He also emphasized the dedication of every chef in the kitchen to making everything fresh every day, as well as making locally sourced ingredients a major priority. “We’re just trying to produce traditional Mexican food, ” Alan told us. “We’re not trying to do a fusion with American food. ” This philosophy extends to their breakfast menu, which is full of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like their huevos rancheros and fresh-baked breakfast pastries, like their fruit-filled empanadas. With its open, relaxing atmosphere and exceptional Mexican cuisine, Tacombi is a great place to stop by for any meal. “We want to create a space that does more than welcomes you, ” Alan said. “It transports you. ”
As I walk the side streets of Manhattan, I am constantly seeing the destruction of the past. Thus, it was refreshing to find a new establishment, like the Refinery Hotel, embracing, and even perpetuating the city’s history: through its refurbishment, its restaurant, Parker & Quinn and even its branding. The Refinery’s building, (with its own entrance on 38th Street or through the restaurant on 39th) originally named the Colony Arcade, was once the millinery hub of the Garment District and continued as a hat factory until the 1980s. With hat-making tools, sewing machines and other manufacturing objects integrated throughout the Hotel’s interiors, the Refinery bridges materials of the past with a luxury hotel experience. Their rooms feel extra spacious with high-ceilings, custom-made furniture and stunning hardwood flooring, a rarity in hotels for sure. Besides drawing on the building’s millinery history, the Refinery recalls the past in their lobby lounge. Soon after the building first opened in 1912, Winnie T. MacDonald opened a ladies’ tea salon on the ground floor where she offered female shoppers a place to rest, to socialize and to get an extra kick in their cuppa gin or whiskey. Today, Winnie’s Lobby Bar continues as a resting place for weary travelers in need of a drink, conversation or entertainment – as there is an added bonus of live jazz Monday through Friday evenings between the hours of 7: 30 and 10: 30. I was completely enchanted by the lobby, the art and the guest rooms, but the surprises did not stop there. The lovely woman, who showed us around, then took us to the rooftop bar, which offers another breathtaking view of the Empire State Building and its surroundings. I was most impressed when introduced to the in-house mixologist who mentioned that he had worked for NASA. Before concluding our tour, we walked through the other end of the lobby to enter Parker & Quinn, which dresses up American comfort food in a delectable looking menu and atmosphere. With chandeliers of depression-era glass, wide booths and decorative tiles, this restaurant emanates that same vintage feel as the hotel.
A line out the door at lunchtime certainly caught my attention. When I inquired, I was told that the food is fresh, the sandwiches are terrific, and that their Mediterranean menu is worth the wait. Thus, the Manhattan Sideways team queued up along side everyone else, as who would not trust the word on the street? Meeting the two animated Israeli owners, David and Yariv, was an added bonus, as we secured one of the few tables to sit and eat our freshly made dishes. We eagerly delved into the bowl of hummus, the hot pressed mozzarella sandwich and the strips of zucchini with lemon, olive oil and toasted almonds. We left with a full understanding of why people are willing to stand on line. Although, we also learned that Picnic Basket is expanding their kitchen in an effort to accommodate more people at a faster pace.