Saturday, January 23, 2010

BrunchIN: Veggie Frittata for a Rainy Day Brunch

So not every brunch that we ladies attend is a "sponsored" BWB meal. One such brunch occurred last Sunday. A last minute invite to the welcoming brunch party for Jessica, a newly transplanted Seattleite, proved to be just what the doctor ordered for a drizzly Sunday afternoon.

The aforementioned charming hostess greeted us at the door, smiling and quick to offer drinks to cure our rain-drenched selves. A glance at the overflowing tables of food confirmed that this Brunch IN was worth the trek.

Clockwise from the top, we have delicious Baked Bacon, Emily C's outta this world Mac-n-Cheese, Blue Cheese Stuffed Prunes, Emily H's Roasted Vegetable Frittata (recipe below!). Also shown are cookies, chocolates, and croissants courtesy of Niki, scones and Chocolate Babka (both quite tasty!) from Moishe's, Chocolate Donettes from Patrice sharing the plate with Devin's homemade French Toast Sticks (with Mint Whipped Cream and Apple Compote accompaniments), and finally, Jessica's Corn Souffle. There was also two huge, overflowing bowls of Murray's bagels, a variety of cream cheeses, and a crackers and cheese plate to round it out. Whew.
Roasted Vegetable Frittata
1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli
2 onions
4 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper, either fresh (and roasted) or canned roasted
8 eggs
1/3 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 small wheel (about 2 oz) goat cheese
1 cup or one heaping pile grated cheese - I used gruyere and parmesan
Parsley, thyme, scallions - or your herbs of choice, chopped
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes - to taste

All vegetables listed are interchangeable - this frittata is great for leftover vegetables you may have had in the fridge from a previous meal, dinner out, whatever you like and is in season, preferably. If using leftovers OR if you roast the vegetables the night before, this truly is an easy recipe to throw together the morning of a brunch!

Cut the onions in half and each half into thin half moons. Warm a skillet (nonstick is fine) with a little olive oil on low to medium-low. Add the onions, a pinch of salt and black pepper, and basically let these cook for at least 45 minutes, up to an hour. Stir every 5 minutes or so, and right at 30 minutes, add the 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced. To make sure these cloves don't brown, I keep the heat as low as it can go. When you're almost ready to pull the pan off, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a heavier splash of vermouth or white wine. Scrape off the bottom of the pan, let cook for a few more minutes to dry it out a bit, and voila.

Once you start the onions, move on to the broccoli. Preheat the oven to 450. Chop the broccoli into small florets, and cut the stalks into rings. Spread out on a large baking sheet and drizzle on olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat, and roast for 20-40 minutes. Basically, every 10 minutes, take out to stir. You want the stalks to get browned and almost cooked, but not mushy. Brown is important, though, so resist the urge to stir.

For the roasted bell pepper, you can easily use a jarred, pre-roasted pepper, or you can be like me and roast one right on the gas flame of your stove. Or in the oven. (Learn all about both techniques here  and here.) Once roasted, cut into thin strips.

Now assembling the frittata! Throw the heavy cream and goat cheese into a small saucepan on low. Let the goat cheese melt into the cream, and then pop the pan into the fridge for a few minutes. Whisk the eight eggs in a bowl, and carefully add in the flour and baking powder and whisk thoroughly to combine. Finally, whisk in the slightly cooled cream/cheese mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Liberally grease/PAM a heatproof (read: all metal) large skillet and place on a medium stove. Once pan is a bit warm, spread onions, broccoli, and red peppers evenly across the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the eggs, add all of the grated cheeses and chopped herbs, and add the rest of the eggs. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
We passed the time chatting and lounging around the bright, open living room, complete with a big screen TV, comfy white couches, and a small outdoor patio. Space is an important factor of hosting Brunch INs, or any large meal really, yet it is an element that many city-dwellers simply lack. Another testy factor to consider is the neighbors; a large group of people having a good time tends to get pretty loud, and walls are comparatively thin. That said, the brunch went smoothly. Only after a whopping 4+ hours did guests begin clearing out, amongst pleas to stuff our faces with the leftover food, and a buildup of noise complaints from the neighbors.

This was definitely a pleasant experience that we can't wait to partake in again. A big thanks to Damien the organizer, Jessica the host, and every one of the awesome guests we met there. We've got plans to host our own BrunchIN soon, so keep tabs on the Babes who Brunch!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

BrunchOUT: The Spotted Pig

The Spotted Pig was a fitting choice for our first organized Babes Who Brunch event, given that rumors about this gastropub's brunch was what sparked the idea of combining our mutual adoration of brunch into something more concrete. So the venue wasn't a hard pick, but would it live up to our high expectations?

The Restaurant

The trick to getting into any popular NYC brunch place is to be part of the early crowd, which in this city means the type that gets up before noon. Ten (yes, ten!) of us gathered up all rosy-cheeked from the wind (or maybe it's Maybeline) in front of The Spotted Pig, waiting for the doors to open at 11A.M. prompt. Busy waiters carried trays of Brussels sprouts and other mystery ingredients wafted past us, teasing us with smells of food to come. The restaurant itself is tucked behind layers of dried and fresh plants and knicknacks.

Once inside the restaurant, the homey, darker pub-meets-vintage look continued with more plants, upholstered banquet benches and lots of small stools for seats. The space downstairs is mostly taken up by the bar, with small tables for two and four taking up the space. We were told as soon as we arrived that The Spotted Pig doesn't quite work the best with groups over six. We were seated upstairs, in an awkward location by the actively used staff door. Also, the restaurant itself does not lend itself well to food photography. Our table was in a darker area of the restaurant and thus, pictures are not all from our actual brunch but still the same dishes we ate.

The Food 

Having done a bit of research about Spotted Pig before arriving, the two appetizers highly recommended by friends and reviewers alike were Chicken Liver Toast and, of course, Deviled Eggs.

Chicken Liver Toast, $5.50

Picture thanks to eatdrinkman on Flickr.

Exactly what it sounds like, this is a hearty piece of well toasted bread and a thick slather of chicken liver pate. The bread had a great crunch to it and the flavor of the liver was pretty darn good. But, it is what it is. If you don't care for chicken liver or the texture of pate, it is NOT the appetizer for you. For those of us who do enjoy a hearty helping of liver as a morning perk, this generous serving was enough to satisfy that craving for awhile. Or at least the rest of the day.

Deviled Eggs, $3

As ladies from the South, good deviled eggs are always of interest. This egg (one egg for $3) had an interesting, vinegary bite to the filling. They came sitting in a pool of olive oil, which in this case, really boosted the flavor of the egg whites. We noticed that the filling wasn't quite as mayonnaise creamy as it could be, and leaned more towards a heavy-handed vinegar side. Personal preference is the determining factor in this case.

One brunching babe, Christina, also got the Beef Carpaccio appetizer, a special for that day, and she seemed to heartily enjoy it. Anna also ordered a dish of assorted Marinated Olives, which is hard to mess up. As for the entrees, there were quite a few repeat orders, but we seemed to cover the bases between specials and menu staples.

Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese & Shoestrings, $17

Picture thanks to eatdrinkman on Flickr.

This was a highly recommended dish, and three babes went in for the red meat kill with this burger. The Roquefort cheese is strong, but it works with a nice, medium to medium-rare beefy burger. One babe ordered hers medium rare, another medium, and another medium-well. And whaddya know, they all came out right! Our waiter even gave prior warning that the burgers would be cooked exactly as ordered, which is surprising only in the fact that nowadays, shaky burger execution is pretty unsurprising.

There was some dissonance regarding the use of Roquefort cheese. One babe declared it too salty and scraped it off the burger, while another loved the rich sharp taste of the cheese. Be warned - The Spotted Pig isn't into substituting, so don't expect to change up the cheese. This quirk certainly something to be aware of before ordering, but the burger is a worthy choice on both the brunch and dinner menu. The crispy rosemary shoestring fries add onto an awesome meal. It's like a highly addictive birds nest of flavor, so quickly devoured that they leave not a trace behind but the smell of rosemary on your fingertips.

Dutch Baby with House Smoked Bacon & Maple Syrup, $15 

Picture courtesy of Lara.

Bacon... Topped... Carbohydrates. Need we say more? Lara ordered this dish and did a wonderful little write up about not only the dish but the brunch at Spotted Pig on her blog, City Grits. Definitely give it a read, she's another great food blogger, friend and babe who brunches! It was a deceptively light yet filling savory-sweet dish. Dutch babies are not a common addition on a NYC menu, though these cute, simple, semi apple-pie-pancakes should be. Look, they even come with bacon, our favorite friend!

Speaking of bacon, Carolann was taken aback she tried to order it as a side dish, but the waiter wouldn't accomodate her request even though it was on the menu in other entrees. At least a side of the previously mentioned rosemary fries did the trick this time.

Frittata with Broccoli Rabe & Ricotta $15

Picture courtesy of Lara.

The frittata was ordered by two lovely babes, but it did receive the best recommendation. One of the biggest complaints I've heard and read about Spotted Pig is saltiness, and that indeed was a problem with this frittata. It seems to be a common but unfortunate trick that gentle ingredients, in fear of being too bland, are oversalted instead. Even for sodium-lovers, there has to be a certain line between bringing out the inherent flavors in the dish, and pickling.

Winter Vegetable Fry Up, $17 

This was one of the entree specials offered last Sunday. Two fried eggs rest upon a bed of potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and Serrano ham. Reports differed on what other ingredients went into the fry-up. Artichokes? Truffle Oil? Cupcakes? That's the mystery of a Fry-up!

No matter what, the dish was interesting enough to keep taking more bites of, and portioned well enough to be filling. Emily thought that personally, the Brussels sprouts were overdone, like they were blanched or parboiled before being fried. And we both couldn't differentiate between the different pale colored ingredients on a visual level, but thought the taste was fine, if not a tad salty.

Whole Yogurt with Macerated Fruit & Almonds, $12

This simple dish got a hearty thumbs up from brunching babe T.J. It looked like a rich and creamy, deceptively simple but delicious breakfast option. Also, one of the few gluten free options on the menu.

The whole crew, full and happy!
The Bottom Dollar

The general consensus is that The Spotted Pig's prices are a bit inflated for the servings. The Deviled Egg is $3 for one whole egg. While this could be shared by four people, it is a bit of a stretch. The Liver Toast is also simply two small pieces of crust for $5.50. The burger is quite substantial for the cost, where as the frittata seemed a bit small for the rate. Here's the honest truth: It's a hip, popular place in the West Village. The prices they're doing for the food is acceptable for the city but not acceptable for what some of the food tasted like.

The Bottom Line [Why Should You Brunch Here?]

Emily says: A bit more hit or miss than I would prefer, a bit salty at times, but a restaurant I plan on returning to. I'm particularly interested in the dinner menu and exploring further into the brunch menu as well. The appetizers, burger and fries and the bacon-topped Dutch Baby (that I somehow MISSED when it came to the table!) will have me back. As long as I have a friend or two to wait with, I'm here.

Melissa says: If you're in the area, it's a pretty enjoyable brunch spot, albeit slightly salty and skewed value-wise. Nothing really blew me away, except I could keep having that Chicken Liver Toast at every single meal. However, I'm also curious about that Dutch Baby. Unless someone knows another place that offers it, that single dish might be what makes me want to return.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

BrunchOUT: Back Forty

Welcome to the unofficial first brunch with Babes Who Brunch! Striking while the iron is hot, we dined on the first Saturday of 2010 at Back Forty.

As stated on their website,

"Back Forty, located on Avenue B at 12th St, is a casual restaurant and bar with simple but delicious fare. At its core, Back Forty is a burger joint but a high quality and responsibly sourced one."

The Restaurant

The restaurant opens at noon, sharp, as our group discovered when arriving five to ten minutes earlier on an extremely cold day. But once entering the building, you are completely warmed, not only by the heating system but also by the atmosphere. With lots of wood, dark brown fabric and huge windows, the light and airy, comfortable space draws you in to stay. It feels homey and a bit mismatched, yet refined. It seems like this formul of Southern charm with hip Manhattan modernism is popular these days.

Another discovery is that, like many restaurants, Back Forty does not seat you until your entire party arrives. To be honest, this was a bit of an annoyance; our group had six at that point and the restaurant was not packed. Waiting time was made more bearable after a few drinks at their fairly impressive bar. The brunch menu includes a specialized drink list long enough to rival the savory items, with a fair amount of variation for all tastes. The two brunch standards, Mimosa and Bloody Mary, are included along with cocktails, beers, and a Hot Spiked Cider. The latter, which we snuck a taste of, was delightful and heavily spiked. Both the Hot Spiked Cider and Bloody Mary received thumbs up from our tablemates.

Fortunately, as soon as our group filled out, we were seated at a large table by the front window. Now that was exciting! We were pining over that sunny table while waiting, and it truly is a great group dining spot.

The Food 

Being in a large group, it was great because we ended up covering most of the bases on their brunch menu. We started with two very solid appetizers, both of which we heard were definitely worthy of trying.

Pork Jowl Nuggets, with Jalapeno Relish

Quite a show stopper, these small, lightly fried bites of pork were delicious. Extremely tender, slightly fatty interiors and a nice crunchy exterior, along with the sweet and spicy relish made for a decadent, delicious appetizer. The only downside might be the dainty size. They seem to disappear as soon as they hit the table!

Fresh Doughnuts

Seriously fresh from the fryer, these warm cake doughnuts are easily dessert. Three doughnuts to an order make for more than enough fried dough and vanilla glaze to go around. Now thinking about them again, I would happily tear into one with a strong cup of joe any morning.

Both appetizers came out surprisingly quick, and were polished off at a decent speed. The entrees took a little time to arrive, but were worth the wait.

Fried Chicken and Waffles

This entree was a favorite off the menu - three people ordered it! Coming with about a quarter of a chicken and four waffle triangles, it's a hearty Southern classic that people either love or leaves them scratching their head. The savory fried chicken had a little bit of spice to it, a delicate, not-too-solid coating and the meat itself was incredibly moist and tender. The waffles were of the lighter, softer kind. If you're looking for the Belgian waffle, with more chew and bite to it, these are not it.

Blintzes with Housemade Farmers Cheese, served with Cinnamon Apples

Can one really go wrong with housemade cheese? Well, maybe that's just us... But these blintzes were incredibly light, with great lemon and vanilla flavors in the batter. The cheese was creamy and rich and the softened cinnamon apples on top were a nice touch. As a whole, it felt far more savory than expected, but after a swirl of syrup, it became a great balanced, vegetarian meal.

Poached Eggs & Baby Green Wheat, Roasted Wild Mushrooms, Squash, Cippolini Onions & Toast

This dish could be renamed "Quietly Delicious". Easily overlooked, but wonderful in flavor, this eclectic yet balanced dish had two poached eggs sitting atop a hash-like mixture of baby green wheat, cippolini onions, mushrooms and winter squash. Also, it came with a slice of white and whole wheat bread. Talk about getting all your vitamins in at breakfast!

Before ordering, when asked what baby green wheat was, the waitress compared it to bulgur, but younger and more tender. The hash was seasoned perfectly. The main qualm is that the two eggs were not poached evenly; one had a far more set yolk where as the other was runny. Personally, the runny yolk is expected with poached eggs, and consistency is key.

Housemade German Sausage and Fried Eggs, Creamy Grits, Greens & Mustard Sauce

It's not much of a looker, but this hearty dish is definitely big enough to share! The huge mound of grits were indeed creamy and tasty, and the egg paired well with said grits. The sausage had an interested corned beef flavor - not something experienced in a sausage before but it worked with the rest of the meal. If you're coming to Back Forty truly starved, this dish would fill you right up as expected for a German meal! 

The Grass Fed Burger, with spicy home made ketchup & pickle, heritage bacon, farmhouse cheddar, rosemary fries

This is one dish that Back Forty seems to be very well known for. They themselves call their restaurant a burger joint. The burger, rosemary french fries, and housemade spicy ketchup were all solid. Actually, the spicy ketchup was beyond solid, it was a keeper. They should sell that to the general public! Anything with slices of heritage bacon and cheese on it would put a smile on our face. And it is another hearty brunch, lunch or dinner option at Back Forty.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

This side order of pancakes was possibly the one letdown of the meal. Light, fluffy, homemade pancakes, indeed they were. However, the sweet potato flavor did not seem to be present whatsoever. The color was not reminiscent of sweet potatoes, and neither was the flavor. Fine pancakes, but not exactly what they were advertised to be.

The Bottom Dollar

Prices at Back Forty are quite reasonable for brunch in the city, even though they don't offer a pre-fixe menu with beverages as is common in the area. The cocktails are all $8-10, beers run $6-7 and quartinos of wine are $9-11. Teas and coffees come in and $3-4 and appetizers and sides are $5 and under. Most entrees are around around $12, with the most expensive being a fully loaded burger (bacon, cheddar, fries) at $17. And desserts are $7-8 each. When you start looking at how many 'housemade' items are on the menu, the quality makes every dollar seem to stretch further.

The Bottom Line [Why Should You Brunch Here?]

Emily says: Hidden gems like pork jowl nuggets, doughnuts, spicy ketchup and green wheat make it worth it. The prices are hard to beat for the quality, and the atmosphere is great. Service is relaxed yet attentive. Back Forty is worth checking out.

Melissa says: Their meat-friendly yet healthy menu options, paired with a side of their drinks with a kick, all in an unpretentious setting make this a brunch place worth a second visit. Or third. Or more, if you keep those doughnuts coming.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Brunch: Defined

Texas french toast

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's first take a look at what exactly classifies a meal as "brunch".

According to these pillars of the Internet world, "brunch" is:

... a combination of breakfast and lunch. Brunch is often served after a morning event or prior to an afternoon one, such as a wedding or sporting event. As such, it is a heavy meal meant to take the place of both.

[Urban Dictionary]
... a weekend ritual for twenty-something New Yorkers involving the sharing of the first meal of the day with friends after a night of debauchery. Brunch can occur any time after noon and before 5 p.m. on either Saturday or Sunday and serves as a great way to catch up with friends over moderately priced food as well as bloody marys, mimosas or several glasses of champagne. Post-brunch activities often include napping or drunk shopping.

1. a meal that serves as both breakfast and lunch.

verb (used without object)
2. to eat brunch: They brunch at 11:00 on Sunday.  

After taking a look at those sources, let's pick out a few common traits to make up our own definition of brunch, keeping in mind that New York City is the self-claimed epicenter of the brunch movement. 

[Babes Who Brunch Definition]
Brunch can be seen as a primarily weekend meal incorporating elements of breakfast and lunch in terms of both food and hours. This meal may be eaten at a restaurant or in someone's home, in a group of 2 or more. Alcoholic beverages and pre-fixe menus are common in NYC, and the hours typically range from 11A.M. to 4P.M.

So this means brunch does NOT include bowls of cereal at 2 A.M. or leftover lasagna for a Power Meal before a Monday work day. Brunch is about eating with dear friends, family, loved ones, in a casual fashion.

More importantly, for Babes Who Brunch, we are about good brunch. We are striving to find the stars and hidden gems in New York City, a city that has far too many mediocre brunches around.

Now that we've gotten that cleared up, we can get to the good stuff. Stay tuned for our first brunch post!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to Babes Who Brunch!

Well hello there, and a Happy New Year as well! We're kicking off 2010 with the launch of our new project, Babes Who Brunch (BWB).

What is Babes Who Brunch all about?

A blog about the "serious business" of brunching in New York City (and, well, anywhere). Dining out, hosting at home, picnicking, we're here to look at all versions of that wonderful weekend in-between known as brunch. The acceptable way to continue debauchery of the evening before into a liquor and caffeine infused celebration of both breakfast and lunch.

When will Babes Who Brunch post?

We'll state this upfront: we're not aiming for a daily post; this is more about documenting brunches out, brunches in, and expounding upon some of the great items that make up brunch. (French toast, mimosas, baaacon, etc.) 

Where are these Babes Who Brunch?

We are located snugly in the vast, brunch-friendly, culinary web of New York City. Any more information than that, and you'll have to follow your nose. 

How will the Babes brunch?

Well, first we'll master how to use forks and knives, then ... Okay, we kid, but really, we're just going to get together to have brunch when it's convenient. New York City usually offers brunch menus on the weekends, but that doesn't mean we can't have individual brunch experiences, educational posts, or brunch parties to write about. Our goal is to do a brunch weekly, but that by no means is a limit.

Who are the minds behind Babes Who Brunch?

This little site all began by some innocent conversation between Emily H and Melissa Z. Both twenty-something food enthusiasts, a discussion about must-eat restaurants in New York, we stumbled upon the realization that both have not dined at The Spotted Pig, a much raved about brunch place from friends who dined there. That in turn led to the "Ah-Hah!" moment of discovering new food exploration buddies, which is all fine and good. But then, Melissa had the idea of turning it into an actual website and well, here we are now. 

How can I be a Babe who Brunches? 

1) Be a babe*
2) Enjoy brunch
3) Contact us through E-mail or comments! 

While Melissa and Emily are the main authors of the site, one of the biggest factors of creating this blog is to bring in fellow babelicious friends to write about brunch experiences. We hope to have a fresh stream of fantastic female writers to add to the site.

*Really, the name is just for alliteration. We are not deluding ourselves with dreams of model-dom, but "Babe" is certainly preferable to the other "B" word, don't you think?