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.

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