Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BrunchOUT: Gus and Gabriel

Excruciatingly delayed trains, fierce winds, and a late awakening made for a rough start to our Saturday morning. We were both running late to meet Anna at Gus and Gabriel, a neighborhood Greek gastropub that she had highly recommended at our previous brunch together. As we were coming all the way from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, one might wonder if there are good brunches worth traveling to the Upper West Side for, of all places. After all, there are plenty of people who never travel above 14th street, and others who are shocked when they find out Manhattan has streets above 200. The answer? Read on and be enlightened, or at least marvel at our stomachs' capacities.

The Restaurant

First, a little background on Gus and Gabriel, because it's so darned heartwarming. The proprietor, Michael Psilakis, is an acclaimed Greek chef and restaurateur. Melissa attended a class hosted by Chef Psilakis before at the Astor Center, and enjoyed the food at Anthos, the only Greek restaurant outside of Greece to receive a Michelin star. But after Anthos, interestingly enough, Chef Psilakis left to open up this subterranean gastropub named after his late father and his son, with the intent of, according to him, "taking American pub food and making it all from scratch." Gus and Gabriel would both be proud.

The restaurant is a true pub, with lots of dark wood, dark paint colors and some fun vintage accessories. Psilakis' desire to create a true neighborhood pub seems perfectly on point. It's not snooty nor does it scream "world renowned chef". While we don't live in the Upper West Side, we're inclined to commute just to become regulars here. Our waiter was incredibly friendly, gave us some great recommendations, and did not rush us out the door. In fact, we lingered there for hours, quite content with the feast spread out before us. Then again, after the massive amount of food we ate, I think our waiter knew there was no rushing to be made by these little piggies.

The Food

Given that Gus & Gabriel is a gastropub that revels in the best versions of the supposedly "worst" food for your health, the starters all sounded inventive and refined. So we dove into brunch with an appetizers and shared plates smorgasbord.

Fried Mozzarella Balls, $4.95
The idea of creating genuine bar food from scratch was well-introduced by these mozzarella balls. Your eyes might not jump to this dish by the uninspired name, but that's a regrettable mistake to make. Imagine golden, delicious, still warm, and more importantly, full of chewy, stretchy, real mozzarella cheese wrapped bite-sized poppers. Served with a spicy, tangy, and smooth marinara sauce, these went fast and rightly so.

Cheddar & Pork “Tater Tots", $3.95

These particular tater tots were an interesting take on a freezer section classic. The filling seemed to be made of a sweet potato, with cheddar and pork in them as well. The potato was smooth and creamy, unlike your typical tot, with the texture and added kick of pork. These were served with a duo of spicy BBQ sauce and what the menu says is cheddar fondue that tasted more like sour cream dipping sauce.

Nachos (for two), $9.95

Wow, these nachos were the ultimate decadent giant plate of nachos. Topped with chili, pulled pork, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños and pico de gallo, they may not fulfill the nacho purists' standards but they were fantastic in our books. Each component was made with high quality ingredients, with tortillas fried daily for fresh chips. Our only suggestion is that the toppings could have been better distributed among the chips- a clump of guacamole here, a pile of pulled pork there. But make no mistake, there was more than enough of each topping for a covered chip every time.

Bone Marrow, $9.95
Bone marrow... Need we say more? Well, this marrow was served with lemon butter, pickled onions, roasted cloves of garlic and toasted bread. The dish had quite the "Oooh/Aaaah" factor for the sheer size of the bone it was served in. The bone marrow was pleasantly fatty and savory, delicious spread on the bread (which was quite like grown up Texas Toast) and topped with onions. We ladies are definite fans of bone marrow and this truly hit the spot. Not to mention, the sheer novelty of that giant carved out bone is enough to keep around for goofy picture-taking afterwards.

Gnudi, $11.95
Oh gnudi, you're like the horribly delicious, cheesy cousin to gnocchi. Basically, gnudi is a thin skinned, cheese filled pasta. Each piece is a delicate purse of cheese, ready to burst and melt simultaneously in your mouth. Paired with oyster mushrooms and ricotta salata to balance out the gooey innards, this nailed it as a great belly-warming dish on a winter day. While this is an entree on the menu, we greatly recommend ordering it as a shared plate as we did.

Fried Egg, Bacon, Onion Rings & Gruyére Burger, $13.95
As a brunching group, the fried egg and bacon burger was a definite order for us. This mammoth burger looked so immaculate with the egg perfectly perched atop the beef, it was the last item we finally dug into. I do think that factor had an effect on our burger - we ordered it medium rare but the waiting time on our end meant we got a medium to medium well burger. Possibly because of food fatigue, but we didn't find the burger blow-your-mind delicious. A solid choice, yes, but earth-shattering, not quite. The fries however, were pretty close to perfection with a nice balance of salt without being overly greasy.

Strawberry Cheesecake Milkshake, $6.50
And now for the most anticipated part: dessert! Gus and Gabriel has a great selection of milkshakes and floats, most of which are spiked. Perfect for boozy brunch lovers who want it in a different form. This shake had a strong cheesecake flavor, with a nice kick of Plantation Jamaican rum in the background. Heck, even the whipped cream on top was just the right consistency without tasting artificial or falling flat at all.

Mint Chocolate Cake, $5.95
Hello, four-tier cake! This cake was so incredibly dense and rich, and the serving was gigantic can you can tell. The mint flavor was subtle, a very nice change from many chocolate-mint desserts which can be too overpowering. The waiter explained that Creme de Menthe is the source of the mint flavor, and the reason for the subtlety. The chocolate ice cream and whipped cream on the side aided in our slow but study destruction of the decadent cake by giving us a little texture and temperature relief.

Apple Crisp, Burnt Caramel & Toffee Crunch, $6.50
Goodness gracious, this apple crumble was such a winner. Topped with a heaping scoop of maple walnut ice cream, the warm and cold combination was delicious. The toffee crunch, softened apples mingled with burnt caramel and maple walnut flavors made this quite an addictive dessert. This blows your mama's apple crumb (or apple pie, at that) out of the water.

Angel Food Cake "Sandwiches" with Three Fruit Sherbert, $5.95
This dessert was described as the "bizarre" choice on the menu by the waiter when Melissa questioned him. It simply is exactly as it looks - slices of well-made homemade angel food cake sandwiched balls of flavorful, but not too sweet, fruit sherbert and fresh fruit. It was a welcome break from the rich desserts and fun to play around with, but not anything worth writing home about.

Chipwich & Shake, $5.95
The final dessert to come out, this sampler plate is a great value for the variety in flavor. The chipwich was composed of two triple chocolate cookies hugging a filling of caramel ice cream and decorated with crunchy chocolate pearls. The shake was a simple vanilla ice cream shake, spiked with Jim Bean! Unlike the first milkshake, which was more balanced in the use of liquor, this basic (but delicious) vanilla flavor couldn't handle the Jim Bean. The liquor came on strong! The chipwich was tasty, the thin cookies having a bit more chew and less crunch than your typical cartwheel. The caramel ice cream had a pure flavor and the jimmies added a great pop in the mouth.

The Bottom Dollar

Gus and Gabriel is such an economical steal. The food is obviously made of high quality ingredients, not to mention plenty of care and love, and the prices are most definitely set to encourage the neighborhood feeling. $14 for a fully loaded burger? $5 for mozzarella balls? Delicious $7 desserts? Completely worth it, and beyond. Well worth the journey for "out of towners" coming from Brooklyn and below 14th st.

The Bottom Line

Emily says: I cannot truly articulate my excitement about and enjoyment of my meal at Gus and Gabriel. This restaurant embodies basking in guilty pleasures, and I highly recommend it. Chum up with the waiters, enjoy a beer or two and a spiked shake and make this place your neighborhood spot, whether you live in the Upper West Side or Brooklyn.

Melissa says: If every gastropub were like this, I'd reconsider where I go for my meals. It's great that you can really taste the freshness of the preparation and quality of ingredients without having to attribute that kind of care to fine dining. Pub food, you've met your savior.