My wife had an excellent suggestion on a recent Sunday morning after we tried, unsuccessfully, to have brunch at two separate Uptown restaurants: “Why don’t we open up a place and get people really excited about it with a lot of buzz, serve mediocre food that just gets worse and treat everybody who comes in like s—-,” she said. “We’ll be an instant success.”
Why not, I thought. That approach works well for national government, and on a closer level it’s been pretty successful in New Orleans, where the affordable breakfast options are scarce, making the breakfast game a sellers’ market rife for abuses, especially for weekend brunch.
Before I go any further, let me make plain there are exceptions to this: most notably Brennan’s, where breakfast remains a perfect, diner-placating institution (albeit not an inexpensive one); Elizabeth’s, where homespun Southern brunches should be the subject of prose poems; and even Camellia Grill, where omelets and waffles have been consistently decadent for decades. There are others (a very short list) that I’d include with little argument, but I’m not singing praises today.
I’d rather regale you with some examples that epitomize the breakfast failures of this town, small and large. Breakfast should, after all, be the simplest task for a kitchen to take on, and a glance at the long, snaky lines at those few venues that do it reliably well—for example the Bluebird Café—would seem to illustrate well enough to any restaurateur there’s a pretty good market for it in these parts. And yet …
Consider Joey K’s, for instance. I happen to know that they do a very nice, very simple breakfast once a week. And if you happen to get up before 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning only, you might be able to try it. Of course, likely as not they will already have run out of biscuits the closer you get to the appointed hour on the clock. And should you step inside just five minutes after that appointed time, you’re getting lunch or you’re getting out.
Exhibit B: Blue Plate Café. Here is a new Lower Garden District venue that serves breakfast and lunch only. I would love to wax elegiac about its breakfasts, and the menu certainly offers much promise. Alas, I cannot, as twice I’ve tried to partake of this meal with no success. You see, although this newcomer to the scene only serves the first two meals of the day, once 11:30 a.m. rolls around, breakfast menus are locked away until the next morning (except Sundays).
On a recent visit, I beseeched my waiter (at 11:45 a.m.—I confess I am a late sleeper on Saturdays, but is this a fatal flaw in a 24-hour city?) that I really wanted breakfast, and couldn’t I just order this delicious-sounding crawfish étouffée omelet? No, he informed me, coldly. The kitchen stops serving breakfast at 11:30. And they let me walk out rather than capitulate.
What’s the big complication, I’m left to wonder. Must the cooks focus all of their energies on the intricacies of lunch at that point? Are the eggs sent back to the farmer? Is it an offense to the cooks’ sensibilities?
Exhibit C: Surrey’s. In this space and elsewhere, I have, in the past (and quite recently) spoken very highly of this café and juice bar. Fond as I am of its Williamsburg (Brooklyn)-esque atmosphere and excellent—if exceedingly expensive—juices, I have tried to overlook a certain deterioration in the kitchen over the last year and a half, as dishes have become notably inconsistent in their execution and weekend mornings have been consistently understaffed in the front of the house. My patience comes to an abrupt end, however, when the restaurateur himself, Greg Surrey, is heard to berate his customers in front of others—a spectacle to which I have now been privy to more than once.
It’s one thing to let your restaurant start to slide, but you’ve gone off the edge of reason when you’re snarling at your diners. Time, perhaps, to look for some position that doesn’t involve dealing with the public. A friend of mine has always, for some reason, referred to Surrey’s as Surly’s. I’m not correcting him any longer. And these days I’m having brunch at home—it’s a hell of a lot less hassle.
Getting Savvy, Waiting in Line
The Savvy Gourmet will make its home in permanent digs at 4519 Magazine St. later this month in a 4,500-square-foot space tricked out with all of the newest Viking range appliances. According to spokesperson Liz Goliwas, the new venue will feature gourmet cookware and boutique catering services along with a cooking school geared to locals. Classes will be held daily, including weekday “lunch and learn” classes, hands-on workshops and “Savvy sessions,” in which instruction is given to small groups around a kitchen island. For more information, call the Savvy Gourmet at 895-2665 (COOK), or visit it on the Web at www.savvygourmet.com.
Galatoire’s will be celebrating its 100th year in business in 2005, and to kick it off, the restaurant is attempting to set a world record for the longest line on Jan. 10, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Personally, I don’t think they stand a chance against the DMV or Southwest Airlines, but hope springs eternal, I guess. To sweeten the inducement, Galatoire’s will be randomly awarding prizes to those who wait, including a reserved table for six at lunch on the Friday before Mardi Gras and dinner for four. Everyone will be treated to shrimp Remoulade and a commemorative pin declaring “I Stood in Line at Galatoire’s.” Doubtless there are a number of people in this town who feel they’ve earned the right to that pin already.
A Little Blue Hope at Christmas
Finally, though I’ve left off all talk of holiday dining here (doubtless you’ll be reading much about Revillion dinners elsewhere—forgive me if I can’t embrace the subject this year), I would like to leave this last column of the year with a drink recipe that would give even Elvis solace on a blue Christmas. It’s available at Cobalt, where throughout December it will be garnished with a little blue ornament—something, perhaps, to mollify the divisive passions of our red state this holiday season. Have a good holiday season and a hopeful new year.
1 1/2 oz Bombay Sapphire (hence juniper)
2 oz. egg nog
Shake and strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with rosemary sprig. Mini-ornaments as another garnish is optional.
The Savvy Gourmet crew: Aaron Wolfson, Kristen Essig, Peter Menge and Anna Roth by their new location on Magazine Street.