TABLETALK: BRUNCH BY THE BUNCH
Brunch is a curious meal when you think about it. It warps genres, breaking meals down into their constituent parts then rearranging them in enticing new combinations. Want a couple poached eggs atop your filet mignon? Brunch has that. Or would you prefer some turtle soup with your bread pudding French toast? Brunch shall provide. Brunch allows a diner to not feel self-conscious while ordering a bloody Mary with his pancakes. To top it off, brunch is usually a pretty good deal. That said, here are a couple of places that present very good variations on this theme.
A mouthwatering brunch item at Dante’s Kitchen.
Funky and casual, Dante’s Kitchen in the Riverbend neighborhood shines with many dishes priced under $10 and none heading north of $13. A chalkboard hanging above the cheerful orange and yellow walls highlights ingredients purchased from local purveyors. “Our dairy comes from Smith Creamery,” says the manager on one visit. “And we get our duck sausage locally as well.”
Dante’s Eggs Benedict employs roasted pork tenderloin medallions encrusted with coarse sea salt and fresh rosemary. The salt of the pork and the richness of the eggs found contrast against a honey-drizzled biscuit, and the freshly-made hollandaise imparted faint notes of lemon. The Steak and Eggs presents two small grilled tenderloins upon a bed of hash browns, topped with poached eggs and béarnaise sauce. The filet was cooked medium rare and the yolk in the perfectly poached eggs was barely set. Weather permitting, secure a seat on the patio and prepare to while away a pleasant morning in this relaxed setting.
Another nearby option is the newcomer Refuel on Hampson Street. The sleek, minimalist décor doesn’t lend itself to the long-form brunch the way Dante’s Kitchen does, but the food here is quite good and an even better deal, as none of the prices crack double digits.
The Huevos Rancheros, a woefully under-represented dish locally, was excellent. The waffles were light and airy, served with fresh fruit and thin, ephemeral, real maple syrup. The Peanut Butter and ‘Nanners waffle triggered nostalgia, and the Nutella waffle tickled a pleasure center in the brain. This is a great place to grab a quick bite if you have a busy day ahead and need a place to pop in before tackling weekend chores.
For diners who would prefer to settle in rather than pack stuff into their morning, Martinique Bistro now offers a weekend brunch. Best enjoyed on their serene, jewel-like patio, their brunch menu is particularly refined as it borrows heavily from their excellent dinner menu. Here the dishes lean more toward the savory. You won’t find Belgian waffles, but you will find Buckwheat Crêpes with scrambled eggs, apple-smoked bacon and Gruyère cheese. Among the starters is a Jumbo Lump Crab Corn Salad, a cylinder of tossed salad crowned with a mound of delicate crabmeat. A bit overdressed, this shortcoming is offset by the healthy serving of jumbo lump.
A lighter salad option is the Belgian Endive with Apples, Bleu cheese, Walnuts and White Balsamic Vinaigrette. The flavors and textures chase each other through a range of sensations: The bitterness of endive is softened by the cheese, which is cut by the vinaigrette then tempered by the earthiness of the nuts. The apples contribute crunch and sweetness.
The Socca, a chickpea crêpe filled with braised lamb, roasted peppers, tomato and basil, is a natural choice given the Provençal setting of the patio. A half-moon of a crêpe sits in a fragrant broth of rich jus, garnished with a fresh sprig of basil. Tender shreds of lamb were scattered throughout the crêpe and the vegetables had echoes of ratatouille.
For a taste of things closer to home, the Low Country Barbecue Shrimp with Andouille and Stone Ground Grits is a winner. Coarsely ground grits and a respectable serving of shrimp bathe in a sauce with a touch of sweetness that offsets the spice of the andouille. Garnished with fresh tarragon, this is a wonderful dish.
Taking it up to the next level in terms of formality, Table One at the corner of Magazine Street and Washington Avenue showcases a beautifully restored space featuring a long, graceful bar on the ground floor with plenty of seating in an elegant dining room upstairs. Traditional dishes receive subtle and original tweaks here under the auspices of Chef Gerard Maras. For example, a simple Prosciutto and Melon appetizer is enlivened with a sweet lime dressing, and black currant syrup and mascarpone add depth and richness to a fruit plate.
Humble French Toast gets dressed up a bit, served with layers of maple-glazed ham and sautéed apples. The toast had a pleasant, custard-like consistency and came well-crisped on the outside. For those wanting something savory, the Petite Filet Mignon and Egg makes for a true breakfast of champions. Nothing like a little marchand de vin sauce over a filet topped with a hollandaise-enrobed poached egg to get you going in the morning. A high-octane choice, it’s accompanied by a pan-fried grit cake to seal the deal. A Green Apple Sorbet made for a refreshing dessert. A more decadent option is Sofia’s Chocolate Cake, created by and named for Gerard’s daughter.
For another upscale brunch, head over to Ralph’s on the Park. Attractively appointed with hand-painted murals and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking City Park, Ralph’s presents traditional brunch dishes alongside reinterpretations featuring fusion twists.
Duck Confit Egg Rolls were filled with tasty shreds of duck confit, mirliton, carrots, red pepper and onions, then flash-fried in duck fat. Duck fat is the new pork fat, and makes pretty much anything taste better. The rolls might have been paired better with a brighter sauce rather than the accompanying “foie gras syrup ” to offset the roll’s richness but they tasted great without any adornment.
In the Barbecue Shrimp and Grits, six large shrimp were fanned around a mound of grits in a sauce that imparted a nice, savory slow burn and likely came from nothing fancier than some fresh cracked black pepper. Served with a garnish of diced green onions, this is one dish that will please the locals.
A dessert must be mentioned – the Homemade S’mores will pull any retro heartstrings you might have. Four large marshmallows on lollipop sticks are bruleed then served alongside a ramekin of molten chocolate sauce for dunking. This prepares them for a roll in a mound of crumbled graham crackers. The marshmallows have a rich, chewy texture. This was a great dessert: not only delicious but also interactive. Perhaps indulge in the Brennan’s trademark chicory coffee, which is notable not only for its rich flavor but also its seeming ability to absorb cream, sugar, visible light and quite possibly gravity.
New Orleans offers a range of places to either start your day or spend it and with prices usually a fraction of what you might pay for a dinner at the same place, brunch makes good sense. With the arrival of springtime, now is a good time to get out and discover the more casual side to some of our great restaurants.
736 Dante St.
8124 Hampson St.
5908 Magazine St.
2800 Magazine St.
Ralph’s on the Park
900 City Park Ave.