Start your perfect Saturday or Sunday in leisurely fashion at one of the best brunch places on the Lower East Side. If the wait’s too long at popular brunch spot Clinton St Baking Company, there’s no shortage of worthy alternatives in the area for baked goods and egg breakfasts.
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The Francophone greasy spoon, love child of bistro and diner, has become its own New York restaurant genre. This newcomer lacks the scruffy charm of predecessors like the late Florent, but Belgian chef Mathieu Palombino brings his obsessive eye for detail to bear upon a whole roster of short-order classics. The show-stealer is a classic Reuben made with house-smoked corned beef and piled high with just enough melted Swiss and tangy kraut. There’s traditional Gallic fare, too, tailored for the diner digs: Escargot-style steamed whelks look like truck-stop eats on cafeteria dishware, while a generous bistro steak comes with excellent slim, stubby fries in a tall paper cone on the side. Desserts, like a dense orange blossom donut, could use a bit more work, but the built-to-share spiked milk shakes are fun and offbeat.
The warm buttermilk biscuits and fluffy plate-size pancakes at this pioneering eatery are reason enough to battle the brunch-time crowds. If you want to avoid the onslaught, the homey LES spot is just as reliable at lunch and dinner, when locals drop in for fish tacos and a $10 beer-and-burger special (Mon–Sat 6–8pm): eight ounces of Black Angus topped with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions, served with a Brooklyn Lager, Stella or Red Stripe. And if you must order them, the blueberry pancakes are on the menu day and night.
Venue says: “Happy Hour | Dollar Oysters | Half-Price DrinksMon Tues Wed Fri 5-8 | Thurs 5-Midnight | Sun 6-10”
A slick, sexy refuge for subscribers to the “I am where I eat” school of dining out, Essex can be surprisingly intimate on weeknights, when the lull provides a little breathing room. The corner location is prime and the brunches are mimosa-soaked. The food is not really the point, but it’s fine: Upscale takes on LES staples like potato pancakes strive to give the menu some local cred, and Wednesday’s lobster night is a reliable crowd-pleaser. It’s not the cheapest place on the block, but when you’re arriving from the Upper East Side in a taxi, money’s probably not much of an issue anyway.
Cornerstone Café may be one of the best deals in the East Village. Perhaps it’s because the restaurant is cash only. Perhaps it’s thanks to the no frills atmosphere—exposed brick painted in jewel tones is the only decoration. Regardless, it’s a welcome change to see an $8 cocktail menu in NYC—the restaurant even offers a two for $12 deal. You get what you pay for, though—both the gin martini and the prohibition-inspired The Last Word are merely serviceable. It might be a safer bet to order off the extensive beer and wine list. If the page-long beer list overwhelmed you, the dinner menu might be a tough sell. Largely Italian in its influence, it offers everything from penne vodka ($4—no, that’s not a typo) to burgers ($10) a roasted lamb shank in red wine sauce ($26). Though some of the more elegant dishes fall flat—the salmon fillet ($24) arrives overcooked and oily and the tiramisu ($9) overly bitter—the elevated bar food is more successful. Pungent gruyere adds big flavor to the creamy oven-baked mac and cheese ($16), and the chef batters and fries fresh cheese for the breaded mozzarella appetizer ($9). What Cornerstone Café lacks in execution, it makes up for in friendly, attentive service. Water glasses remain constantly full, and servers always seem ready to offer a recommendation or refill the bread basket. Though it’s not particularly fancy, perhaps that’s not the point. It’s a corner café, as the name suggests—and a charming one, at that. BY COMMUNITY REVIEWER: ANN
Venue says: “Need dinner plans? Think no further. Come try our mouth watering Duck Breast. HAPPY HOUR-Half priced bottles of wine & 2 for 1 cocktails”