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Monthly Archives: November 2008

A Proper Sunday Brunch

French ToastThanks to graduate school, I have been bad at actually getting around to writing about the restaurants I visit. Back when Mango Mama and Daddy Salmon were in town— a fantastic, but too-short visit— we went to a number of good places. On Daddy Salmon’s last day in town we met up for brunch with my uncle Chocolate Cake and my aunt Lady Lasagne who came into the city from Long Island. Our meeting place was Sarabeth’s Kitchen, which offers a fine and relatively affordable example of a classic Sunday brunch.

Bloody MarySarabeth’s is a breezy space with lots of light and a hint of a country home feel. The wait was a fairly manageable half hour— pretty decent for the Upper West Side on a Sunday. Empanada Boy got into the spirit of things right after we sat down, ordering himself a Bloody Mary. The drink was attractively garnished with julienned peppers, onions and pickles. The flavor was well balanced, with a nice kick of vinegary hot sauce, although I prefer my Bloody Marys a little thicker than this one.

The menu at Sarabeth’s consists of staples like oatmeal (in Baby, Mama and Papa Bear sizes) with fruit toppings and omelets various fillings. Mango Mama and Lady Lasagne went for the fluffy garden omelet with various vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese. Mango Mama got hers with a nice, crumbly currant scone.

Lemon pancakesSarabeth Levine, the mastermind behind the whole operation, is best known for her baked goods. She apparently started out with a bakery business, selling her scones, breads, cookies, cakes and jams. The restaurant came afterward, as another way to display her baking talents. Considering this, I thought it would be worthwhile to try some of the sweeter breakfast options. I ordered the lemon and ricotta pancakes with fresh berries. From the outside, these look like plain old pancakes, but they have lemon zest cooked right into them. This gives them a bright, tangy edge, which is then counteracted by the subtle, rich ricotta. They were so lemony that I thought the syrup had lemon in it too.

Potato WafflesDaddy Salmon and Chocolate Cake had bowls of porridge followed by the pretty “Fat and Fluffy French Toast,” shown above. These were good, but not really any better than the French toast Mango Mama and I make with our leftover challah at home. True to his experimental streak, EB opted for the potato waffles with chicken-apple sausage, apple sauce and sour cream. They were basically latke waffles, but not as good. They lacked the delicious oily, crispiness of latkes, which are basically their best features. I guess that’s what happens when you try to mess with tradition.

All in all, Sarabeth’s Kitchen was a good choice for brunch. Some of my past complaints about brunch food being easily replicable at home still stand here, but for the most part, they make an extra effort to set their food apart. If I go back, I will try the cheese blintzes and more of the baked goods. The restaurant also serves lunch and dinner, but on a lazy Sunday, who needs lunch when you can have brunch?

Sarabeth’s Kitchen
423 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10024
212.496.6280

Sarabeth's on Urbanspoon

A Soul Food Sampler

Fried Chicken at Charles'Living in a relatively ungentrified part of Harlem has some drawbacks for food lovers. There are no bagels, no espresso bars, no wine stores and almost no sit-down restaurants. But, as Empanada Boy and I found, living here can also have its culinary advantages. These are particularly evident if you live, as we do, within a quick trot of Charles’ Southern Style Kitchen. This small storefront has a few tables and a case where you can select from a short list of soul food offerings and delicious, mainly vegetable, sides. On Sundays there is a buffet line with a tremendous all-you-can-eat offering for around $10. We went there on a Monday night with Mango Mama and met Charles Gabriel himself. He told us that he makes most of the food at the fancier Upper West Side kitchen of Rack and Soul where he is soul food chef. (Memphis in May 2008 champion John Wheeler is pitmaster there.)

BBQ ChickenCharles’ specialty is the fried chicken (pictured above), which he reportedly cooks in massive cast iron skillets. He seasons the pieces for at least 8 hours, dips them in egg and fries them in soybean oil. The result is some of the lightest, crunchiest fried skin I’ve ever tasted. This delightful shell gives way to moist, flavorful meat that is difficult to stop eating, despite the ever encroaching state of fullness. Just ask EB. He finished his chicken, sweet potatoes and collard greens and then had to go home to lie down. I ordered the barbecue chicken and was entranced by the sweet, slightly spicy sauce coating the tender, smoky meat. Collard greens were salty and rich with ham hock flavor. Similarly seasoned black-eyed peas exploded in my mouth like morsels of candy. I took some of my chicken and sides home for EB’s lunch, and I was still full. Mango Mama’s barbecue pork ribs were falling off the bone and coated in the same sauce.

Fried Chicken with Green Beans at SpoonbreadThe heavenly fried chicken at Charles’ invited comparison with Spoonbread, another Harlem soul food spot I had visited a week or so earlier. This one is located across from Morningside Park, not far from Columbia. It is a pleasant sit-down cafe with big windows facing the street. When I tasted the fried chicken there, I thought it had all I could ask for. But after trying Charles’, I’m afraid Spoonbread’s just doesn’t match up. The fried exterior here was heavier and less flaky than Charles’, and, while the meat was tender, it’s flavor didn’t hold a candle to the depth of Charles’ long-seasoned pieces.

Spoonbread does have better atmosphere and far more menu variety, but I don’t think I’ll ever crave it as much as I do Charles’. On the other hand, that might also have something to do with their locations: it’s hard to compete with just around the corner from my house.

Charles’ Southern Style Kitchen
2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
New York, NY 10039
212.926.4313

Spoonbread
366 W. 110th St.
New York, NY 10025
212.865.6744

Charles' Southern Style Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too on Urbanspoon