Brunch is a New York-y thing to do, and finding your neighborhood’s best brunch is almost a right of passage for those new to an area. Lucky for me, I had the inside scoop from a friend already living in Chelsea, and so finding the best brunch nearby was easy as pie. The winner? La Grainne, a no-pretense French cafe with some of the most flavorful food as I’ve had in Manhattan.
Located on the corner of 21st and 9th Avenue, La Grainne is in the heart of Chelsea – and you can tell that most of its clientele are locals that just keep coming back. After treating myself to a few meals here, with friends, family and just by myself, I can certainly see why it’s so loved; La Grainne is a total gem! It doesn’t have a name that pops up in Grubstreet or Eater or the New York Times as a ‘hotspot’ for weekend brunches, and that’s part of the charm. There’s no fuss, no muss here with a staff that is both friendly and wildly efficient, a rustic cobbled-together decor, and a menu of crowd-pleasers.
The small dining room is almost always packed to the gills at lunch hour, both during the week and on weekends. Crowds will mill awkwardly at the door, spilling out onto the small sidewalk patio, until a table opens up. The open kitchen is the beating heart of the restaurant, always bustling, throbbing with energy, and surrounded by soaring lush bouquets of fresh flowers. Bistro-style furniture crowds almost every inch of floor-space, pushing diners elbow-to-elbow at peak hours. The best seats are those in the window, away from the crush at the center of the dining room, swathed in natural lighting, and prime spots for some pretty quality people-watching. The feel is warm, vibrant, relaxed – the perfect neighborhood spot that you can just keep going back to time and time again.
Perhaps the best thing about La Grainne though is the food. It’s hearty and comforting, the sort of un-prissy French food that makes you wish you were in Paris…all the time. And the best part? It’s relatively inexpensive and served in truly massive portions. The menu reads like a laundry list of classic Parisian favorites: gooey and pungent french onion soup, escargots in a traditional garlic butter sauce, quiche lorraine, the largest salad nicoise you’ll have in a Manhattan restaurant, a simple yet delicious bowl of mussels marineres, both sweet and savory crepes, golden roasted chicken with potatoes, and of course decadent desserts like tarte tatin, creme brulee and chocolate mousse. The croque monsieur and croqur madame sandwiches are marvelous, made with thick crusty bread, hearty slices of ham, and gooey gruyere cheese; they’re not too greasy and big enough to feed a small army. For a lighter sandwich option, try the baguette au fromage; simply a toasted baguette with layers of creamy soft brie (or swiss) cheese, this Parisian lunch favorite is easy on the stomach and luscious without over-doing it.
The ratatouille is somewhat of a house specialty at La Grainne, and it’s just about mind-blowingly delicious; a blend of baked tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and onions, this rendition of a French ‘peasant’ dish is immensely flavorful, aggressively seasoned, and nothing short of perfect with a slice of crusty bread. Similarly mouth-wateringly good is the brunch special ‘oeuf maison,’ a house egg dish featuring a delicate poached egg perched atop a moist potato cake, all surrounded in a pool of the ratatouille. It’s a hangover cure in a dish and not in the least bit prissy.
La Grainne is just wonderful – great for enjoying soul-satisfying meals with friends or for sipping a citron presse over a goat cheese salad with the day’s paper. It’s got an infectious energy, making it quite literally a ‘happy place.’ And the best part? There are no pretensions here – not among the crowd, the staff, or the food. It’s just simple, friendly, delicious. What more could you ask for from the neighborhood hangout?
francophiles, Chelsea locals, weekend brunching, a solo lunch, people-watching on the patio