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.
Posts from the ‘caffeine jolt’ Category
Hudson Street hides a gem, an amazingly cheap, casual, cash-only gem. La Bonbonniere is the size of my bedroom, a long narrow strip of dressed-down Americana. The name gives it some French penache, but La Bonbonniere is really nothing but an American diner with a fancy zipcode.
One room with floor-to-ceiling windows staring off onto Hudson Street where it becomes 8th Avenue, La Bonbonniere seats no more than 34 inside with a few tables on the sidewalk. The plain beige walls are peppered with newspaper clippings, tacked-on American flags, postcards, hand-written letters, old movie posters, and other such random Refrigerator front knick-knacks. Delivery orders come through the old Verizon pay phone stuck to the far wall. Slowly-circling ceiling fans, blue vinyl bar stools under the off-kilter Formica counter, mis-matched faux-wood tables, and plastic flowers stuck to windows complete the diner dive vibe that makes La Bonbonniere so unique in the otherwise snazzy West Village neighborhood.
Short-order cooks prepare classic American comfort food lightening fast. Scrambled eggs, bacon, and white toast come out in less than 5 minutes, piping hot and well-seasoned; oatmeal is thick, heavy and mealy, served in a salad bowl, loaded with brown sugar; omelets, of which there are many offered, come fluffy and stuffed with whatever you want, from the unusual (potato chips, cottage cheese) to the typical (peppers, sausage, onions, tomatoes); burgers and sausages cook in fat on the sizzling griddle, open for all to see behind the counter. The food at La Bonbonniere is greasy and simple, the ideal comfort food for hungover mornings and guilty TV dinners.
Impossibly cheap, La Bonbonniere is wallet-friendly and gut-busting. It’s comfortable, nostalgic for simpler days. As an attitude and pretention-free haven in a neighborhood known for its haute restaurants, La Bonbonniere attracts not only those looking to save a few bucks but also those hiding from sight, most notably celebrities the likes of Kate Winslet, local Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julia Stiles.
Perfect For: greasy breakfast, cheap eats, quick bites solo at the counter, hangover cures
New York is perhaps best known for pizza and diners; classic diners pop up on almost every block and vary wildly from truly awful to exactly the type of hearty comfort food you need. How do you begin to distinguish between those that are good and those that are very very bad? (perhaps a good speciality blog idea…?) Unfortunately, until one such blog pops up, it’s going to be trial, error, and word-of-mouth.
Take my advice on this one, the discreet Red Flame Coffee Shop on W.44th and 6th Avenue will not disappoint. I’m not sure whether its the lightening fast and take-no-prisoners service, the consistently delicious grub, the always strong and always hot coffee, or the general diner nostalgia that makes this particular spot in midtown so popular and so good. All of the above allow the Red Flame to rise above the masses of mediocre diners out there and to shine, brightly, in an otherwise moribund dining neighborhood (fancy TGIFridays?).
The look is what you would expect it to be pure – pure Americana with bright red boothes that you can sink yourself into, table after table of rather grungy New Yorkers tearing into fluffy omelettes, stacks of pancakes, and thick breakfast steaks, a dining bar with scarlet swivel seats, and a quick-moving staff of apparent Greek family members (cousins, aunts, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, and so on and so forth) doling out coffee refills and sharp instructions. In a diner, would you really want anything else?
The menu is endless and fully available all day and all night. Omelettes make a grand showing with 28 varieties available on the menu and many more if you just ask; pancakes and french toast also abound with such options as the banana, peach, and strawberry smother Tropical Belgian Waffle, Lumberjack Pancakes, Cinnamon Raisin French Toast, and Chocolate Chip Pancakes; your usual soup and salad suspects make an appearance with everything from a classic Greek salad to a Turkey Salad, Tuna Nicoise, Grilled Steak Salad, and ‘Popeye’ Salad with spinach and bacon bits. What’s a diner without a burger? The Red Flame grills them up good and well with vegetarian options, a bison burger, a pizza burger, and your typical bacon cheeseburger (my favorite!). Lastly, an overwhelming list of Greek specials and hot entrees offers everything from chicken souvlaki, buffalo wings and fried chicken to fish cakes, broiled scrod, fried scallops, and shrimp scampi to moist meatloaf, lamp chop, beef liver with onion, and breaded veal parmigiana.
The big shocker? Most of this stuff is surprisingly good. It’s not haute cuisine, and it’s certainly not culinary artwork; yet, it’s simple and comfortable without frills and frippery. The Red Flame epitomizes the American diner while serving coffee thats not burnt and food that’s fresh and home-made.
Perfect For: a New York diner experience, coffee hit, big morning breakfast, fried food fiesta, cheap and hearty dinner
Situated conveniently on the tourist-ridden corner of Prince and Mercer (kitty corner from Mercer Kitchen, J Crew and the Apple Store), Zoe blends the traditional concept of a family restaurant with the ‘chic-ness’ needed to survive in Soho.
Sometimes, when I feel like treating myself to an over-priced iced cappucino and pastry, I pop into Financier, coffee provider to the bankers, traders, and wannabes of Wall St.
The scene is swank (for a coffee shop), French brasserie-style, populated with well-dressed yuppies in Brooks Brothers shirts, pressed slacks, and lace-ups. Bright cool colors, big windows, and outdoor tables almost convince you that if this coffee and pastry shop were to be picked up off its foundation and transplanted to Nice, it would fit in splendidly.
Need a break from the office but don’t have the time to languish over a long lunch? Desperately seeking an effective caffeine jolt? Craving sweet treats with a touch of elegance? Meander over to your local Financier to pick up an iced coffee and madeleine – for those 10 minutes, you’ll escape the frigid sterile office floor and luxuriate in elegant coffee shop splendor.