Let’s Do Brunch on the Lower East Side
You no doubt know of Katz’s Deli as a prime location for brunch in the Lower East Side, but what about La Contenta for enchiladas, Cafe Katja for cheese-filled sausages, or Baz Bagel for year-round fried matzo? Below are some of our favorite LES brunch spots, where you can feast on everything from old-school bagels with lox to fresh-from-the-oven zucchini bread.
Four Clinton Street (at East Houston Street)
As its name indicates, Clinton St. Baking Company began as a wholesale bakery, and its buttermilk biscuits draw crowds from all over the city and beyond. Because one cannot live by biscuit alone, Clinton St. offers plenty of other hearty breakfast fare, made with eggs from cage-free chickens, local produce, and dairy from family farms. The steel-cut oats are made with milk from Salem, NY’s Battenkill Farm, roasted apples, toasted almonds, and cinnamon sugar; the Southern Breakfast consists of eggs any style, sugar-cured bacon, cheese grits, and fried green tomatoes; the fried chicken and waffles features a honey-Tabasco sauce and warm maple butter made with high-grade maple syrup. If you are seated after 11:30—and given how long the lines can be, you might be if you do not arrive when the restaurant opens as 9 a.m.—you can also opt for a seafood po’boy or veggie tacos, among other lunch entrees.
17 Orchard Street (between Canal and Hester Streets)
The Fat Radish brings the flavors of the countryside to the Lower East Side. Dishes such as bubble and squeak (fried cabbage, potatoes, onions, and eggs), Scotch eggs, and a full English breakfast reveal the farm-to-table restaurant’s British roots. You need not be an Anglophile to find something to please your palate, however. Start with house-made doughnuts or warm zucchini bread served with tomato butter, then proceed to chilaquiles with guajillo salso, parmesan and cheddar cheeses, and sunny-side-up eggs, or a kale caesar salad, or crispy potatoes cooked in flavorful duck fat and served with green garlic aioli. The restaurant’s brick walls, farmhouse tables, and wood benches complement the menu’s emphasis on quality, time-honored natural ingredients, many of them sourced from local farms.
127 Orchard Street (between Delancey and Rivington Streets)
Joel Russ launched his business in 1907 by selling pickled herring from a pushcart. By 1914 he had prospered enough to open a store, expanding his wares to other smoked and cured fish as well as dairy products. Today the business, run by the fourth generation of the family, operates a shop in Brooklyn, a café in the Jewish Museum, and this eatery as well as the LES store. Pickled herring is still on the menu, as are a variety of smoked salmons, whitefish, and sable. Other traditional offerings include knishes, chopped liver served with matzo, potato latkas, borscht, and kasha varnishkes. Far more upscale than what Joel Russ sold are the caviar offerings and champagne. Cocktails include the potent Schmoozer (rye, aquavit, Peychaud’s bitters, Angostura bitters, and a touch of Herbsaint) and an alcoholic egg cream made with Kings County Distillery Chocolate Whiskey. The house-made sodas, in flavors including coffee, blueberry, and cucumber, are equally enticing. And speaking of enticing, check out the babka ice-cream sandwich and the halvah ice cream.
181 Grand Street (between Mulberry and Baxter Streets)
Serving Ashkenazi Jewish classics in a Little Italy eatery that looks as if it could be a gathering spot for snowbirds in Boca Raton, Baz is something of a metaphor for the Lower East Side. The gravlax is cured in-house, the small-batch bagels are hand-rolled and kettle-boiled before being baked, and the latkes and chicken soup are made from the recipes of founder Bari Musacchio’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who lived in the Lower East Side. If you yearn to eat matzo brei—a version of French toast made with matzo instead of bread that is popular during Passover—year-round, Baz is the place to come. You can also opt for sandwiches that your bubbie would never have conceived of, such as the Emerald City (flying fish roe, Nova salmon, and wasabi cream cheese on a pumpernickel bagel) and the King (peanut butter, honey, and banana on a whole-wheat bagel). While you can opt for wine or a mimosa, why would you given that you can slurp an egg cream or a malted milkshake instead?
205 East Houston Street (at Ludlow Street)
The “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in “When Harry Met Sally” may have introduced Katz’s Deli to the rest of the country, but New Yorkers have been flocking here for pastrami on rye for generations. (The deli opened in 1888.) The sandwiches are huge, and if you do complete one in a single sitting, a cholesterol test might be in order. In addition to sandwiches, burgers, and the frankfurters for which Katz’s first became famous, you can partake of corned-beef, pastrami, or tongue omelets, knishes (potato, kasha, broccoli, sweet-potato, or spinach), matzo ball soup, or kugel (aka noodle pudding), among other traditional Eastern European Jewish dishes.
124 Rivington Street (between Norfolk and Essex Streets)
Essex’s brunch menu reflects the melting pot that has long been the Lower East Side. The Mexican Matzo Brei, for instance, substitutes tortilla crisps for matzo and tosses in Monterey Jack cheese, black beans, and avocado pico de gallo for good measure; the Aristocrat is potato pancakes and poached eggs with home-cured gravlax, salmon caviar, and sour cream; chorizo or lobster can be added to the macaroni-and-cheese, which is made with Manchego cheese. The house burger is made with short rib and brisket meat, while the vegetarian option is a blend of chickpeas, tofu, and root vegetables; both are served with hand-cut fries and house-made pickles on a brioche bun. If you are feeling especially thirsty, you can choose the set-price option consisting of one entree and all the Bloody Marys, screwdrivers, or mimosas you can drink in 90 minutes (the limit for reservations prior to 3 p.m.) or two hours (for seatings after 3).
102 Norfolk Street (between Delancey and Rivington Streets)
Mexican restaurant La Contenta poses the question “Why settle for avocado toast when you can have fresh guacamole instead?” Other dishes on the brunch menu include camarones al ajillo (shrimp in a buttery garlic sauce), tacos made with fried catfish or hanger steak, chicken or vegetarian enchiladas, and of course, huevos rancheros. Even if Mexican cuisine is not your favorite, you are bound to be delighted by the brunch cocktails. These include Mexican coffee, sangria, a margarita with jalapeño-infused agave nector, and the Michelada al Pastor, made with beer, hot sauce, and homemade pineapple sauce, served in a glass rimmed with pork-skin-flavored salt.
137 Eldridge Street (between Broome and Delancey Streets)
If your palate leans more Old World than New World, Lēna’s French-inspired menu will hit the spot. The roasted brie with rosemary and honey is certain to bolster your joie de vivre, as are the French toast with Nutella and seasonal fruit and the beet salad with apple, arugula, cherry tomatoes, roasted almonds, and cult-favorite Truffle Tremor goat cheese. You can also opt for one of four types of tarte flambée, an Alsatian version of pizza with a thin crust that Lēna makes itself; especially robust is La Parisienne, which includes ham, Gruyère, cherry tomatoes, onions, and nutmeg on a yogurt base and topped with organic eggs. And like any French bistro worthy of the name, its menu includes steak tartare, croques monsieur and madame, and escargots.
68 Clinton Street (between Rivington and Stanton Streets)
Pig & Khao gained renown for its Southeast Asian cuisine, so even the Western standards on its brunch menu are infused with Asian flavors. Steak and eggs, for instance, is served with spicy Thai isaan dipping sauce; corned beef hash is made with garlic, ginger, and Thai chili; doughnuts are filled with pandan custard. Asian dishes include champorado, a Filipino chocolate rice pudding, here enhanced with bacon bits, and banh xeo, a literally sizzling crepe folded around shrimp, bacon, and bean sprouts and served with nuoc cham sauce. Mimosas are available in four varieties—orange, lychee, mango, and white peach—and you can opt for all the mimosas you can drink within a two-hour limit. Beer-lovers might prefer the bottomless self-serve Narragansett draft beer, while teetotalers can savor a sweet-and-sour cilantro soda.
79 Orchard Street (between Grand and Broome Streets)
Austrian cuisine may seem like an odd fit for the Lower East Side, but the neighborhood did receive an influx of Mitteleuropa immigrants in the 19th century. From the outside Cafe Katja calls to mind a Viennese café, and once inside you can tuck into wiener schnitzel, goulash with spâtzle, and berner würstel (cheese-filled sausages wrapped in bacon). If this feels too heavy for brunch, you can also choose the likes of French toast, avocado toast, and red quinoa with squash, greens, and avocado served with tomatillo salsa and a poached egg. Regardless of what you select, you can get into the spirit of the place by starting with a pretzel served with mustard and other spreads accompanied with apfelsaftschorle, or sparkling apple juice.