For some restaurants, brunch is an afterthought; for Filipino pop-up Maharlika, it's the only meal served. The menu is filled with words likely unfamiliar to the average New Yorker, and the result is an exciting dining experience—not only for what many of us find a novelty, but for the quality of the cooking and the jovial atmosphere once you're there.
It's hard to order without asking questions, and since the early crowd consists of both curious eaters and Filipinos looking for a taste of home, the latter become eager educators right along with the staff. The dynamic is genuinely convivial—proof that food really can bring people together.
While you wait for your food, a few treats arrive. First, a mug casually filled up with garlic crisped nuts; then, a plateful of grease-less fried chicken skins served with a signature house-marinated vinegar. GM Nicole Ponseca works the dining room while partner and fellow Filipino Enzo Lim—who has worked towards this concept for over two years—shakes drinks and serves orders behind the bar. Many of the customers know one or both, but few will leave without a formal introduction.
And then the food arrives.
Lim had recommended the Eggs iMelda ($15, pictured at top) to several diners before I asked what the hot seller was turning out to be; the Florentine-inspired, French-inflected dish is one of the only marks of fusion on the menu. (The rest is more straightforwardly Filipino).
The base is made of Pandesal, a doughy yeast bread with the richness of lard and a slight salty bite. In eggs Florentine, you get spinach, but here, you get Laing, a deeply flavorful bed of shredded taro root leaves cooked down and softened with coconut milk, shrimp paste, and chilies. The heat doesn't quite come across, but the savory-sweet of the shrimp and coconut shows both refinement and subtlety. Two perfectly poached eggs commingle with a Calamansi lime hollandaise, whose tartness offsets the sauce's rich body. Grilled prawns are served with their shells—a dramatic visual—and while the side salad was unfortunately over-salted, fries made with kamote, a Filipino sweet potato, were impossible to resist.
On cold days like the ones we've been facing lately, the Arroz Caldo ($11) is nothing but comfort. A rice-based porridge with shredded chicken, garlic and ginger, it's got the tender chew of oatmeal with the heartiness of chicken stew. Sometimes omassum—tripe from the cow's third stomach—makes it into the dish, and other times it doesn't. Ask ahead as things may run out.
Reservations aren't just recommended; they're necessary, unless you have very good luck. Email Ponseca at [email protected] or text her at 917-710-5457 for your ticket in. Maharlika is slated to run through March, but the team is actively looking to pop up somewhere nearby on a much more permanent basis.
About the author: Nikki Goldstein is a freelance food and nutrition writer living in New York City. Aside from her Gadgets and Brunch columns here at Serious Eats, you can find her writing in SELF and the New York Post's new iPad edition, The Daily. Even in her 500-square-foot studio, she devotes an entire walk-in-closet to all things gadget-related..