The Dutch, Brunch
131 Sullivan Street, New York NY 10012 (at Prince; map); 212-677-6200; thedutchnyc.com
Service: Friendly, competent, casual
Must-Haves: Eggs with smoked sable, cornmeal flapjacks
Cost: Brunch entrees $16-21
Our ideal late-night food isn't too different from our ideal brunch food—except that there are probably more eggs involved in the latter. On both counts, we're looking for something substantial and soul-satisfying, not too dressed-up, appropriately indulgent, often fried; good cocktails and relaxed service are a plus too.
So given how much we liked the late-night menu at The Dutch, Andrew Carmellini's newish Soho restaurant, it's no surprise that we were pretty taken with brunch, as well.
Brunch service began earlier this summer, and we'd been looking forward to it; the better to enjoy fried chicken and biscuits without the nightly crush of drinkers and eaters that crowd the place. Midnight revelers don't get to appreciate the two full walls of enormous windows that let light stream in at brunchtime, illuminating the bistro-like space in a golden glow—it's the sort of place you end up wanting to linger for one more cup of (attentively refilled) coffee even after your final bites are gone. And we'd bet you will finish those final bites, because these are the kind of brunch dishes that are hard to stop eating, the ones that draw your fork back, five or ten minutes past your No! I'm done! point. (At least, that was our experience.)
Pastry chef Kierin Baldwin's pastry board ($14) is a fine way to start a meal. Baldwin worked under inestimable baker Karen DeMasco (pastry chef at Carmellini's Locanda Verde) for years, and their sensibilities here are very much the same: breakfast treats that are resolutely traditional but just interesting enough to surprise, and good enough to make classics seem exciting. There's a blueberry muffin that I'd nominate for inclusion in this hall of fame, the rare buckwheat muffin that manages to be light rather than dense and gritty, with the grain's nutty, toasted flavor; it's speckled with juicy summer blueberries and topped with a crumbly streusel that adds a sparing sweet touch. Similarly excellent were a dense, moist banana nut bread which has the flavor of that fruit that most banana breads lack, and a lemon-buttermilk doughnut with an incredibly fine crumb and a sharp, citrusy glaze.
Like the buckwheat muffin, the cornmeal flapjacks ($17) avoided all the usual problems of a tricky ingredient; cornmeal pancakes too are often leaden and sandy-textured, but these are airy as can be, golden brown with a pronounced corn flavor—like an excellent corn muffin that's been buttered and griddled, but with enviable lacy edges that other pancakes can only aspire to. It's topped with a blueberry syrup that hits the right balance of sweet and tart, in the way great berries do.
If that wasn't our favorite dish, the soft scrambled eggs ($21) were; true to their name, they're delicate and jiggly, remarkably rich (thanks to a little creme fraiche) and good enough to be a brunch dish in their own right, though of course there's more going on—here, smoked sable and trout roe. We loved the egg-on-egg setup, the bright, salty pops of roe against the impossibly creamy scrambled eggs. A toasted bagel (from Orwashers) is a perfectly tasty base on which to layer or slather.
What about drinks? The deeply fragrant and refreshing Dutch Iced Tea ($12), with gin, Pimms, and the orange liqueur Mandarine Napoleon managed to bring out the flavor of the cucumber and the tea. We were reminded of marmalade--this stuff is perfect for accompanying a leisurely exploration of the pastry board.
At dinner service, the egg okonomiyaki is another egg-on-egg situation, the Japanese egg pancake crowned with a poached egg; at brunch ($17), it's a little more restrained in that respect, but indulgent in every other: fatty, fork-tender pork belly join shrimp in this massive creation. Wispy bonito flakes wave and curl on top, as if beckoning to you, as the plate is set on your table. Try not to let that unnerve you.
Less novel, but no less tasty, fried eggs ($16) with hominy grits and chorizo is a fine skillet of food, its flavors bright and vivid—loose chorizo that's spiced and vinegared and just salty enough, a salsa verde that's more tart than hot. The chips that crown it all make you realize that you don't spend enough time dipping good tortilla chips into runny egg yolk.
The Most Difficult To Eat award goes to the pork and egg breakfast roll ($16), a massive pile of pork crowned with an over-easy egg that punctures and drips when you plop the second bun on. While there was a touch more sauce than we'd like (especially when you add in the drip-factor of that yolk), it's sauce we do like, sultry and smoky, its sweetness balanced by vinegar and pepper.
And then there are the burgers and fried chicken and pie we liked on the late-night menu, comfort food equally suited to the end of a long night or the morning after it. Just as at every other meal, brunch at The Dutch finds you a gut-level satisfying, but always interesting, sort of American fare—some classic, some less so, but in a way that never seems contrived or unfocused.
It's food that's meant to be enjoyed; and we do.