Weekend brunches should be stress-free, but crowded old standbys can be anything but. North River, the new kid on the East Village block, offers a calmer respite. Chef Adam Starowicz, a Momofuku Ko alum, has a brunch menu that's seasonal and crowd-pleasing.
Meat is where that menu shines; it's full of fatty brisket, lamb and sausage, such as the Chinese variety that comes with scrambled eggs. There's also a mean Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich ($12).
Between two halves of a soft roll baked in-house with Maldon salt and black pepper, there's a thick patty of strongly seasoned breakfast sausage made from Niman Ranch pork butt and rubbed sage. Melted Prairie Breeze cheddar and a pile of watercress are kept warm under a blanket of fried egg,.
And while we're on the subject of meat and bread, there's a pretty good Brisket Burger ($15) on the menu, too. The name is something of a misnomer; the blend from West Village butcher Florence Meat Market is actually three parts chuck and only one part brisket. But the rich cut does its job for bold, beefy flavor, and the juicy patty comes topped with cheddar and caramelized red onions. The fries on the side are delightfully crisp, but add salt at the table—they're bland as-is.
Rich can also describe the Lamb Hash ($14). Lamb shank from Debragga is salted then braised for eight hours, then the meat is pulled and tossed with crisp browned Inca gold potatoes and red onions. Cumin, coriander, and Valentia hot sauce add warmth and heat, and a cilantro-mint yogurt sauce cools things down and cuts through the grease. Two fried eggs come on top for good measure.
Even the sides are meaty, such as a vegan coconut Belly Doughnut ($8) that's sliced open, grilled, and stuffed with pork belly and pickles. The soy sauce-flavored pork belly is strangely dry, though, which makes this more of a shareable novelty than a go-to dish.
A better bet is a blast from the past: French Toast Sticks ($8), and they're better than the frozen ones you ate growing up. The "sticks" are rectangular slabs of brioche spiced with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, then baked until their edges turn crispy. Fresh orange juice and bourbon make the glaze. Eat it fast before the whipped cream softens and floods the plate. Better yet, ask for whipped cream on the side so your toast stays crisp.
North River is pretty spacious, with ample seating in the front and back. For now it's a sleeper with a number of winning, if heavily meaty, brunch options. We'll see how long it stays that way.