GG’s NYC – I Dream of GG’s

Get to GG’s ASAP for the burger. Like, really.

20150601_181856 Don’t bother coming for the atmosphere…well, I guess it is pretty cute. Quaint, ideal for a meal alone at the bar or with a friend.
20150601_181906 It would make a good double date spot but might be a bit too cozy with other tables for a first date. The backyard looks fun for a crew, though.  20150601_190056 Burrata with greens, romesco, and garlic chips
Okay, you can come for this, too. The burrata is wonderfully creamy and paired with more strong, savory flavors than it usually is. I though that those flavors would overwhelm the burrata, but the crispy, pungent garlic chops, earthy romesco, and soft greens just accent the burrata’s creamy, milky taste. Recommended.

20150601_191836 The Grandma Pie 20150601_192009 Thick, buttery crust. Sweet, none-too-fancy tomato sauce. Stretchy, bubbly mozzarella and crispy, spicy discs of pepperoni that curl up and harbor wonderful porky oil. The pie is soft and layered with the flavors of your favorite childhood pie with high end ingredients. If you love Sicilian pie, you will be crazy for this. For my tastes, it’s a little doughy but still worth trying.  20150601_192345 Pan seared burger with white cheddar, melted onions, secreto sauce, and fries

Yep. This is why you come here. This burger is as good as the one at Brindle Room in a totally different way. It has a squishy bun, a thin blanket of sharp cheese, and sweet, pleasantly sticky caramelized onions. Then there is the meat…wow, that meat. It’s juicy and beefy without too much funk or highfalutin taste. It’s not like eating a steak – it’s like eating the best burger you ever had.  20150601_192444 Perfectly pink and juicy, with a swatch of creamy, tangy secreto sauce and a crunchy pickle…this is perfection on a bun. For the price and how substantial it is, it’s currently my favorite burger in town.  20150601_195132

Morgenstern’s raw milk ice cream sandwich

Fabulous! Okay, come for this, too. Thsi ice cream is DYNAMITE! It’s creamy, rich, and clean tasting – almost the burrata of ice cream. The cookies are dark and thick enough to absorb the ice cream’s moisture without getting too soggy.

GG’s is really well priced, has an inviting atmosphere, and serves – for my money – the most satisfying burger in the city. Plus pizza. And some awesome ice cream sandwiches. I guess there is reason besides the burger to come here. But still…the burger is the best reason.

Kura – Hidden Entrance, Unforgettable Omakase

I had an awesome sushi meal the other night.

It was pricier than I thought it might be…but it was really good. In fact, I think that it was worth the extra cost.

If you see an unmarked door on St. Mark’s, don’t pass it by.

Unmarked doors are often the best kept secrets.

20150318_182838 Kura is a small restaurant that delivers big omakase. At 3 set price points – 85, 105, or 125 dollars – your only decisions are if you want sake (you do) and how many pieces of sushi you want (even the smallest set really delivers, thanks to amuse bouches and dessert). The vibe is casual and friendly but you can see that the sushi is serious. There is just one long, blonde bar and a single table. We walked in,but make a reservation to be sure that you aren’t turned away. The chefs are kind and jovial and the music is relaxing – a great place for dinner with a friend or loved one.

Though there were some dishes I’m not featuring here, including a wonderful amuse bouche of delicate samon roe over warm rice and crisp nori and a TO DIE FOR toro hand roll at the end of the meal, here are a few highlights: 20150318_183453 Medium fatty tuna

I was surprised to start the meal with this fatty fish, but I liked it! It wasn’t too fatty or full flavored – it was just fatty enough to be indulgent without overwhelming my tastebuds.
20150318_184029 (1) Scallops

An impeccable scallop. Buttery, soft, mild. Atop crispy nori for a textural contrast and vinegary rice. A bit of sharp ginger to cleanse the palate and I was in heaven.  20150318_184331 Fluke

Cool and clean tasting with a zing of lemony, spicy yuzu underneath the fish. Delicious.  20150318_184806 Clam

The most tender clam I have ever had in the sushi arena. Usually it’s crunchy – not my fave. This is tender and smooth. It tastes gently salty and very fresh.  20150318_184901 Mackerel

Broiled mackerel atop warm sushi rice. More like eel than mackerel I have had before in sushi – meaty, rich, pleasantly oily.  20150318_185537 Eel

Excellent! No need to hide eel this succulent, soft, and buttery beneath a shellac of sugary sauce. This eel stands for itself and it’s phenomenal.  20150318_185753 Uni

My favorite sushi of the night. Simple, clean uni (must be Santa Barbara) brushed with soy and served on lukewarm rice and crispy nori. Cold, warm, salty, sweet, crunchy, soft. Beautiful synthesis of flavors and textures.  20150318_190428 Miso soup

Astounding, largely because it was unexpected. Miso soup at the end of a sushi meal is pretty common, but THIS miso soup isn’t. This miso soup tastes nothing less than gourmet. It’s gentle and deep, with an intense umami taste but nothing too salty or bitter. There are tender, sweet clams. Clouds of red miso. It’s just phenomenal and really filling.  20150318_191525 Mochi with sweet soy glaze

Less of a dessert, but hey – it’s Japanese, right? Chewy, sticky rice balls in a sweet and salty teriyaki-esque glaze.

Kura is sensational. The fish is sublime, the service is lovely, and though it’s not cheap, it’s a great splurge meal.

Unmarked doors are ALWAYS the best.

Brindle Room – The Best Burger in NYC

I don’t think that I have ever written an entire post on just one main dish at a restaurant that offered more than that dish. 

And yet, that’s exactly what I ‘m going to do:

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Brindle Room has been on my B list for awhile. I have wanted to go for the burger. But, let’s be honest – a lot of places have great burgers.  And a schlep to the East Village isn’t exactly my idea of a great Tuesday night.

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The restaurant is tiny – it looks more like a neighborhood bar or gastropub than anything else. I made reservations but when I saw the Lilliputian kitchen and the none-too-crowded dining room, I scoffed at needing them.

When I waited 30 minutes for the burger, I doubted my decision in coming downtown at all.

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And then, this arrived.

It looked good.

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Then I had a fry. These are good fries. Very good fries. Fresh cut and in between thick-and-thin. They are well salted with the crispy, translucent potato skins that I love most of all. Served with Sir Kensington’s ketchup and some of the best, spiciest, well seasoned hot sauce that I have ever enjoyed, these are worth a side dish order on their own.

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Then, the burger. Made from dry aged steak and deckle trimmings. With caramelized onions and a light topping of melted cheddar cheese.

This is a burger. This is better than Minetta Tavern, Corner Bistro, and In-n-Out combined. It’s the only burger, besides Louis Lunch, that has required no extra condiments. I did add a couple of the excellent pickles, but ketchup would have totally overwhelmed the meat. The meat is something else. It’s coarsely ground and lightly packed so it is tender but not falling apart. It holds together with seemingly nothing other than fat and a prayer. It coats your lips in the wonderful, slick layer of fat that marrow sometimes leaves behind. It tastes deep and minerally, but not at all funky or gamy. It’s the best burger I have had in NYC. No question. The onions are sweet, the bun is squishy, but that meat is where it’s at. I could eat 3 of these. Don’t order it to split with your friends – this is a small burger and you will not want to share.

And at $12 for brunch, the price is right.

Brindle room isn’t fancy. The service is a little slow. And the atmosphere is so hipster that you will feel as though your jeans will never be skinny enough. But the burger is so wonderfully, amazingly, totally, perfect that you won’t even notice.

I weep for this burger.

And the place filled up fast, so make those reservations and don’t doubt your decision for a second. 

Snacks and Sips at Joe’s Pub

Earlier this week I went to a fabulous show at Joe’s Pub – a great cabaret theater downtown where there is, of course, a minimum. We went far above our minimum because we were hungry, but here is what you can expect:

20141013_185323 A very well made, though ill photographed, dirty martini. It’s too bad that the picture is so terrible, because the stemware used is great (way less likely to spill than traditional martini glasses), the vodka is chilled to the point of icy, and there is just enough olive juice in there to make the drink border on savory without being salty.  20141013_185824 Fries with aioli

So good. Like gourmet McDonald’s.  No parmesan cheese, no truffle oil- just crispy, hot fries with Heinz ketchup and buttery, creamy aioli.  20141013_185842 Pickle plate

Good, if not especially memorable. Who doesn’t love a plate of snappy, vinegary pickled veggies? 20141013_185831 Homemade farmers cheese with seeded crackers

Okay, this is craveable. I would get it again in any restaurant. It’s a dense, creamy cheese that tastes almost like melted cream cheese. It’s layered with woodsy oregano and a pool of olive oil. Served with those garlicky seeded crackers, it’s just delicious.

The food is good and so are the drinks, but they are of course way overpriced – it’s a cabaret, what do you expect? The food isn’t as great as the offerings at 54 Below, but the entertainment is great, and after just 2 of those excellent martinis, you will have reached your food minimum and be in a great mood to enjoy the show.

Sushi Dojo – The Best Sushi Deal in NYC

Here’s the short version – if you want high end, expertly prepared, traditional sushi at a superb price, run, don’t walk, to Sushi Dojo. It isn’t the best in town, but it’s absolutely the best for your money.

Here’s the long version:

Sushi Dojo is somewhat of a renegade on the high-end sushi scene. It’s run by David Bouhadana, a young, Caucasian sushi chef who works behind the counter the whole night with his staff, kibbitzing with regulars and blasting current rock music that seems like it would be more at home at a hip Tribeca coffee shop than a hallowed temple of sushi and sashimi. The restaurant is quite small, with only a few tables and a long sushi bar, and the sushi bar’s seats are…wait for it…comfortable and wide, with tall leather backs. Now, this is something that I could get used to – how often have you emerged from an othewise delicious and luxurious sushi experience only to have a backache from the miserable, hard stools that the establishment provides?

The vibe was actually perfect for our girls night out – less so for a romantic date or quiet meeting. I’m telling you, the chefs were chatty  and jovial and we never once felt out of place with our boisterous laughter.

20140812_185944 Fried shisito peppers

Totally unnecessary but expertly made – the lightest, crispest batter I could imagine with very spicy, zingy peppers – these are only for lovers of spicy food. Some aren’t too spicy, but some are – so let’s not play Russian Roulette if you aren’t up for the game, okay?

And then the sushi begins – 10 pieces for $45. That’s right, 10 pieces of this glimmering, beautiful, sushi for $45. That is a fantastic price. Just look at this stuff: 20140812_190435 Snapper

Light, clean, with a melting texture. This is the ideal appetizing bite to start a meal, and the vinegar-y, barely warm rice highlights the fish’s individual tastes.  20140812_190614 Mackerel

Thick, richer than the fish before, buttery.
20140812_191127 Tuna

Lean, tender, mild. 
20140812_191710 Tasmanian trout

So much milder than salmon, with an almost sweet finish and buttery texture.  20140812_191848 Toro

Soft, lush, just rich enough without being too fatty. Beautifully cut.
20140812_192012 Uni

Santa Barbara uni, the best in the world to my palate. Soft and airy, with the vaguest briny, sea-water aftertaste that leaves a clean, fresh finish on the tongue.
20140812_192431 Eel

Steak like and rich. I could have used a little more eel sauce, but then – I love that sweet stuff. This is an excellent, meaty cut of eel.  20140812_192802 Aji

Always one of my favorite fish. Very clean and pleasantly salty, in super thin slices that fairly melt into the rice.

20140812_193233 Fried shrimp head

The hit of the night! We got this after an (unpictured) excellent raw shrimp nigiri, and were instructed to eat the whole thing. So, we did. The best fish and chips meets crispy potato chip tentacles. Yes, that’s exactly what it tasted like. Tender, crunchy, buttery, and salty. I could snack on these each and every day! 20140812_193449 Anchovy

A little strong for my taste, but that’s just personal preference – the fish is presented beautifully and the wasabi is fresh and nasal clearing.  20140812_193851 O-Toro

As rich as they come. Almost white with fat and so incredibly rich that we just sat in shock for a few moments after eating it. The perfect way to end any sushi meal.

We went for the 15 course sushi menu, which is $80 per person, and not quite the steal as the $45 omakase. On another night, I would absolutely get the $45 menu. That’s where we got the uni, the eel, and the toro – they don’t give you cheap or ill cut fish on the less expensive menu. It’s a tremendous value for sushi that might not be the best in the city, but is heads and tails above most places that charge at least as much, if not more.  It lacks the innovation of Gari or the “je ne sais quoi”  quality of the holy grail of fish that is Nakazawa, but it is really right behind them. I would call this a wonderful place to take someone who is already a sushi enthusiast – the atmosphere is so atypical and the chefs are so talkative and friendly that anyone who has spent a kajillion dollars on high end sushi in the past will appreciate this unique and ultra delicious experience.

So, long story short: Sushi Dojo could easily become a somewhat affordable obsession.

It’s Summertime – Here’s Where You Should be Eating Ice Cream!

It’s summer and it’s hot. I mean shorts wearing-sunscreen slathering-ice cream eating hot.

1. Shorts – cheap ones. So you don’t care if they get grass stains.

2. Sunscreen – at least spf 50 if you are a redhead, like me. Just call me Casper, the skin cancer-free ghost.

3. Ice cream – well, either of these will work:

20140529_145643 Oddfellows

This cult favorite import from Brooklyn has a tiny storefront in the East Village. I don’t think that the ice cream is worth a special trip, but if you are in the ‘hood and want a sweet, cold treat than come here. Though you could go for the very good, very rich chocolate ice cream, I suggest that you go for something a little more out of the ordinary.
20140529_145911 Thai iced tea ice cream

Well, there goes my of Thai iced coffee. This ice cream is so many times better than my favorite southeast Asian drink that I doubt I will ever order another iced coffee with my pad see ew ever again. This is smooth and dense but not hard – easy to eat with the plastic spoon. It’s very creamy and has a rich, buttery taste upfront followed by a light, herbal tea flavor. It’s refreshing but still indulgent and I would definitely get his again.

20140627_123824 Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Destination worthy. The Salty Pimp is where it’s AT. Soft serve that makes Mr. Softee look like the fraud he is. Deeply chocolaty Magic Shell. And, best of all, a salt flecked drizzle of ducle de leche that is so buttery and sweet that you might propose to it.

20140627_123843 I dare you to share it with someone. You will each need at least 2.

Gotta love summertime. 

Sandwiches – America’s Pride and Joy

Quick break to say…Hi!!! I may be recapping Europe, but I am back in the good ole US of A and am indulging in what we do best:

Sandwiches. 

(and a couple of tacos)

Here is what I have been enjoying lately:

image (1) Al pastor tacos from Taqueria Diana

This East Village isn’t more than a  hole in the wall and the tacos cost less than $5 per, but they are delicious. Greasy and messy in the best way possible. The pork is slowly roasted on a spit with pineapple, then diced into sweet, salty, juicy hunks that fall apart if you look at them the wrong way. Get yours with some of the vibrant, cilantro-y guacamole and you won’t regret it. It’s not as spicy as I could take it, but nothing is, and this is as good sober as it is drunk – NOT true of all tacos!
image (2) Green chile mac and sliders from Mexicue

This Mad Square Eats spot was win and lose. The green chile mac is insipid and lacking in both real chile bite and sharp cheddary tang. The sandwiches, however, were great! The pulled chicken slider with cheese and pickles is juicy and bright with a vinegary, bright BBQ sauce. The brisket burnt ends chili is PHENOMENAL! Burnt ends are those wonderfully charred bits of meat and fat that get incinerated when a large brisket is cooked. They are only improved by the addition of a chipotle-rich sauce, horseradish crema, and some pickled jalapenos. Slap it all on a soft potato bun and y’all are in business.  image (3) Pomme Palais roast beef sandwich

Because trust fund babies want to eat well, too. This isn’t insanely expensive – it’s what you might be spending at a casual sit down place in the East Village, but the shop is cute enough to eat in and the sandwiches are GOOD. The roast beef is juicy and tastes like a great steak sandwich. It sits on bread that is floury and substantial enough to house the nutty Gruyere and horseradish mayo, but still tears apart easily. This is filling but not heavy – I work for the place, but I have gone back here and paid full price to eat it more than once.

image Fish tacos at El Toro Blanco

Shi-shi but really delish. Mild, flaky cod inside a puffy, crispy beer batter. It’s served in warmed flour tortillas with radishes, buttery avocado, and just a smidge of jalapeno aioli. So many places bury their delicious fish under mountains of goopy sauces – not necessary when the ingredients are so fresh and tasty. A squirt of lime is all that’s needed to complete this plate.

Otto’s Tacos is A Taste of Home

I’m not going to fool around with some twee opening about how I love NYC but I miss California’s Mexican food.

Because I have already done that.

I’m just going to say it.

I found a piece of home at Otto’s Tacos.

Otto’s Tacos was opened in late 2013 by Otto himself. You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy. He is always at the restaurant and is the first to tell you that he isn’t a cook – he just loves and misses southern Californian taco trucks. That’s where the idea for the restaurant came from. He assembled a top-notch culinary team and brought the restaurant to life.  the joint is super casual – order and pay at the counter and then eat the food at your seat. It isn’t huge and it isn’t about atmosphere – it’s nice and clean but this is about EATING. The restaurant makes its own corn tortillas every single day, multiple times a day, and you can see the shells for your soft tacos being pounded out as you order. The prices are really reasonable, and a couple of tacos will only cost you about 7 bucks. But come on…how satisfying could that be?

How about majorly satisfying?

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Carnitas taco

Usually my favorite type of taco. This pork is expertly made – juicy and tender but not mushy. It retains a bit of a bite, which is a pleasure compared to overly greasy versions at big box chains. It’s so juicy that it almost saturates the tray – really flavor packed with porky taste. It’s accented by a slightly spicy salsa verde and a sprinkling of cilantro and chopped onions. And that tortilla…wow.  Thick and pleasantly lumpy and doughy in some places, charred and crisp in others. It’s the difference between a hearty 7 grain bread and Wonder bread…amazing how much it adds to the final product.

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Carne Asada

That same fabulous tortilla, this time with charred, chopped steak. It’s crispy but not fatty and chopped finely so there are no unwieldy or chewy pieces. Wow…it’s actually even tastier than the carnitas, which I rarely say. This is a great amount of steak, especially for the price – not gristle or overdone, gray meat here. It just needs a hit of the hot sauce on the table and it’s a complete meal.

 Well, almost…

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Masa chips

NOW the meal is complete. These masa chips make tortilla chips look like child’s play. They are pillowy inside and very crunchy outside, with an intense, corn-y taste. Otto says that these came about by accident – they had made some dough too thick for chips, so ende dup frying the thick, un-dried dough and voila! The moisture content is what results in the crisp-fluffy texture. Dip it in the accompanying spicy chipotle sauce for a creamy sauce with a gentle heat that builds – skip the guac, which needs more lime and cilantro to make it a contender.

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Finally, don’t forget the churros.

My dining partner isn’t the biggest fan of churros and was sure he wouldn’t like  these.

Guess who ended up stealing the last one?

These arrive piping hot, drenched in cinnamon and sugar. Try not to burn your moth as you dip int into the sweet dulce de leche dipping sauce.

I would come back here in a heartbeat. The price is right, the food is great, and it’s the next best thing to a flight back home.

Plus, I can take the subway home instead of sitting in traffic on the 101.

Disclaimer: This was a press meal and the restaurant paid for me. I was not required to write a review and the opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Arepas, Tartare, and Aweseome Gelato

I have eaten a ton of great food lately – here are some of my favorite gems!

IMG_20130812_140327_739 Arepa from Palenque

When I hear arepa, I think of those floppy, thick cornbread discs filled with rubbery cheese – you know, the kind you find at street fairs. This arepa truck, quite frankly, spun my head right round, right round. The food truck offers all sorts of Colombian food, and the arepa is Columbia’s greatest contributions to the food world. This one is corn (though you can have it made out of yuca, brown rice, or other options), and is topped with incredibly moist, tender Angus beef. Served with mozzarella-like queso de hebra, chipotle mayo, salsa fresca, and spicy cilantro pesto, it is a really filling lunch. For only $8, you can’t really do much better than this. Spicy, crispy, juicy, and awesome.

That’s also the name of my imaginary band.

montmartre 002 Steak tartare at Montmartre

Gabriel Stulman’s Chelsea bistro isn’t  cheap, but it does have tasty, inventive twists on Parisian bistro classics. Take this steak tartare. Hand chopped beef in a very mild dressing with tangy mustard and briny capers. The beef isn’t’ too mushy nor too chewy. The egg yolk is rich and the shallots are just sharp enough. Smear the beef on the airy toasted baguette, and it’s the raw burger of your dreams. Best of all is the lettuce alongside. Yes, I said that the lettuce outlines the beef. The long romaine leaves are dressed in a warm garlicky oil that softens the lettuce and totally elevates the meal. They are crispy, incredibly savory, and when eaten with the beef, brings out the rich, mineral notes. I would come here for the oysters and sweet/salty mustard-dusted fries, but would stay for the tartare.

pix 002 Ferreroand Pistachio Gelato at Fresco

What can I say? This place just makes perfect gelato – yes, I said perfect. There aren’t any awesome toppings or wacky flavors(except for the awesomely tangy/sweet goat cheese flavor). Just thick, dense gelato with intense flavors. It’s the most perfect pistachio gelato that I have ever tasted – deep and nutty and buttery and rich. The chocolate hazelnut flavor is sweet and velvety, like frozen Nutella. It’s uber creamy and rich, with a velvety texture and a taste that is so vibrant that you won’t even want any toppings. It’s a schlep from where I live, but the flavor is so divine that I still say it’s worth the trek.

Feast – Where the Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

This is a brunch review.

This meal isn’t the best brunch I have ever eaten. It isn’t the cheapest. But it has the best of all possible worlds.

It has a laid back but still “special event” atmosphere. You can wear flip flops or a trendy pair of shoes and still feel at home. There is a prix fixe but a plethora of ways to customize.

And there is a LOT of food for the price. 

Feast is a relatively new East Village restaurant which specializes in seasonal small plates, so you can try a lot of food for the same price as just one entree costs at other restaurants. The feel is rustic chic – very Anthropologie.

First off, you get a drink. A (very strong) mimosa made with freshly squeezed orange juice, a house made “beery Mary,” or a bottomless cup of coffee are all on offer. I especially appreciate that there is a bottomless alcohol-free option, as I don’t always feel like drinking so early in the day.

Who am I kidding? Of COURSE I do!

As part of the prix fixe, every table gets…

pix 024 A platter of freshly baked muffins, flaky croissants, and rich pain au chocolat.
pix 025 You also get a tray of mini quiches. This day, they were studded with sweetly caramelized onions, sautéed spinach, and melted goat cheese. The crust is particularly memorable – it’s so buttery and crisp that it is like savory shortbread. These tiny egg pies were my favorite part of the meal.

pix 026 These yogurt parfaits and a chilled canteolupe soup are also part of the deal. Before you even get your main course, you are tipsy and full…right there, the price of brunch is almost justified. 

pix 029 Omelette

The seasonal omelette, this time made with goat cheese and squash blossoms, is good if not inspired. The eggs are filled with creamy, earthy zucchini filling and the goat cheese stuffed blossoms are gooey, crispy, and generally addictive. Nothing I haven’t eaten before, but done well. The portion isn’t huge but by that time you aren’t starving anyway.
pix 030 Lemon souffle pancake

Now THIS is huge. A behemoth of a pancake, crispy without and custardy within. It’s almost like a doughnut, dense but not heavy. It is scented with fragrant lemon and topped with a sweet-tart berry syrup that is loaded with fresh fruit. This is absolutely overload and thought it’s tasty, it’s a bit one faceted – sweet. I prefer a slightly lighter, crispier pancake.

pix 022 Feast is kind of the perfect celebration brunch place. It’s just $24 for all of this food plus an alcoholic drink, the vibe is more lazy Saturday lunch than hungover Sunday morning, and the service is both prompt and informative – the servers are happy to recommend favorite dishes and speak eloquently about the food.

So this might not be my favorite brunch place – the food isn’t totally memorable. But, in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

And where else can you find a pancake that weighs as much as a toddler?

Feast on Urbanspoon