Yes, I’m still alive! Somehow, after being hammered with essays and midterms and more essays…
This week, despite having to cram an entire semester’s worth of reading in about three days to prepare for my upcoming finals, my soul was begging me to give it a respite from the torture that is known as dining hall food. It had been way, waaayy too long since I last went on a food excursion; in fact, I hadn’t eaten anywhere special since Spring Break. So in continuation of my quest to experience all of NYC’s best brunches, I dragged a few friends to Sarabeth’s (shoutout to Luke, Rose, and Alex for a fantastic time! You guys are the best), a place that consistently finds itself on the various lists of top brunches in the city. Of their five locations around Manhattan, we went to the one closest to campus at 80th and Amsterdam, just a quick walk from the 1 train stop at 79th and Broadway. Going on a weekday and using OpenTable to make a reservation meant that we had no wait time, which made the experience easy and painless.
The green-and-beige themed décor was slightly old-fashioned yet also provided a sense of comfort, evoking a trip to Grandma’s house (which is what I think they were going for). Since we were some of the only customers at the time, we got plenty of attention from the waiters; water was constantly refilled and orders were placed and brought out quickly. I decided to splurge and order the most highly recommended dishes, at least according to Yelp: the lemon ricotta pancakes ($17.50), which have apparently taken on legendary status, with a side of the chicken-and-apple sausages ($8) and one of their equally legendary pumpkin muffins with spreadable fruit ($3).
As usual, I tucked into the savory stuff first:
Cutting through the thin elastic encasing was oddly satisfying, especially since there was a nice contrast between the thin and slightly brittle and bitter smoky exterior and the thick, juicy and tender interior of the sausage. The meat wasn’t very heavily seasoned, which allowed the natural flavors of the chicken and the sweetness of the apple to stand out. The apple sauce, with its soft chunkiness, gave greater dimension to the firmer bits of meat in the sausage. The light, sweet and sour notes of the apple sauce didn’t combine perfectly with the more robust and heavy flavors of the meat in that I still felt a sense of separation between them even when eating the sausage with the sauce, but the sauce did provide a brightness to the sausage that would otherwise have been missing. I also appreciated that nothing felt overly processed.
Up next was the muffin:
Crumbly and moist without being too dense, with a beautiful juxtaposition with the brittle crisp of the sunflower seeds on top. Though if I were to make one criticism, it would be that the seeds kept falling off, limiting that aspect of the experience. On the inside there were bursts of juicy raisins, further breaking up the monotony of the muffin part. But by far the best thing was the spreadable fruit, which on this particular day was made from strawberries and peaches. Oh. My. Heavens. Charmingly gooey and sticky with just the perfect amount of sweetness as to not mask the fruit flavor. I loved the bits of fruit in there too! This, combined with the rich creaminess of the butter spread onto the muffin, provided a home-like quality that was breakfast indulgence at its finest. It was messy, but I had so much fun eating it that I didn’t even care. Definitely something that everyone should try.
And finally, the dish that I was most looking forward to, the pancakes:
After the first bite, I appreciated that these pancakes were unique in their subtle lemony zing. The syrup was more runny than I’d expect, but it retained a very pure maple flavor without being too sweet or cloying. Unlike most syrup, it wasn’t too heavy. I ate it with the berries, which provided fun bursts of juice and sweetness. But I think the flavors must have been a little too subtle, since as I ate I gradually became desensitized to it all; the pancakes lost their citrus, the strawberries became bland, and I could hardly taste the syrup. Eventually the flavors fell as flat as the pancakes themselves. Customers have raved about the unbelievable fluffiness of these pancakes, but I’m going to be honest and say that I didn’t find anything particularly special; Cookshop’s and maybe even Community’s pancakes were softer and fluffier. Clearly, these pancakes did not live up to the hype.
The most memorable part of the meal was definitely the fruit preserves with the muffin; I’m still fantasizing about them right now. Everything was pretty good, but for such a famous spot and for such high prices, I expected to be dazzled by everything. But there are plenty of other options on the menu that I didn’t get to taste, so if you’re looking for brunch I wouldn’t necessarily discourage giving Sarabeth’s a try. Just be sure that you’re willing to plunk down a lot of money.
Rating: 4/5 spoons