I was working all weekend in Manhattan so couldn’t indulge in my favourite pastime of brunch. A friend once derided the whole American weekend brunch phenomenon and the queuing it induces declaring, “It’s eggs. You crazy people are queuing for eggs.”
The older I get the less I like queuing and the more I’m in NYC the more I ‘get’ that the enjoyment of the city comes from being in the right place at the right time. Soho on the weekends – not fun; weekday afternoons – really rather pleasant. 3pm Bryant Park Café seated at a table and serenely enjoying the view – divine; at 6pm surrounded by businessmen shouting into their iPhones as they pose and posture – get me out of there.
And anyway, brunch doesn’t solely have to exist on the weekend. Brunch on the weekend is for people who work 9-5 weekdays. They have no other choice. I’m a freelancer God damn it. I (in theory) can have brunch any time I want. I mean, if that’s not what freelancing is about, then what is??? I knew in Williamsburg, Brooklyn they served brunch all day so got myself onto the L train quick.
The Rabbithole, named after Alice in Wonderland, has a long, dark corridor you wander down that teleports you out of normal life. With a garden courtyard outback, the dining room has mismatched chairs, wooden floorboards, fresh flowers resting against exposed, red brickwork and antiqued, smoky Venetian mirrors dotted around the place. The space feels intimate and private, yet with crowds raucousness can also occur. It’s a place to bunk off and enjoy life. The magic of the place is it melds to what you want from it. How many places do you know that can do that?
Trying to explain the American brunch phenomenon to me, owner and baker Lawrence Elliot said, “New Yorkers work hard all week. They need a day off. It’s a contrived event, an excuse to celebrate, to release.” I asked why his place serves brunch until 5pm and he replied it’s in response to the location. “Williamsburg has a different lifestyle. It’s full of freelancers who wake up late and want breakfast at lunchtime.” Or late afternoon.
Saying Williamsburg has a high density of artists is like saying humans need air to breathe. ‘Almost’ everyone in the neighborhood is a creative of varying degree and everybody working at The Rabbithole plays a musical instrument of some sort. Elliot told me the feeling here in the neighbourhood is super casual, that it’s about winding down, being a bit reclusive. “For those with a different orientation to life, when you don’t want to be in the middle of everything. That you can get away from Manhattan but still be surrounded by energy.”
So there I was at 5pm on a Monday reading Sunday’s New York Times contemplating the brunch menu. The Saturday edition of the paper I can easily skip but the Sunday edition, I just love. It takes me at least four hours to read cover to cover (and that’s me pushing myself at a stretch).
I ordered the Stuffed French Toast (homemade brioche with strawberry mascarpone). Put the word homemade in front of me and I’m anybody’s! And a Kir Royale. Traveling so much I firmly believe it’s always cocktail hour somewhere in the world. I sipped the Kir, which perfectly played brut with sweet, and dug into one of the most gratifying fried breads of my life.
Elliot came up with the recipe when there wasn’t much to eat in his house so pulled out some brioche from the freezer and some mascarpone and made the dish first for his wife. “It’s about simple things. Balance. And going beyond average.” There are only so many ways you can serve pancakes, French Toast or eggs so places that serve these dishes with a quirk on the side, I adore.
There’s the argument that food critics should only eat five bites of a certain food, as past that the enjoyment factor doesn’t increase. And in the five bites they should be able to encapsulate the experience to their readers. Sometimes, yes. Agreed. But other times with certain comfort foods, the pleasure only increases as each forkful of food goes into the mouth. French Toast is one of those food items. Whether it’s the crust of the brioche or the soft, fluffy middle, the enjoyment only builds as you progress.
‘Flightless Bird’ by American Mouth was playing (which will forever be known as the song Edward and Bella dance to in the final scene of Twilight) when Elliot brought me a traditional scone with blueberries and icing to try. Now I know you’re supposed to eat mindfully, but all I remember was being on the phone to American Airlines trying to rebook my twice cancelled flight to Paris when I suddenly looked down and the plate was empty. The scone was so good it disappeared down the rabbit hole just a little too quickly.
Staff at The Rabbithole weren’t just attentive, they actually seemed to care. A rarity in any service industry these days. I’ve lived in Tokyo too long so it’s best not to get me started on a rant about the dismal American service culture, but oh how I do want to rant. Okay, I’ll recount just one experience in an unnamed department store. The shop assistant tells the customer the shoe she likes doesn’t come in her size. The customer then asks if the shoe comes in a different colour to which the shop assistant replies with a heap of attitude and in the most surliest voice ever, “Well you didn’t ask me if it came in a different colour.” Customer service? Hardly.
At most restaurants, it’s not the food you go back to per se, but what the experience conjures up in you. Having my Sunday morning early Monday evening meant I could focus on timelessness not time. I could indulge in delicious, sweet things while luxuriating in the newspaper’s words. And I didn’t have to queue hours for the privilege. Oh, and I had already believed six impossible things before breakfast.