Eggs and the city

Want a real bite of the Big Apple? Then head for brunch in the boroughs. Brian Viner finds the perfect start to the day in Brooklyn

Brunch. It is one of my favourite words. It evokes lazy Sundays with nothing better to do than lie in bed grappling either with a companion, or the Sunday supplements, or both. Followed by an amble to a local café and a huge plate of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, maybe with a toasted bagel on the side and, if it's a classy joint, a sprig of parsley. To drink, a fat cup of cappuccino and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. To read, what's left of the Sunday papers. Perfect.

Brunch. It is one of my favourite words. It evokes lazy Sundays with nothing better to do than lie in bed grappling either with a companion, or the Sunday supplements, or both. Followed by an amble to a local café and a huge plate of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, maybe with a toasted bagel on the side and, if it's a classy joint, a sprig of parsley. To drink, a fat cup of cappuccino and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. To read, what's left of the Sunday papers. Perfect.

With a symbolism that we didn't appreciate at the time, the last time my wife and I enjoyed one of those lazily carefree mornings was 18 June 1993. Later that day she went into labour with our first child and, with the first contraction, brunch - at least brunch as we knew it then - became a thing of the past. In any case, we lived in London then and we live in rural Herefordshire now. If you're going to amble anywhere for Sunday brunch round here then you need to set off around tea-time on Saturday, wearing a pair of sturdy boots.

A few weeks ago, however, I renewed my acquaintance with brunch as I used to know it. Better still, I did so in New York City, probably the best place on earth for it.

New York, of course, is the best place on earth for lots of things. One is gobsmacking hotels, and I stayed in one, the Mandarin Oriental in the sleek new Time Warner building, where there are staggering views across Central Park even from the lobby, which is on the 35th floor. Regrettably, I was only there for two nights and one full day; the main purpose of the visit was to check out the new, softer 6ft flat beds in business class on British Airways, which I can report are exceedingly fine. But a subsidiary objective was Sunday brunch in a typical New York neighbourhood restaurant, somewhere undiscovered by tourists.

Brunch has always struck me as an essentially urban phenomenon, and nowhere is more urban than New York. If I had to match a city to a mealtime, in a fantasy day of stuffing myself, I would choose Dublin for breakfast, Paris for lunch, London for afternoon tea, and Rome for dinner. But it would almost be worth forsaking the Dublin breakfast and the Paris lunch for the New York brunch.

Brunch is treated seriously in New York. All brunching New Yorkers know the hot place of the moment, which is currently Norma's, at Le Parker Meridien Hotel. Someone I know turned up there recently, without a reservation, and was told that she would have to wait in line for two hours. She laughed gaily and told them to forget it, but not before marvelling at the dozens of people who were perfectly happy to join the queue.

The most memorable brunch I ever had in New York was 15 years ago with Quentin Crisp. I'd heard that his number was in the phone directory and that for the price of a meal he was perfectly willing to meet anyone from the old country. So I phoned him and we duly met in a café on Second Avenue. I told him that when I'd informed an American friend who my brunch date was, my friend said "Oh, I've heard of him, isn't he kind of an English Norman Mailer?" This delighted Crisp. He stopped eating in mid-muffin. "Oh, isn't that wonderful," he purred. "I can't think what Mr Mailer would say if someone said 'are you the Quentin Crisp of Brooklyn Heights?'"

I recalled this exchange as I set off for my most recent New York brunch. I was heading for Brooklyn, not that there was much chance of bumping into Norman Mailer. My destination was a place called Bubby's, not in the fashionable Heights, but in a less ritzy neighbourhood, irresistibly named Dumbo. I think it's safe to say that Bubby's in Dumbo is not Mailer territory.

Bubby's had been recommended by Joy, a woman I had never met, yet soon to be my sister-in-law. My half-brother Alexander lives in Brooklyn, and although he was away at the time, I was keen to meet his new fiancée. So I phoned Joy and suggested brunch, somewhere off the beaten track. She said that Bubby's, in a former paper factory in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, would fit the bill perfectly. But she did warn me that it was likely to be full of excitable children. For lots of young Brooklyn families, Sunday brunch at Bubby's is a ritual. Some New York restaurants have limousine parking; Bubby's has parking for pushchairs. Or strollers, as they call them.

Anyway, for brunching purposes Bubby's was indeed ideal, serving a splendid version of the staple American brunch aperitif, a bucketful of Bloody Mary with a celery truncheon. For getting-to-know-Joy purposes, on the other hand, Bubby's was marginally less ideal. Scarcely had we sat down than a Land O Lakes tub of butter came flying over, propelled by a toddler at an adjacent table, and hit Joy on the ear. Still, it broke the ice.

Not that there was much ice, except in my Bloody Mary. Happily, Joy lived up to her name. So did the cheese grits, described on the menu as "Bubby's famous creamy grits broiled to a bubbling golden crust with New York State sharp white cheddar cheese". They sounded as if they might do untold damage to the system and sure enough I could practically feel them clogging up the main arterial routes, very much in the mode of the perennially awful New York traffic.

But then brunch in America is supposed to be unhealthy. It sure as heck is at Bubby's, where Eggs Benedict came "smothered in homemade Hollandaise sauce" and Bubby's Original Sour Cream Pancakes "soak up syrup and butter in their golden brown faces". As if the menu were not lyrical enough, we also had the waitress to contend with. I love listening to New York waitresses; maybe it's because so many of them are aspiring actresses that they always make such a marvellous job of the interminable monologue detailing the daily specials. I especially enjoy the daily special that is completely unidentifiable to a visiting Englishman. There's always one. "Hi guys, specials today include Chappaquiddick winkies with honey-roasted Maryland dipsticks." Or some such.

At Bubby's, slightly more prosaically, I had the $14.95 Lox Scramble, with the heart-stopping cheese grits on the side. Joy had something called Eggsadilla, which was one of those unidentifiables, and remained unidentifiable even on the plate, although I could see that eggs featured pretty heavily.

Afterwards, we strolled back into Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge - one of the world's great walks, especially on a Sunday, when nobody is in a hurry even when they have to get to Kennedy airport for a flat bed home. We walked and walked, and talked and talked, and by the time we reached SoHo, where Joy caught the Subway back to Brooklyn, I was delighted to be acquiring her as a relative, and rather looking forward to looking back, when we are both old and grey, to the day we had brunch in Dumbo and a flying Land O Lakes tub of butter hit her on the ear.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

Brian Viner flew to New York with British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), which is upgrading its Club World flat bed product across the fleet; the Boeing 777s and 747s used on the New York route will be fully fitted by July. Advance purchase Club World fares start from £1,947. Fares are likely to be discounted for the business-class off-peak months of July and August.

STAYING THERE

Rooms at the Mandarin Oriental (00 800 2828 3838; www.mandarinoriental.com) start at $549 (£293) double with breakfast; a romantic weekend for two, with breakfast, champagne, and two hours of side-by-side treatments in the spa costs $2,120 (£1,132). Bubby's is at 1 Main Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201 (001 718 222 0666).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
newsTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone