Food & Drink

The Absolute Best Brunch Uptown

The Penrose
The Penrose | Noah Fecks
The Penrose | Noah Fecks

Home to some of the country’s most expensive zip codes and all of the city’s most established gossip girls (and boys), uptown Manhattan and its dining scene can feel stuffy and cloistered. But even in the land of doormen, teacup poodles, and the Gracie Mansion, we’ve found the perfect brunch spot for every occasion. Avail yourself of uptown’s fried chicken and waffles, smoked fish, and sweet treats along with all manner of Bloody Mary. Here are the tastiest, trendiest, most overlooked spots for a mid-morning meal on the Upper East and Upper West Side.

UPPER WEST

jacobs pickles
Courtesy of Maison Pickle

Best for pickles: Jacob's Pickles

509 Amsterdam Avenue
This is your go-to for pickled everything. There are pickled eggs, beets, carrots, tomatoes, and several varieties of cucumber on the menu -- and they’re all exactly the briny kick your decadent breakfast sandwich needs (opt for any one of the 12 biscuit breakfast sandwiches on offer, and top if off with your choice of pickled vegetable). Serving greens from the Union Square Greenmarket, root beer from Saranac, and fresh cuts of meat from a butcher in Queens, this place is a New York establishment through and through.
 

Best for pancakes: Community Food & Juice

2893 Broadway
If the dreaded commute from the UWS to the LES doesn’t deter you from Clinton Street Baking Company, the three-hour wait for a table surely will. But fear not: The beloved downtown baking company has a sister restaurant in Morningside Heights where the same beloved pancakes grace the menu. Yes, you know those fat stacks of pancakes -- the ones topped with chunks of chocolate or bananas and walnuts, swirled with warm maple butter and powdered sugar. But if you’re trying to avoid a devastating post-brunch carb coma, look to the rest of the menu for the classics like the eggs Benedict, or a house-smoked salmon plate piled with scrambled eggs, lox, chive cream cheese, and toast.  

red rooster
Chris Owyoung

Best for live gospel music: Red Rooster

310 Lenox Avenue
Helmed by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, this iconic comfort food spot is well worth the commute to Harlem. Classics like fried chicken and waffles, apple cinnamon French toast, and the Rooster Scramble (with fried ham, Cheddar, and creme fraiche) are tried-and-true crowd-pleasers, but the standout menu item here is the cornbread, served hot and flaky with pats of honey butter and a spicy tomato jam. Live gospel music downstairs at Ginny’s Supper Club will keep the Sunday scaries at bay.

Best smoked fish: Barney Greengrass

541 Amsterdam Avenue
Every New Yorker has an allegiance to a Jewish deli. There’s the hoity-toity, pearl-donning Zabar’s crowd; the hip, beardy devotees of Brooklyn’s Frankel’s; and then there are the UWS locals who swear by Barney Greengrass’ shrine to sturgeon and smoked salmon. Whatever your allegiance may be, Barney Greengrass, aka The Sturgeon King, certainly excels in the study of brunch: scrambled eggs come fluffed with onions and bits of smoked fish; H&H bagels are schmeared with cream cheese and topped with lox, onion, and tomato; and plump cheese blintzes are spread with sour cream or fruit preserves. The no-frills space and brusque service have helped make this place an institution since 1908.  

Kirsch Bakery and Kitchen
Courtesy of Kirsch Bakery and Kitchen

Best French toast: Kirsh Bakery & Kitchen

551 Amsterdam Avenue
Kirsh is an essential stop for bread aficionados. House-made loaves are sliced into thick slabs, French-toasted, and topped with an array of sweet or savory options like chocolate peanut butter, or bacon, Swiss, and egg. True dough devotees can pair bread with more bread: The pastry basket includes a decadent mix of house-made croissants and cinnamon-frosted Danishes.   

cafe lalo
Courtesy of Cafe Lalo

Best coffee: Cafe Lalo

201 West 83rd Street
You might recognize Cafe Lalo from everyone’s second favorite Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks joint, or from the dizzying 29 varieties of cheesecake it displays in glass cases. Either way, this place is a must-visit for sucrose lovers, with more than 100 pastries and sweet treats on hand at any given time. Equally rich cups of coffee may cause you to forget about all the chocolate cake you’re tempted to order -- fresh Indonesian beans are ground on-site and skilled baristas froth milk on an old-school espresso machine.

Least pretentious: Good Enough to Eat

520 Columbus Avenue
An uptown institution for over 30 years, this UWS diamond in the rough exudes a kind of lazy charm. The casual dining room is cluttered with mismatched trinkets, a bit dark even in the brunch-hour sunlight, and tended to by indifferent servers -- but they never fail to attract a crowd for their six varieties of pancakes and lengthy egg and omelette menu. Food flies out of the kitchen hot and plentiful and always just good enough to eat.

white gold butchers
Eric Medsker

Best for breakfast sandwiches: White Gold Butchers

375 Amsterdam Avenue
Locals and visitors line up at April Bloomfield’s whole-animal butcher shop for towering sandwiches brimming with thick slabs of bacon and fluffy, cheese-infused eggs. Sidle up to the counter, choose your meat (sausage, ham, bacon, pastrami, bologna), and let the experts build the perfect, easy, handheld brunch you deserve.

UPPER EAST

the penrose
Noah Fecks

Best for fancy cocktails: The Penrose

1590 Second Avenue
The Upper East Side has yet to become a craft cocktail destination, but there are some standouts on the landscape. Head to the Penrose on Second Avenue and start off with a drink at the bar while you wait for a table. The cocktail menu is wildly innovative, replete with eye-openers like the Chiquito (vodka, chamomile, Cocchi Americano, lavender, and honey), and not one but four distinct Bloody Marys (it’s only polite to try them all). The brunch menu is stocked with creative dishes, like a bacon, egg, and fried oyster brioche sandwich and French toast sticks best dunked in brown butter maple syrup. Just make sure to save room for another cocktail.

Best patio: Jones Wood Foundry

401 East 76th Street
Wander into this Yorkville haunt on a warm day, and you’ll be pleased to discover that the British gastropub boasts an intimate, but almost always available patio squeezed in the back. If you’re not one of the many locals camping out to watch Premier League soccer on Saturday mornings, the move here is to perch yourself in the quiet backyard and feast on plates of toasted crumpets doused in lemon curd and a typical English breakfast: fried eggs, loin bacon, sausage, portobellos, baked beans, black pudding, and roasted tomatoes.

freds
Courtesy of Freds

Best for people-watching: Freds at Barneys New York

660 Madison Avenue
We are aware that you do not need your eggs with Louboutins on the side, but Barneys is a scene. The place is buzzing with real-life gossip girls, wealthy doyennes, pseudo Instagram celebs, and 15-year-olds packing Daddy’s credit card. It’s a see-and-be-seen sort of venue, and regardless of whether or not it’s the place you’d most like to be seen, you’ll enjoy watching everyone else pose for pictures with personal pizzas that will sit untouched. And while the menu is moderately overpriced, Freds has some of the best damn French fries in the city. There is no hangover they can’t cure (though the same could be said about those shoes).  

Best for vegans: Candle Cafe

1307 Third Avenue
You might think that “vegan” and “brunch” are two words that have no business taking up real estate in the same sentence, but Candle Cafe will make you reassess that assumption. The bright, airy spot has somehow managed to furnish a bacon-and-egg-free brunch menu that feels neither sad nor empty. With a full roster of dishes like flapjacks with acai butter and spiced maple syrup, or smoked carrot lox with cashew cream cheese on a bagel, you’ll forget all about your usual weekend meat treats.

flora bar
Johnny Miller

Best for special occasions: Flora Bar

945 Madison Avenue
Ignacio Mattos and Thomas Carter’s Flora Bar diverges from their previous Nolita spot, Estela. Stationed on the expansive ground floor of the Met Breuer, the Upper East Side venue feels far away from the cozy downtown terroir that defines Estela. The museum bar/resto has 74 seats, a long bar lined with raised leather stools, and a delicate menu of light, elegant bites. This is not a pancakes-in-your-pajamas sort of spot, but rather a lobster-for-breakfast-in-your-Sunday-best kind of joint. Suck down oysters, sample caviar, and munch on snow crab with miso mayonnaise at one of the chic white marble tables.

Best diner: Viand

673 Madison Avenue
Madison Avenue may be home to luxury designers and chocolatiers slinging $4 truffles, but Viand is an old-school lunch counter, an outlier set snugly amid ladies who lunch and dainty poodles. The sliver of a space, flanked on one side by two-seater booths and by a tight counter overlooking the kitchen on the other, serves up the basics: fried eggs with crisp bacon, turkey sandwiches, French toast piled with sausage. It’s the kind of place you go to remain anonymous, or when you’re itching to power down large portions of greasy diner fare (or both, which is usually the case).  

Best Australian cafe: Bluestone Lane

2 East 90th Street
Set across from Central Park and adjacent to the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Bluestone Lane specializes in light, shareable fare. Behold the coconut quinoa and oat porridge crowned with seasonal fruit and granola, the ubiquitous avocado smash (which can be topped with a poached egg, prosciutto, bacon, or smoked salmon), and the multicolored rainbow bowl, a colorful plate of roasted carrots, spinach, lentils, pickled beets, feta, poached egg, and avocado. In temperate months, guests enjoy sidewalk seating for brunch offset by Museum Mile and Central Park.

Best for dates: Cafe d'Alsace

1695 Second Avenue
As with many of the city’s finest date spots, Cafe d’Alsace is modeled after a classic Parisian brasserie, down to the kitchen tiles. Rows of tables are jammed together around the pewter bar, spilling out onto the sidewalk in the summer months, and the resident “beer sommelier” will gladly recommend one of the 100 beers on the menu, no matter the hour of morning. Executive chef Philippe Roussel is an actual Frenchman, so you can expect his paper-thin, roasted pear crepes to fold flawlessly, and his croque madames to be sufficiently buttered. Sample the eggs Benedict, sip an espresso, and charm the hell out of whomever you brought to this sunny, vintage spot.

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