What is eggs Benedict?
EGGS BENEDICT NEW YORK
279 Water Street (corner of Water and Dover), New York, 10038 (Financial District).
(212) 227-3344. 4/5/6 to Brooklyn Bridge, the N/R to Park Place, or the 2/3/A/C/J/M/Z to Fulton.
"The Bridge Café does in fact now offer a classic eggs Benedict," the restaurant's executive chef, Joseph Kunst, wrote me recently, inviting me back.
Kunst lied, sort of. The Bridge Café had once offered a light, almost-Benedictish entrée of poached eggs with a leek cream sauce, served on a potato waffle with scattered chopped ham. But then it dropped that dish, and so was dropped from these reviews. Today, Bridge does indeed have eggs Benedict, but it's no classic. When I revisited the restaurant I found a couple of its variations unsettling --- till I adjusted to and enjoyed them. After an infinite number of servings of one dish, it's great to be challenged.
Bridge, which boasts that its 1794 building is the "oldest drinking establishment in the city," has a small room but spaces its tables well. Framed posters, old photos, and engraved certificates dot the hollandaise-colored, old vertical paneling. Off those walls and the overpainted tin ceiling bounces the chatter of families and of double-dating couples, though a few Wall Street men eat silently and alone. Rockabilly and the Grateful Dead were playing on my recent visit. Despite the looming Brooklyn Bridge ramps outside, the restaurant's wide windows, set in deep casings bent to match the age-warped building, beam a surprising amount of light into the outer two-thirds of the room. The inner third is shadowy, befitting its dark old bar.
A Bridge brunch is a prix fixe $16.95, on the pricey side but with lots for your money. It includes a bloody Mary, mimosa, fresh orange juice, or grapefruit juice; coffee; one of two appetizers; and one entrée. The mimosa that came with my brunch was cold with fresh juice, a rarity, though there was little champagne. The Bloody Mary, garnished with a big celery stalk and wedges of lime and lemon, was more sweet than spicy, but I liked the slow burn of its finely ground horseradish and ground pepper. A big bread basket held good sponge cake, biscuits, and walnut bread, plus butter.
One appetizer was a "mixed greens and baby spinach salad" with bosc pear, gorgonzola cheese, and walnuts in a citrus vinaigrette. That seemed entirely too healthful. Instead I got the "corn and red-onion fritters with jalapeno cheddar sauce," a colorful, crunchy dish that might motivate even kids to eat vegetables. The capsaicin heat seemed to come from the fritters themselves, not from their bed of cheese sauce, which was brightened by raw scallions, chopped sweet red pepper, and more corn.
And then came the main course. The fresh English muffin halves were slightly toasted. Thick, fatty little slabs of delicious ham were improvements on Canadian bacon. Eggs sprinkled with chopped chives were poached till nearly solid, possibly by design to achieve their high profile . . . and so that they might not drown their sauce, which, surprisingly, was lemony melted butter, pooled next to the muffin halves rather than topping the entire ensemble. Classic hollandaise's yolky creaminess disguises the caloric, cholesterol-rich butter, but Bridge's variation lays that out in the open. Soon I would leave the restaurant woozily content with maximum food coma -- but I can't blame just the sauce for that, after all that good bread and what would turn out to be my second surprise, the bacon.
The kitchen has a thing for chopped chives, which dressed not only the eggs but the home fries -- quartered small red potatoes with a generous ration of soft onion. And chives were also on my side dish of bacon ($3), which glistened. The four or five slices had been cooked to chewy perfection . . . and then glazed with honey or sugar syrup. Candied bacon! That was a novelty even to me, despite my interest in sweet-savory Asian treats like strawberry-flavored dried beef.
Service was cheery and efficient. The waiters urged two patrons and even one to sit at tables for four, rather than insisting on the smallest corner spaces. On my visit, a kitchen kerfluffle at a much larger party's table led to contrite apologies from a manager as well as the waiter, and offers to comp some of the bill.
There is a full dessert menu including the usual tasty suspects like crème brulee, cheesecake, pie, and pudding. But after glazed bacon, who needs more sweets?
Rest rooms: Two clean single-seaters, pointlessly labeled Men and Women.
Handicapped accessibility: The entrance is awkward. Rest rooms are reached through a narrow hall a step down from the dining room; the "women's" room is a little roomier, but both have narrow doors.
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