Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Brunch at Belleville

I coerced my mother into driving us into Park Slope this morning for brunch. The sun was shining, the clouds and winds were cooperating, and the plan was to hit Chip Shop, that land o' fish and chips and vegetarian Shepherd's pies over on Fifth Avenue and 6th Street. But somewhere along the way, I noticed that my stomach and developing-foodie sense was tingling, telling me that even a full veg English breakfast didn't count anymore as what I wanted: a real brunch.

The concept of a "real brunch" is something that I invented to describe what is basically urban sidewalk bistro fare. It features dishes that one doesn't usually make at home and cannot get at a diner; dishes that stand out for being filling, creative and worth the average ten bucks ($10) paid; dishes with ingredients to inspire, not remind you of what you already have in your fridge. Perhaps after a few months of sampling "real brunches," they'll lose their luster for me and brunch will go back to just being the portmanteau of breakfast plus lunch. But I don't think so. I might just start comparing cooking styles in the hopes of determining a favorite spot. Or begin imitating them.

So, as we walked away from the minivan (it looked right at home in this neighborhood), I posited a purposeful wander within one to two blocks of Chip Shop to see if we could find a suitable cafe or restaurant with an inspiring brunch menu. Thus we found Belleville (330-332 5th St., on the corner of Fifth Ave.). And they lived happily ever after.

Just kidding. Really, though, the food is lovely, as is the decor. Wood-paneling, long, smooth bar, French doors in a cream colored hue that open up onto both the avenue and street, red awning trim and brick accents, black-and-white small floor tiles, natural-tone wicker chairs outside and white linens on the tables... all attributes that drew my mother in like a moth to a flame. A bit standard in terms of NYC fresh bistro style, but charming and surrounded as it is by quaint, yuppie South Brooklyn (Ugh, Park Slope is totally in western BK, but the nabe gets the South BK regional designation out of 19th century tradition), effective.

The bistro/cafe was bustling at 11:30 A.M. on a Sunday morning, full of strollers, remarkably well-behaved toddlers, pooches, and young and older urban families of various ethnicities, all out for some sunshine and good food. My mom and I seated ourselves almost immediately after I settled for a blinding-in-white-shirt-and-apron waiter's friendly offer of outside seatage/seating after failing to flag down the maître d' girl, who was sitting at the bar, with her back turned to the door, snacking and drinking either tea or coffee with milk. My mom and I wondered if anyone knew we were there and if we were supposed to be plugged into an electronic table map, but it turned out fine since our waitress peeks outside to see the newcomers every few minutes.

To start, we ordered a croissant basket ($5), which took a while to arrive, but was worth the wait. So fluffy, flaky and full of surface area for the little red pots of cinnamon butter and raspberry jam to be spread around, I was in appetizer heaven. Even better was the fact that the whole thing was soft enough to shove into and melt in my mouth, which still cannot open very wide thanks to a swollen jaw from Tuesday's wisdom-tooth extraction. Even my mother, an exacting eater if there ever was one, loved it.

My Oeufs Pochés ($12) – perfectly poached, runny, possibly even slightly sensual eggs sitting on a square of puff pastry and topped with a spoonful of hollandaise sauce and a sprinkle of what I think were either chives or parsley – came surrounded by so much delicious sautéed duxelles (aka mushrooms) and spinach that my mother and I were able to share the veggies and there was still more! That's saying a lot, if you know how we eat. Of course, I finished it, along with half of my mother's order of Crepes du Jour – the day's special of crepe-wrapped bacon, melted gruyere cheese and onions. The cheese was stringy, but melted enough that it didn't matter, and had a sharpness and slight tartness to it that startles, but is tasty.

Both dishes came with a side of roasted potatoes/home fries and arugula/greens salad. The potatoes were plentiful and looked so brown and orange you'd think they were burnt, but were far from problematic. I'm a roasted potato fiend and fancy myself something of a connoisseur-in-training and these were ungreasy and both crunchy and soft, a perfect combination. The salad with some sort of olive oil vinaigrette was also a welcome and well-concocted addition, serving as a refreshing cleanser to cut through the stronger flavors of everything else. And I got an extra serving from my mom's plate, too!

So I give Belleville Bistro 4.5 out of 5 stars, marked down a bit for slightly slow service, although it was a very busy morning, so it doesn't seem a chronic issue. I would highly recommend it to new and experienced brunchers alike.

Also, I apologize for the lack of photos. I usually snap photos for work and whim all the time, but had the bad luck of leaving my battery charging at home. So hopefully my descriptions worked well for you! I plan on going back to Belleville in the coming months, so I'll update with photos then.

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