Lacking the youthful exuberance and temperament for festival camping, our group had booked two nights in Ellensburg, Washington, a 40-minute scenic drive from the Gorge Amphitheater. Our Holiday Inn Express was full of like-minded, similarly delicate (read: old) Sasquatch attendees this Memorial Day weekend.
After Michael Stipe kept us up late last night — has a hot shower ever felt more heavenly than after a long day spent outdoors? — we settled in for a leisurely morning exploring our surroundings. To answer NO’s query: this town of 15,000, incorporated in 1883, was so named in 1889 by its first postmaster John A. Shoudy, after his wife Mary Ellen.
Ellensburg’s raison d’etre is Central Washington University. MT observed that the streets were very similar to those of Ithaca… down to the signature area gorges. Our plan this morning was to visit the Yellow Church Café on South Pearl Street – a converted 1923 German Lutheran church popular among the locals for its [secular] weekend brunch. We arrived, however, to find a small crowd already gathered in the foyer: though classes were out for the semester, the otherwise sleepy college town was descended upon by Sasquatch visitors, and our party of five was advised of a half hour wait for a table. Just in case we were nostalgic for home.
Being somewhat less enthusastic about this early afternoon’s musical lineup, we were in no urgent rush to head out to George. And the delay gave us some time to walk the pretty streets of historic downtown.
This densely decorated two-story red wood frame house, known as Dick and Jane’s Spot, is the project of local artists Dick Elliott and Jane Orleman, who have dedicated their home and yard to showcasing their own and the work of dozens of other artists.
Back at the cafe, we waited a bit more until at long last our party was called up and seated upstairs in the former choir loft, from which we had a birdseye view of the main dining room and open kitchen.
CF and MT were running late for their scheduled visit to the Chimposium, so we started off by requesting a cinnamon roll for the table – warm, sweet and enormous… plenty satisfying, even split five ways. No doubt each wedge still packed the caloric punch of a full breakfast. (Fortunate, as our friends hardly had time to taste their meals before dashing off to campus to communicate with the chimpanzees.)
Worth the wait, and it did get me to church on Sunday after all.
Manhattan Avenue may be Greenpoint’s main thoroughfare, but parallel Franklin Street is a better indicator of the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification with its quaint collection of eateries, coffee shops, bars, boutiques, record store, and bookstore.
Brooklyn Label opened in January 2007 on the ground floor of the historic Astral Apartments on the corner of Franklin and Java — appropriate, given how seriously the place takes its coffee. The cafe was a Time Out Reader’s Choice nominee for the “Best Brunch” Eat Out Award in 2007, earning raves for chef Cody Utzman’s brunch menu, which includes dishes like the Chile Colorado (stewed pork chili verde with soft cheesy polenta, two poached eggs, roasted pepper and toast). Despite the accolades, Brooklyn Label’s first year seems to have been rather tumultuous: disgruntled reports of rising menu prices and management issues, culminating on February 1 with Chef Utman resigning his position as founder/head chef/owner, citing “un-reconcilable [sic] differences with Financial business partners.”
This was our first visit, though, so we can’t compare the pre- and post-Utman eras. (Brooklyn Label’s new head chef is Ed Bode, formerly of Williamsburg’s Union Picnic.) I do like the laid-back feel of this place, and I will say that the dramas don’t appear to have dampened the spot’s popularity: we waited over half an hour for a table at the not-exactly-prime hour of 3PM. By that time most places in my neighborhood are winding down Sunday brunch service, but it seems that hipsters run on a later schedule.
The Huevos Rancheros — one fried corn tortilla, Spanish-style rice, homemade frijoles negros, and a true chili ranchero sauce topped with two fried eggs and garnished with authentic Mexican crema, guacamole, pico de gallo and limes. I almost didn’t finish this entire platter. Almost. (Well, I had a little help.)
And although it seemed ridiculous to stop for more food after such a brunch, we were determined to scratch off another item from our Greenpoint [To] Hit List: the Franklin Corner Store, an unassuming corner deli which was highlighted by Robert Sietsema for serving his favorite Cuban sandwich in the city. I’d always been partial to the cubanos at Sucelt in the West Village, but since it closed last Christmas Eve after 31 years in business, I had yet to find a suitable replacement. This may be it. Be warned, though: the men here approach their sandwich-making like an art. There’s just no rushing the meticulous stacking of ham, pork roast, pickles and white cheeses. Even without pressing – we were saving our sandwiches for dinner later and thought it best to do the final toasting on our own – it was a twenty minute affair. But worth every minute.
Midtown Manhattan as viewed from Greenpoint’s Commercial Street:
May 2008 marks the 17th Annual Bike Month NYC. Just in time, the NYC Department of City Planning released a new New York City Cycling Map — particularly useful (not just to bikers) for its indication of one-way street directions. Cycling maps are available for download on the Department website, or in print free of charge at the NYC Department of City Planning Bookstore (22 Reade Street), in bicycle shops, libraries and schools, and through the NYC Call Center at 311. Over a million maps will have been printed and distributed since the first edition in 1997.
With warm weather just around the corner, we found ourselves back in Bay Ridge for brunch.
LC suggested Saint Germain, a très French bistro on Third Avenue, which had received some good word of mouth from the locals. The location has been home to a series of French bistros, beginning in 1999 with Le ZaZou, to Provence en Boite (which relocated to Smith Street in Carroll Gardens) before hitting upon its current incarnation. The cozy restaurant is a popular brunch spot — no wonder: the prix fixe is an excellent value, offering choice of entrée, coffee or tea, plus orange juice or Lorina sparkling pink lemonade, and a fancy dessert, all for $16.95. Our party of four waited about twenty minutes for a table, which gave us plenty of time to consider the myriad pastry options in the glass display case up front, and to ponder what exactly goes into Saint Germain’s specialty “Brigitte Bardot” cocktail. (Answer: lemon vodka, triple sec, and that sparkling pink lemonade. What, no St-Germain?)
For better or worse, our experience felt truly Parisian: beyond leisurely, the service ranged from benignly neglectful to maddeningly slow. After making our selections from the brunch menu (the usual egg dishes, croque monsieur, crêpes, French toast, croissanwiches), we waited another twenty minutes for someone to take our order. The entrées, when they came, were quite good, though I would have enjoyed my Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict more with the cup of coffee I ordered… which did not come despite two requests. (Each time we asked for our drinks, the waitress would cheerily respond, “Sure!” and continue merrily along, unfazed.)
When at last we got our coffees and teas with dessert (pictured below, my apple pastry and HH’s chocolate mousse dome), they came poured into too-hot-to-handle glass tumblers. No explanation or apology given, but we deduced that the kitchen must have run out of their usual white cups, though I noticed about half a dozen used ones sitting on yet-to-be-cleared tables around us.
On the bright side, the slow service gave us plenty of time to catch up. Back on the sunny streets after our two hour brunch, we noticed an inordinate amount of bright green gear on the livelier than usual crowds spilling out of the Irish pubs. When we passed a group of kilted bagpipers, we knew something was up.
It seems we’d just missed the Bay Ridge St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a procession which began at St. Patrick’s R.C. Church (not Cathedral) and proceeded along (Brooklyn’s) Fifth Avenue to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica. Beleaguered Kings County DA Charles “Joe” Hynes served as Grand Marshal for the post-St. Patrick’s Day tradition, which began in 1994.
Next up: Bay Ridge’s 17th of May Norwegian Day Parade, which will be held this year on Sunday, May 18.
Back at DK’s home, after reruns of “Mythbusters” and the “Hawaii” episode of the Travel Channel’s 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, we amused ourselves with a spontaneous digital cable version of “Name That Tune.” The years may pass, but some songs are just seared in our memories.
Elsewhere in BK… Flickr preview: Greenpoint weekend (April 12-13, 2008)
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