April 23, 2014

Mimosas, Lamb Sausage and Dim Sum: Ithaca’s Best Bets on Brunch

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By SYDNEY RAMSDEN

Brunch is the classic all-American weekend pastime. Each brunch-goer has his or her preferred method of brunching. There’s the breakfast food pig-out involving everything from eggs to bacon to pancakes to waffles. There’s also what hardcore brunchers like to call “boozy brunch” — eggs Benedict washed down with mimosa after mimosa. Brunchers who truly take their brunch seriously, however, will seek out the option that provides a decent balance of delicious, abundant food and refreshing (and also abundant) libation. No matter how one chooses to brunch, one thing is for certain: it’s bound to be a grand ol’ time of good food, even better company and, if you’re up for it, a perfect excuse to keep the champagne and OJ flowing. Luckily, Ithaca offers some pretty prime brunch options, no matter what vibe you’re going for on a sunny Sunday morning.

CAFÉ DEWITT

Tucked away in the Dewitt Mall just adjacent to the Commons, Café Dewitt offers some of the freshest and tastiest brunch dishes in the city. The local favorite may take a backseat to Moosewood, which is located in the same building, but it would be a crime for patrons with a hankering for upscale twists on brunch classics to overlook this downtown gem. The menu features brunch classics like eggs Florentine and customized fresh-egg omelettes, as well as more out-there plates like apple, sausage and potato hash. But the real shining star on the menu is the Tunisian plate. This smorgasborg of locally-grown lamb sausage and fried eggs, crispy toast and a side salad with a refreshing drizzle of pomegranate-cumin vinaigrette kicks the classic eggs-and-sausage brunch favorite up a notch or two. The real highlight on the dish is the apricot-carrot chutney, which provides the perfect sweet, tangy offset to the hearty main attractions. The Tunisian plate is a brunch dish that’s truly out of this world.

STELLA’S

Ah, Stella’s; Collegetown’s answer to the much sought-after upscale restaurant/swanky bar/hip coffeehouse. The College Avenue hotspot offers just about everything under the sun, whether you’re looking for a casual drink, a quick bite or a splurge-worthy dinner. The brunch, though, is equally worthy of a visit. And now that Stella’s offers a bottomless mimosa option for $14 with the purchase of any entreé, brunchers looking for a decent buzz can rejoice. Between sips of your umpteenth early-morning libation, diners can munch on dishes like quinoa oatmeal or the breakfast burrito worthy of a fiesta. But in this case, there’s nothing wrong with settling for the Hearty Breakfast, a classic breakfast feast of local eggs, applewood smoked bacon, homefries and toast. The Hearty Breakfast may be overlooked on a menu that boasts items like brioche French toast and the “Hamlette” (an omelette with ham, bacon and sausage), but this dish is too yummy to pass up. Plus, with so much food on one plate, eight dollars goes a long way.

HAI HONG

Dim sum brunch at Hai Hong is not only perhaps the most underappreciated brunch option in town, but also one of the best ones. One doesn’t typically think of brunch as a feast of dumplings, buns and spring rolls, but now that I mention it, doesn’t it sound amazing? I’ve become such a fan over the years that my friend and I have made a tradition of having our annual Easter brunch there. The menu is quite extensive and relatively inexpensive. The dishes are categorized as small, medium and large and priced accordingly. The items themselves range from several varieties of dumplings (fried and steamed) to sesame balls to taro pies to an assortment of buns. The best bet is to keep it simple (but still delicious) with steamed shrimp dumplings, an order of buns (chicken or pork), a couple of spring rolls and a larger, family-style noodle dish. The shrimp dumplings are a personal favorite — the silky dough melts in your mouth and is complemented perfectly by the crunch of the steamed shrimp in the center. With so many exotic items to choose from (and complimentary tea), Hai Hong’s dim sum brunch is your best brunch bet.

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