February 24, 2010

Carriage House Café: The Holy Grail of Ithacan Brunches

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Last weekend, I unearthed myself early on a Saturday morning to take the long, cold walk from North Campus to lower Collegetown. This was not, as one might guess, a walk of shame, but rather a trek — nay, a quest — to seek the holy grail of Ithacan brunches. Years of eavesdropped clues and scribblings in ancient documents (ok, fine, the Arts and Entertainment section of The Sun) had been combined, under the dual influences of the new moon and my friend John, into a clear signal that I, lowly gastronome, had to experience the swirling brunchen maelstrom that is the Carriage House Café.

I mean, come on, they have French toast stuffed with brie. For serious.

I assembled a crack team of the finest breakfast food connoisseurs available on such short notice and set out to see if, indeed, Stewart Avenue was the epicenter of breakfast-lunch-fusion deliciousness. Having never before breached the outer perimeter of the café, we pulled a Dr. Jones and did some research before our full-scale assault.

A brief but lusty affair with Google turned up some heretofore undiscovered information about the premises. The building itself, it seemed, was not originally a temple of breakfast cuisine, but rather an ancient repository for creatures of an equine nature, far more suited to delivering food than being it. These quadrupeds had inhabited the structure before our beloved Uncle Ezra would found an institution where any person could find instruction in most studies, but definitely not glassblowing.

This seemed strange to me, but a later paragraph in the secret documents revealed that the building had been “abandoned” for almost 100 years, a period of suspiciously narratively convenient length. Bingo! Clearly, a cloak-and-dagger cabal of breakfast lovers had been using the building and conserving strength for the big reveal. Armed with this knowledge, we mounted our secret offensive on tasty food items at 10:11 a.m.

The door warden was charming and caught the expedition off guard when she suggested that we wait in the loft of the building for 15 minutes while an appropriate space was prepared. We rallied magnificently and trooped up the stairs, but a combination of the well-kept décor and the tantalizing scent of baked goods served to demoralize the squad, and within a few minutes, we were as impatient as quivering artistic ribbons of raspberry coulis.

When the door warden arrived about 10 minutes later to inform us that our table was ready, we were eyeing each other with barely-repressed ravenousness, very apparently having trouble holding it together. As we trooped back down the stairs, though, the crew managed to contain our excitement as we ordered caffeinated beverages and intriguing victuals from the minimalist menu without a single primal snarl.

Our beverages arrived promptly, and all were stunned by their beauty. How could we profane such foamed-milk art with our blushing-pilgrim lips? But the guilty realization that the Enjoyment of the Latte was part of the Brunchtime Rite stole over us, and we sipped our lattes and hot chocolate. It was while we were enjoying this transcendent experience that the next part of the ritual ambushed us.

In quick succession, two stacks of chocolate chip pecan pancakes with caramelized banana, one grilled cheese and pesto sandwich and three plates of brie-stuffed French toast draped in New York maple syrup and berry sauce arrived in front of us. There was a brief, resounding silence as each of us took the first bite. I, for one, was transported by this discovery of sensuous melted brie enrobed in fluffy brioche and capped with sweet syrup, and having tasted the other offerings, I was certain that we had, in fact, found the very best brunch that we had ever had here at Cornell. My compatriots had similarly astonishing experiences, and all were excited to return again to this house of the rising sun.

The Carriage House Café is located in lower Collegetown at the corner of Buffalo St. and Stewart. They serve brunch six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Having brunch there at least once should definitely be on the 161 list. RLD

Original Author: Kevin Boyd