Courtesy of Carriage House Café

Students and locals enjoy brunch at Carriage House Café.

March 3, 2016

Munchin’ for a Brunchin’?: Ithaca’s Top 3 Brunch Locales

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I hate breakfast. I never eat it. Forget about it being the most important meal of the day — I’m either rushing out the door to get to class, or sleeping in until lunchtime anyway. But brunch? Now we’re talking.

I don’t know why exactly I love brunch so much. Maybe it’s because the term “brunch” is vague enough to allow it to be eaten at any hour. Maybe it’s because you can eat almost any food for brunch without being judged. Maybe it’s because drinking alcohol in the morning is socially acceptable when it’s over brunch.

For many reasons, brunch is fantastic, which is why I was at the brink of tears last semester when my favorite brunch place, Mahogany Grill, stopped serving brunch. Determined to continue savoring the best meal of the day, I set out to discover some new brunch places. Here’s what I found:

Northstar House

Not to be confused with the dining hall on North Campus, Northstar House is located in Fall Creek, causing it to be easily passed over by students who limit their dining experience to Collegetown and the Commons. I had visited Northstar many times for their delicious (and locally-sourced) dinners, but I had never tried their brunch. So I convinced some friends that trying Northstar’s brunch was an urgent matter, and in doing so discovered my new favorite brunch place.

Appetizers are usually reserved for dinner, but a particular item on Northstar’s specials list caught my eye: chocolate chip doughnuts with lemon curd and whipped cream. They were unlike anything else I’ve eaten in Ithaca, which speaks to Northstar’s uniqueness and creativity. I wanted to try as much as possible, so I ordered their brunch plate which came with eggs, bacon, grits and French toast. Here was where I was blown away.

The eggs were good — nothing to write home about — but the rest of the plate was amazing. As any bacon-lover knows, there are right and wrong ways of cooking bacon. Northstar definitely did it the right way.

I wasn’t too excited about the French toast and wouldn’t have ordered it had it not come with the plate. Despite my love of brunch, I have never liked French toast — but Northstar converted me. Their French toast was not the sloppy, syrupy mess I usually associate with the dish; instead, it was a piece of brioche topped with apple butter. The syrup came on the side so you could decide whether or not you wanted to drown your food.

I was perhaps most excited about the grits. I’m not Southern and have no idea how grits are “supposed” to be done. But I love them, and Northstar’s cheesy and delicious grits were no exception. The other people I was dining with claimed to hate grits, but after trying Northstar’s, they changed their minds.

All in all, despite Mahogany Grill’s brunch discontinuation, I was able to find a new love in Northstar.

Carriage House Café

The Carriage House is what most Cornell students and Ithaca residents think of when they think of brunch, and for good reason. Located in a literal 19th century carriage house, the Café has an atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else. The inside is beautiful and rustic, and even the outdoor waiting areas are picture-perfect.

Carriage House is known for their brunch. It’s what they do, and they do it well. I always start out with a latté. Since coffee is often the first item diners experience when they sit down at brunch, I feel like it’s a good way of initially judging a restaurant. If I were judging these restaurants on coffee alone, Carriage House would win. Their lattés come in giant mugs so that one drink lasts the entire meal. They also bring out a little bowl of sugar instead of individual packets, which I love because I put a ridiculous amount of sugar in my coffee. Their lattés also always feature a little design drawn in the foam. I’m not condoning Instagramming your lattés — but if you were to do so, this would be the place.

I have to admit, my go-to dish at Carriage House isn’t a traditional brunch dish. Along with items such as eggs and French toast, Carriage House also offers an array of sandwiches. I almost always get the Vietnamese Banh Mi, which is one of the messiest sandwiches out there, but is also packed full of flavor. Their pulled pork sandwich, while similarly messy (and pricy), is also delicious. Again, I don’t usually like French toast, but a classic Carriage House specialty is their brie-stuffed French toast. Served with berry coulis, it’s a unique dish that at least one of my dining companions seems to order during every time I go to the restaurant.

Carriage House’s food and atmosphere are almost unbeatable. Their major drawbacks are the high prices (which is why it’s a good place to take your parents to when they come visit, and make them pay) and their waiting time. Carriage House doesn’t take reservations, and when they’re busy I’ve seen waiting times of up to two hours. 

Boatyard Grill

Almost everyone in Ithaca knows about and has been to the Boatyard Grill, but few people know that Boatyard also offers brunch on Sundays. I’ve lived in Ithaca my whole life and only learned about Boatyard’s brunch last summer.

Without Mahogany Grill’s brunch, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find Eggs Benedict anywhere. Fortunately for me and for all other Eggs Benedict-lovers, Boatyard offers it at a very reasonable price. In fact, all of their brunch items are under ten dollars, which is a broke college student’s dream. Their hollandaise sauce was slightly too citrusy and not spicy enough for me, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Boatyard is the best place to get brunch during the summer. If you’re lucky enough and it’s not too crowded, you’ll be seated outside with a gorgeous view of Cayuga Lake and Cornell’s campus from afar. Of all the places I’ve enjoyed drinking late-morning coffee, Boatyard Grill’s patio may be my favorite.