This week, we’re contemplating the idea that brunch may be the best invention ever. That hybrid of breakfast and lunch, served at a civilized hour, perhaps with a cocktail, and certainly with a cup of coffee, is a relaxing treat for a weekend or even a midday indulgence on a weekday.
Downtown Ithaca has its share of eateries with weekend brunches, including the Ithaca Ale House, which features a crisp Monte Cristo sandwich. This decadent, perfect brunch meal melds french toast with a ham and swiss sandwich. At the opposite end of downtown, Bandwagon Brewpub has a brand new Sunday brunch, featuring cheddar garlic biscuits and Piggery sausage gravy, and their amazing cornmeal waffles with shrimp, andouille sausage, spinach, and roasted red pepper chili cream sauce.
Nearby in the Dewitt Mall, Cafe Dewitt offers a great baguette french toast, specials like a hot and satisfying apple, sausage, and potato hash with melted cheddar and fried eggs, or my favorite, the Tunisian plate, lamb sausage with two eggs, apricot-carrot chutney, and a mixed green salad. Cafe Dewitt gets busy fast during prime brunch hours, so expect a wait.
Another place many folks feel is worth a wait is the Carriage House Cafe on Stewart Avenue in lower Collegetown, starting with such simple options as fresh local eggs served with bacon and toast, or a breakfast sandwich with New York cheddar on french bread. The brie-stuffed french toast, rich and crisp, is made with their own brioche and topped with a berry coulis, and the steak and eggs is expensive but out of this world, pepper-crusted and perfectly cooked, with crisp home fries. Since their brunch menu is available Tuesday through Sunday, a weekday visit helps avoid the crowds and long waits. Note that coffee refills get expensive fast, as the Carriage House charges for each one.
Farther up East Hill is another brunch sensation, Agava, featuring lunchy items like their great burger and tacos, as well as a creative breakfast flatbread topped with asparagus, egg, ricotta, and ramps. Their fresh ingredients from local sources like Autumn’s Harvest Farm and Forty Weight Coffee are among the best reasons to hit Agava anytime.
On the Cayuga Lake waterfront, the BoatYard Grill has great omelets and a fun eggs benedict variation, Eggs Katie, with both black forest ham and a fresh lump crabcake. Northstar Publick House has fantastic breakfast potatoes with local sausage (or mushroom) gravy and fried eggs, and instead of a soup du jour, they have donuts du jour!
A scenic jaunt up the west side of Cayuga Lake, we’re big fans of the brunch at Felicia’s Hive 45, the new Trumansburg café from the folks who owned Felicia’s Atomic Lounge in Ithaca’s west end. Hive 45 has vegan brunch bowls, a frittata of the day, breakfast meatloaf, and meat or veggie pot pies, as well as creative and refreshing brunch cocktails. A little farther north is the hearty brunch at the Crystal Lake Cafe at Americana Vineyards.
I grew up with the idea of hotel brunch buffets, and Ithaca still has a couple of those. Dapper’s at the Ramada Inn does a great job, with fresh breakfast dishes coming out all day, an omelets-to-order and waffle station, and lunch fare added after 11am for a couple bucks more per person. Order coffee, and you’ll get a whole carafe. At $7-9 plus beverages, and with the food quality stepped up from a low period a few years ago, this is a great meal and a great value.
Another brunch buffet worth a visit is at Taverna Banfi in Cornell’s Statler Hotel, though it’s a bit less of a bargain at $22.50 per person. Banfi’s Sunday brunch features a rotating selection of salads including a build-your-own Caesar salad station, a variety of smoked fish and seafood, and plenty of breakfast items such as waffles, scrambled eggs, and home fries. There are soups, hot entrees, and a carving station to round out the lunch side of the menu, and omelets or eggs cooked to order are available if you ask your server.
We love that so many places have expanded brunch beyond Sunday to Saturday as well, or even through the whole week. Of course, I also realize we’re leaving out quite a few great local brunch possibilities. Treat yourself to brunch at one of these spots soon, tell us what we’re missing in the comments, and tell the eatery you heard about them here.