Brunch is basically just breakfast with sugary cocktails. Which makes it even more annoying that, for some reason, picking a brunch place is more stressful than anything you dealt with at work this week.
When you just got a promotion, or it’s someone’s birthday, or you won Best Optometrist In Midtown East (for the fourth year in a row), you need a brunch restaurant that feels fancy enough for the occasion. Here are 13 great options around the city.
It’s not every day that you get to add an acronym to your name, so your family is in town to celebrate. But your adult brother still eats like a nine-year-old, and your mom wants food “like on Top Chef.” Union Square Cafe will make everyone happy. The two-floor space has great service without feeling stuffy and the food ranges from French toast to rainbow trout with pistachios. And all of it is great.
Few things feel more like a party than a Sadelle’s Tower. It’s a multi-tiered platter of everything you need to make your ideal smoked fish bagel sandwich. As for the bagels, you can have as many as you want, and all you have to do is flag a staff member when they come out chanting “hot bagels.” They have a full menu of non-bagel options too, which includes the best French toast we’ve ever eaten. Make a reservation and come with a group.
Your person woke you up this morning and handed you a happy anniversary card. It was immediately obvious that you didn’t recognize the significance of four-month anniversaries, and now you need to make up for it. Brunch at Cosme is a good start. The dark space still feels special occasion-y during the day, and you can share things like the uni tostada with bone marrow salsa and the duck carnitas while you discuss what your relationship might look like in four more months.
Upland is special enough for a brunch celebration that’s been on your calendar for much longer than your dermatologist appointment. The Italian food here is very good, and also fairly reasonably priced (most things are below or around $20) considering what an excellent experience it is. They serve classic brunch options as well as great pizzas, pastas, and vegetable-focused things for the people in your life who wake up too early for this to be the first meal of their day. Order as much as you can and hope that this is your only plan for today.
Le Coucou is a fancy French restaurant with white tablecloths and a brunch menu that they call “weekend lunch.” But despite the fact that you might see Rachael Ray and Clive Davis here, and each table has a two-foot candle on it, Le Coucou doesn’t feel stuffy at all. You can eat your excellent lobster galette without having to worry about what happens if you spill it.
You want to get brunch with friends on your birthday, but you have big nighttime plans and don’t want to crash at 6pm after hours of chasing Bloody Marys with mimosas. When you need something that feels more special than a bottomless spot and less special than a white-tablecloth place, go to Olmsted. Dishes like the maple flatbread with duck egg and duck sausage are good enough to warrant a trip for a special occasion, and if you still want some cocktails, get the one with matcha and rum and drink it in the garden area out back.
Maybe it’s your dad’s birthday and he’s bringing his vegetarian friend Arnold, or maybe your girlfriend’s grandmother is visiting New York for the first time. Maybe neither of those things are happening, but chances are, Loring Place will still be ideal for a special occasion brunch when you need to account for everyone’s specific needs - they serve everything from wood-grilled broccoli salad to a great cheeseburger.
You want the classic French bistro-type feel of Balthazar, but without the tourists and their Zara bags poking into your arm in the booth next to you. Augustine is the more modern version of that place, with better food and a fancier atmosphere. You’re here to eat rich French food like eggs in bearnaise sauce and steak frites and more things that will remind you you’re celebrating something.
Bar Boulud is a nice French restaurant you could bring your grandma to before your yearly tradition of seeing Phantom of the Opera. There will be people who look like they’re dressed for some sort of gala, eating things like Alsatian flatbreads and trout in brown butter sauce, but you can also sit in a booth in the bar area and eat a burger topped with pork belly and raclette.
At night, you’ll see people at Dirty French popping magnums of champagne. At brunch, they’re replaced with pitchers of Bloody Marys (topped with oysters and Cajun shrimp), and while it’s not quite as much of a scene, it’s still a fun spot to celebrate during the day. Like at dinner, the portions are big and the food is rich, so expect things like a French dip sandwich with dry-aged beef and hash with duck confit.
Flora Bar is the restaurant in the Met Breuer, but the food here is much more interesting than what you’d typically find at brunch in a museum restaurant. They have things like lobster dumplings, cornbread with rhubarb and whipped cream, and a $95 seafood platter. This is one of the more unique ways to eat brunch in the city, and way better than when your sister planned something “unique” and you all ended up eating Shake Shack on Metro North.
The main reason to choose this restaurant for your celebratory brunch is the view. It’s right on the Dumbo waterfront, so you can hang on some well-chosen cushy chairs as you stare out at the Brooklyn Bridge. The food here doesn’t really fit in one category, but people will be able to find their favorites among the eggs, pizzas, and kind of healthy stuff. If you have a big group, the interior restaurant space is large enough to fit all of your cousins and their significant others who your mom insisted be there. Just take turns walking outside to get your photos.