The Upper East Side is enough of an address for the suave and conversant to know its in Manhattan. For over a century it has earned a reputation as a breeding ground for the moneyed and owing to this perception the architecture, art and experiences it beholds reflect the upward. The steady seasoning of tastes through the generations traveled from this upper east echelon to the every street of New York spoiling the locals and visitors for choice. When you dare to brave the city’s tides of finicky taste buds you better have a product or service to swim through to the next shore let alone sail it. Every restaurant, cafe, bar, pizza shop, food truck and street cart are up in each other’s arms to survive in this fierce battle of the palate.
Not that the Midtown, Soho or Downtown are any less an acid test for survival but historically if you hit home run on The Upper East Side you’ve arrived in the city. Such was the case of one woman who back in the early 80s started out by recreating her family’s marmalade recipe and selling them at the opening of a small cafe. In less than two years the upper east side had a shop called Sarabeth’s Bakery that only burgeoned into a franchise of breakfast and lunch cafes. Today of course Sarabeth’s has gone from an East coast bakery and travelled to the eastern hemisphere with its hamper of baked goods and mason jars. That’s the thing about legends they often start small almost inconsequential to the world around them and by the time you know they exist they’ve enchanted half the planet.
When summer arrives it’s time to brunch and so, I did, with my husband who is equally an Eggs Benedict and Mimosa enthusiast like I am. Dressing up for a casual laid back beginning to an eventful day in Manhattan was just what we needed that weekend. I share with you in this post my impressions and experience of the much snapped about brunch on social media and be mentioned as Blair Waldorf’s favorite brunch spot on the show Gossip Girl.
As with everything in Manhattan location rules the roost and Sarabeth Levine doesn’t get the rule of thumb wrong. All the locations of Sarabeth’s are prime real estate pins on the New York map. By the virtue of staying in the neighborhood, we visited the 1295 Madison Avenue address of Sarabeth’s Upper East Side restaurant during our visit to New York City. The restaurant is close to the 92nd Street on Madison Avenue and if you haven’t been to New York you could take a quick walk to Central Park from here or stroll down 5th Avenue on the museum mile visiting the Guggenheim Museum, Jewish Museum all the way to The MET. This location was the original 1983 bakery that opened under the name of Sarabeth’s.
The iconic green awning bearing the baker’s name gave away to the otherwise indistinctive Manhattan street with the restaurant tucked between a hotel and other establishment. Nothing out of the ordinary until you step in and the flurry of waitresses running, glassware and cutlery clinking, phone ringing, constant murmur of conversations and waft of freshly baked breakfast goodies fill your senses. For a better table obviously call in ahead but they don’t take reservations for brunch and its all depends on how early you arrive. We called in early and made sure there wasn’t a big wait time and arrived accordingly to be seated soon enough than wait near the bakery console taking note of the pastel cans and jars of marmalade, jams and preserves. The restaurant is a sunken level from the reception and has tall ceilings and a wall of windows climbing from the floor to ceiling much like the architectural norm found in its neighborhood. The two chandeliers light up the room even though the main dining room is bathing in daylight. There is an upper level dining section which hovers in the corner of the main dining room. The main room has a combination of booths and chair seating. We were seated next to the window enabling us to get some good views of the street as well as instagram worthy captures of our experience. The restaurant was already filled with patrons eased into their coffee and moving towards the brunch while casually exchanging the what’s-been-up the past week. First impressions of the restaurant didn’t give a vibe of a stiff upper class environment but rather a casual and at ease convivial one.
I have been a hotelier since the last decade of this century and have seen one too many busy restaurants as well as hotels but the what separates the exceptional from the good ones is the busy hours. If the staff misses their common courtesy like a welcoming smile or body language that goes down to the training of the team. Though the service at Sarabeth’s was swift and smooth as on brand as it should, the waitress was visibly stretched on her duties and took orders like she was pressed to get someplace. It took her a while to even come forward after seating us to take the orders. Our orders were quite the classic and simple Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon and Coconut Waffles with mango,pineapple and rum butter she struggled to make a choice between a couple of options. Nevertheless I tried the coconut waffles while my husband stuck to the classic and we both ordered the Four Flower Mimosa to go with the dishes. But first coffee to officially start our day and it arrived soon enough as we ordered it. The service as mentioned earlier was swift as expected from a Sarabeth’s and as we progressed into our brunch the waitress came around this time she broke into a smile and asked how the experience was coming along for us. She made up for the initial mechanical expressions with her genuine lovely smile. Well to err is human however I wonder if New Yorkers would be forgiving going by their reputation.
A clink and a sip from our Mimosa glasses and we were all set to yet another brunch ritual to be cherished. To my delight the coconut waffles were fresh, crisp and comforting with a hint of coconut but the mango and pineapple with rum butter was the king of the dish. Melting in my mouth like jelly, the rum butter and mango was refreshingly tangent to the crispy waffle taste. I rarely choose waffles but when I do I expect nothing less than the Belgian standards and I took to them like a brunchphile. If you’d like to experience on the brunch menu at Sarabeth’s other than the eggs this would be the dish you need to experience.
The Eggs Benedict were dressed every inch the diva of Sarabeth’s as they are touted to be – sunshine flowing down the poached eggs. However to my husband’s surprise one of the eggs wasn’t poached to perfection. This is a rare experience even for us but at Sarabeth’s it only exaggerates owing to the heightened anticipation and expectation that we arrive with through the doors. Rightly so if the star of the brunch is Eggs Benedict that social media is melting its eyes and double taps over. There is a surprise we were least awaiting. The hollandaise sauce was the beacon of hope and shined through to divert our attention towards it and while eggs poached to German precise is half battle won, the other half is shoulder by the sauce and the orchestration of the two coming together on a smoked salmon and english muffin is the how we peak to what instagram calls it #FoodGasm to put it mildly. There are many egg options besides Eggs Benedict that you shouldn’t give a miss and allow yourself to wander a little into the woods of breakfast jungle.
What To Expect
I reckon you are going to expect some surprise and delight even though its a legendary restaurant going on for over three decades but I can safely say nothing is impervious to errors even on the Upper East Side and yet I enjoyed the experience because the food was good, the pace of service was excellent, the location cannot be beaten, some fine tuning needs to be done irrespective of how old or new is your establishment. Overall I liked it maybe mostly because the waitress did come around as a lovely person and everything felt like being in a well oiled machine. There are other locations across the lengths of the city you could give a try and be sure to share your experience on the comment section or ask questions before you visit and I will be sure to answer them to the best of my knowledge.