West Branch | 2178 Broadway, New York, NY 10024 | 212.777.6764 | www.thewestbranchnyc.com
WELL, IT'S A new year, which means a new set of resolutions, a new outlook of life, and time to make changes. Without getting too personal, one of those changes I most recently made to start the new year was to stop (I am so far not saying quit) drinking alcohol. To do that, I realized I'd have to remove myself from the types of environments that usually make it easier for me to drink. It isn't so much that alcohol was an extreme detriment to my lifestyle and health, it's just that its consequences were, more and more, interfering with the other creative (read, financially paying) venues of my schedule.

So I gave up one of my two daytime bartending shifts at the bar below my apartment. (I was able to actually work two shifts so far without having a drop of alcohol, which, if you know me, is quite an accomplishment.) I am now able to get up early in the mornings and better concentrate of the wishes of my website clients, who have become more numerous over the last couple of months.

Now I can put the time I used to spend recovering from the poor judgments of the day before to more productive endeavors, such as work, and my own personal life. For the first time in almost a year and a half, today was my first (planned) Sunday off, and after running some personal errands, looked forward to enjoying a New York City brunch, and write my first Brunch post for PHUDE!

But not before I got a phone call from a very good friend, Lauren, who, also due to my previous incapacity to be more available and spending whatever free time I had on client work, I hadn't spoken to—much less seen—in quite a while. She had already expressed envy at not yet having joined me on any of my PHUDE-ie excursions, this was a perfect opportunity to truly reap some of the reward of my new lifestyle decisions.

This morning's MenuPages "fishing" landed me at a restaurant called West Branch, located on the Upper West Side (right next to Fatty Crab and across the street from my alma mater prep school, Collegiate), so Lauren met me at my place and we were quickly in a cab, crossing the park, and alighting on 77th Street and Broadway.

West Branch

West Branch

We had arrived during the last half hour of brunch service; I prefer to eat at restaurants during their off hours, when the staff can give better service and the kitchen has less of a chance to get an order wrong. I had asked for a table by the window—so I could get some decent natural light pictures—and they easily accommodated us since most of the tables were actually getting ready to leave.


I don't remember when exactly today I informed Lauren that I was drinking booze, but she was considerate enough to asked if I minded if she ordered a Blood Mary with her brunch. I told her, "Of course," and Sheila (our wonderful waitress!) quickly obliged.


Having already studied the menu, chock full of brunch staples such as omelets, pancakes, French toast (and a bagel with smoked salmon for $14?!), I was planning on ordering the novelties: Cheddar Gourgéres (little finger pastries filled with cheese) and their version of a Cuban sandwich, which they served in a pressed panini. Lauren sated her curiosity by ordering the smoked salmon blinis with crême fraiche and caviar (only $11), and played a safety order of a cheeseburger.

As we waited for our food to arrive, we had a good chat catching up and taking in the roomy comfort of our circular booth—which could have easily sat 5 people—as well the roomy comfort of the rest of the room.

This is the kind of place you come to not just to eat, but to elegate. (I just made up that word!) That is to say, if you want to treat someone special to something that feels elegantly elevated, the rooms of this restaurant can definitely fill the bill, although I assume it loses a lot of its intimacy when it gets crowded, which I still hear it does.

The bread that came out to hold us over during Lauren's Bloody Mary and my ginger ale was—after tasting, I realized—banana bread; it was warm and slightly toasted at the edges, and a nice not-overly-sweet appetite starter.


The bread was gone quickly, and the appetizers arrived, which were my Cheddar gougéres and her blinis.

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Both apps (yes, we shared of course) were quite good, a step up from the kind of finger food you get at upscale corporate dinner functions (is that really a complimemt?). The grougeres—I hardly expected so many—were lighter in texture and taste than they looked, with the taste of Cheddar hitting the taste buds last without any of the texture of cheese. The blinis were light, fluffy little cakes, the salmon was nice and tasty with no fishy aftertaste, which you might expect by the late afternoon hours, and the whole bite was finished delicately with some smooth creme and the high but small hit of saltiness from the caviar.

Halfway through our apps we stopped, choosing to save the room for our main courses, which came to the table, again, more bountiful than expected.

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My "Cuban" panini was tasty, possessing all the classic Cuban sandwich flavors while adding the crunch of the crispy toasted sides of the bread. The accompanying homemade potato chips were spot on. Lauren's cheeseburger, a behemoth, was juicy, and she enjoyed its flavors as well. She was also a really big fan of their homemade pickles, that had powerful notes of mustard and garlic, and was brined with some extra sugar which played nicely with the vinegar.

Their was a wealth of food, as we couldn't finish any of the dishes. Closing up brunch service we I asked for the check. I had to play a guessing game about what the total would come out to. I knew the price of the food, but was curious as to what Lauren's two Bloody Marys would total. The check came out to just under $90, which would have otherwise bothered me, since I could think of a number of places that I could get food just as good—and it was good—for less money. A lot less.

But as I looked at the padded, oversized banquettes, and the fresh linens, and the antiqued mirrors, and the high end woodwork, and the dozens of staff members running around, I realized where a lot of the money here goes, and that I wasn't just paying for food. No one ever does. Here, you're even paying for the pretty to-go boxes they put our leftovers in.

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At West Branch, you're paying for atmosphere, as I could also imagine many couples cooing in each other's ears over hangar steak, and many families treating moms to fresh berry parfaits and French toast for Mother's Day. Had I eaten here by myself I might have left a little bitter about what I had spent. But I was with Lauren, who I hadn't seen—much less spoken to—in a long while, since before the holidays. We had never dined out together. We were celebrating my efforts to have a more creative and productive new year, as she offered her praise and support.

So, although the food was very good but not special, the occasion was special. And that made it all worthwhile. We both left happy, smiling, glad and grateful we got to spend some quality time together and do something out of the ordinary.

I snapped a few shots from my little pocket point & shoot camera as a reminder not so much about where I was, but who I was there with....





Back into the cold...!

Bun Apple Tea!


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West Branch | 2178 Broadway, New York, NY 10024 | 212.777.6764 | www.thewestbranchnyc.com