Just over a month ago, on Christmas morning I unwrapped an amazing gift from my sister. Brunch for two at The James Beard House! I had always heard about the meals there, but this was the first time I was going to experience it. Owner and Wine Director Doug Crowell and Executive Chef Ryan Angulo of Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn were the guest hosts of the day bringing their seasonal home-style American fare to the table.
Sunday at noon my sister and I appeared at the front door of 167 W 12 St with big smiles and stomachs that knew they were in for something impressive! Once we checked in, we were asked to join the reception through the kitchen. As we made our way through the kitchen we were greeted with delightful smells and the distinct clatter of pans and dishes that warms my heart.
Off the kitchen was a large glass-walled room filled with fellow brunchers enjoying Classic Bloody Marys with House-Made Pickles while plates of snacks were passed, whetting our appetite and giving a sneak preview of what was to come. We were immediately greeted by Doug Crowell, who made our bloody marys for us, they were full of horseradish and vodka, and a spicy start to the meal. Flavor packed skewers of fresh mozzarella from Caputo’s in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, baguette, black olive, and an anchovy/basil puree were savored. Then there was house-cured salmon on silver dollar buttermilk pancakes, a delicious balance of smoke and creamy tang from the pancake; pickled oysters with thin strands of celery root and fennel, sweet and tangy at the same time and bowls of maple and bacon roasted almonds. They were still warm and a little chewy, with the perfect amount of sweet and savory. After a bit of mingling with members of The James Beard Foundation we were escorted up the back steps to the dining room for our four-course brunch.
A foodie’s dream, one entire side of the room was covered with shelves of cookbooks, flanked by two paintings of the namesake, James Beard. We took our seats at the front of the room in a booth that was perched two steps above the other tables, giving a clear view of all the going-ons in the room.
With each course, Doug Crowell came around and explained what wines were being served, while also pouring them for us. His enthusiasm for the all-American wine list was evident as he spoke about each one with pride. The succession of courses went from lighter to heaviest as we progressed through the meal.
The first course was a starter trifecta. First was a Sweet Potato Soup pureéd with squash and topped with tiny rosemary and olive croutons. The soup was sweet and velvety and bits of olive added a salty balance. The Tart shell was flaky, but sturdy and held up to a filling of super creamy housemade ricotta, winter squash, a tiny piece of what I believe was pear and topped with a brown butter glaze. The final taste of the first course was a Honeycrisp apple, turnip and radish salad. Super thin rounds mixed with greens including arugula in a light vinaigrette sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. All three complimented each other. One bite of the creamy tart or soup and then a refreshing taste of salad. Superb!
The second course, the fish course, was a thick piece of trout split and stuffed with thinly sliced leeks and wrapped in super thin slice of ham from Benton’s, a family run business from Madisonville, TN. The trout sat atop a johnnycake with cornmeal from Fall’s Mill. The plate was decorated with grainy, spicy mustard and thick and chunky prune jam. The jam and mustard were an unbelievable compliment to the trout that I would have never thought of pairing together.
The third course was the one I was most excited about. Duck meatloaf. The meatloaf was served over a hashbrown crisped in duck fat, with a friseé and herb salad, pickled pearl onions and a beautifully poached egg finished with a duck jus. The meatloaf was perfectly cooked and juicy made from duck ground in-house with a hint of sweetness that Chef Ryan revealed to be raisins. This was the first time I had had duck and it was a unique take and the duck-fried potatoes were a natural accompaniment.
If that wasn’t enough, there was still dessert to come! A decadently rich and creamy Pecan Pie Sundae. Yum! A layer of thick and gooey pecan filling chock full of pecans topped with whipped cream and cold and creamy vanilla ice cream by Van Leeuwen of Brooklyn. The sundae was accompanied by a rich cup of illy espresso and a sweet white dessert wine, that sadly I missed the name of.
During dessert we were introduced to Executive Chef Ryan and the rest of the kitchen staff. They answered questions about the meal and received a round of applause as myself and fellow diners commended them on a spectacular showing.
As we were leaving, deliriously happy and full, a bag of the maple and bacon roasted almonds were tucked into the hand of each guest. A yummy take away from a delicious day!