As New Yorkers, we’re accustomed to squeezing into small spaces and consequently know how challenging it is to reserve restaurant reservations for large parties. As was such a few weekends ago when we scrambled to find an eatery that could accommodate a last-minute party of 18 for my boyfriend Andrew’s birthday brunch.
Our criteria included a cheap bottomless meal, fun location, and no minimum or party contract. The majority of restaurants that we initially contacted required that we sign our lives away in the event that members of our party show up late so we really wanted somewhere low key and stress free.
After a bit of hunting, we finally landed on Essex in the Lower East Side. I had heard good things through the grapevine and the hostess was very accommodating to our fluctuating party size in days leading up to the celebration.
Upon entering Essex, I was struck by its large size and bright interior. The two-level restaurant featured a ceiling of skylights, basking diners in fresh sunshine. Essex was running about thirty minutes late with our reservation, which worked out well as members of our party meandered in slowly. They also let us start our bottomless deal at the bar while we waited so no one complained.
We were eventually seated at a long L-shaped table on the upper level of the establishment. Parties of 12 to 20 people can book a brunch party at Essex and are served a $34.95 deal that includes bottomless mimosas, Bloody Marys, and screwdrivers with one entrée from the expansive menu. We had a few servers attending our table and they did a great job ensuring that no one was left with an empty glass throughout the meal.
The menu featured American fare with a Jewish twist; ingredients such as matzo, potato pancakes, and smoked fish were scattered throughout our brunch options. Since our party was so large, I snapped pictures and shared bites of my immediate neighbors’ entrees.
The birthday boy can’t resist a Mexican brunch item so he went with the Mexican Matzo Brei. Daniel, our resident Yiddish culture expert, explained that Matzo Brei was comparable to chilaquiles with pieces of matzo rather than tortilla chips. He was right on the mark. Andrew’s dish basically tasted like gooey breakfast nachos with scrambled eggs, avocado, Monterey jack cheese, and black beans. He thought that the incorporation of matzo was inventive and especially appreciated the fresh jalapenos, but found that the dish could have used some more seasoning.
Jaime stayed true to her Jewish heritage and tried the LES Matzo Brie. This was a more traditional version of Andrew’s dish with scrambled eggs, onions, and apple sauce, with chicken apple sausage on the side. Jaime deemed that this matzo brie was authentic and tasty, and especially enjoyed the flavorful chicken apple sausage.
I wanted to balance my overindulgence of mimosas with a healthier entrée and ordered the kale Caesar salad. I expected a pretty simple dish, but I was pleasantly surprised with a hearty, fresh salad. Grilled chicken and a poached egg atop my greens kept my appetite at bay and my body fueled for a day of birthday celebrations.
When it comes to eating, Molly is one of my more adventurous friends so I wasn’t surprised when she ordered The Aristocrat, an inventive entrée that contained a smorgasbord of potato pancakes, house-cured salmon gravlax, salmon caviar, sour cream, and poached eggs. Molly loved the rich, salty fish and as a fellow poached-egg lover, enjoyed sopping up the yolk with her crispy potato pancake.
In the same vein, Daniel was drawn to the Essex famous potato pancakes. With a name like that, someone had to order this dish. The potato pancakes were served with sauteed apples in honey cream sauce and spinach-shiitake black bean hash. He preferred the more traditional apple and honey topper and could have done without the beans. Regardless, he raved about the crispy potato pancakes and finished every last bite.
After already completing a grueling CrossFit WOD earlier in the morning, Myles was ready for some carbs. He gave into his sweet tooth and ordered the blueberry pancakes. Although the pancakes looked a bit plain, he assured us that they were perfectly fluffy and fruit-filled, just to his liking. In fact, he enjoyed this dish so much that he was still talking about it over another brunch a few weeks later. Pancakes for the win.
Similarly to Myles, Jen and Mike went the American route and each ordered a burger variation. At Essex you’re given the option of topping the half-pound of prime beef with bacon, cheese, avocado, mushrooms, jalapenos, or a fried egg. Bitches love options. Both agreed that the burger was juicy and satisfying; they’ve had more gourmet burgers at classic locales such as the Spotted Pig and Whitman’s, but Essex’s burgers were still pretty good.
As we closed out our meal and settled the tab, everyone was sufficiently buzzed and fully satisfied. We had each enjoyed our dishes, which is a rarity. I’ve found that many restaurants with cheap bottomless offerings often have mediocre food. Most importantly, Andrew had a blast celebrating with a merry group of his closest friends.
The Bitches say: B+. Essex was perfect for a large, boozy party. Our drinks were full, our food was tasty, and the service was accommodating. You could find more refined food elsewhere for a quaint brunch date, but if you’re looking for a cheap bottomless option that doesn’t sacrifice on flavor, give Essex a shot.
Essex serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 11 a.m. (212) 533-9616