Manhattan may seem huge and neverending to non–New Yorkers, but those who live here know the real truth: Its size is kind of an illusion. Unless you’re a particularly ambitious breed (the type of chick who shows up early to the sample sale to be first in line), chances are you stick to your neighborhood and the well-worn path of other shops and restaurants that you muster the effort to visit. No offense to StuyTown and its neighbors, but 20th and First Ave is not necessarily on my circuit. But you all know my motto: Will travel for brunch. And when Petite Abeille invited the Bitches in for a brunch, travel I did.
I met my friend Niloo for a quick bite at this Belgian bistro (whose name means “little bee”) on a recent Saturday afternoon, and the place was packed with couples, parents, and kids in soccer uniforms. While she waited 30 minutes for me to arrive (I’m sorry, Niloo!), my friend indulged in a coffee and watched the restaurant crowd grow around her from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. This was clearly a family-friendly go-to for many in the neighborhood.
Once I got there, we caught up a bit and put in our orders fairly quickly. I began with a mimosa that I ultimately ended up sending back because the taste was unrecognizable. Perhaps it was the champagne or whatever other bubbly the restaurant used that day, but I couldn’t stomach the unappetizing and funky tang of this particular concoction. And believe me, I tried. In the end, I opted for a Coke instead and was much happier.
The chocolate croissant that arrived next lifted my spirits somewhat, though I would have preferred a slightly warmer version. (I like the chocolate to be a bit melted and oozy.) In these dark winter days, sometimes the only warmth a single gal gets is the heat from a tantalizingly toasty baked good—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I digress…
Niloo opted for a double whammy of avocado toast and French onion soup—half veg, half cheese. I like what she did there. A quick perusal through the more than 500,000 #avocadotoast photos on Instagram reveals most come with a chunkier avocado topping, but Petite Abeille went full-on smooth operator with its iteration, topping charred sourdough with an avocado purée, EVOO, and red chili flakes. Surprising to me, Niloo said she preferred the purée and she really enjoyed the chewy bread. However, she noted a lack of seasoning overall.
Her soup was a classic rendition of the beloved French staple, and I’ll be honest, it didn’t elicit much commentary. But I take that as a good thing since she was too busy enjoying it to give notes. From my side of the table, it smelled cheesy and familiar.
I opted for the eggs in purgatory, a combination of roasted tomatoes, coddled eggs, and bechamel cooked au gratin so that it gets crispy on top. I was worried the bechamel would be too creamy and overpower the dish (and lead to stomach problems later), but the dish turned out to be incredibly well balanced and tasty. The slices of bread on the side served as the perfect tools to scoop up excess tomato sauce—and you’re going to need all of them. A piping hot bowl of comfort, this dish is a solid choice for winter brunchers looking for warm themselves up from the inside out.
While Petite Abeille didn’t wow us with its dishes, atmosphere, or service, we appreciate a solid restaurant with tasty dishes when we encounter one. And a good deal doesn’t hurt either. Though we didn’t partake this day, the bistro offers a 90-minute bottomless brunch for $30 that includes any entrée, coffee or tea, and mimosas or bellinis.
The Bitches Say: C. Petite Abeille is a good family-friendly go-to if you’re in the neighborhood—but that’s as far as the allure goes. For atmosphere and inventiveness, look elsewhere.
401 East 20th Street
New York, NY 10010
(212 ) 727-1505
Petite Abeille serves brunch on Saturdays and Sunday starting at 9 a.m.