If I’m wandering around the Upper West Side at brunch time, I still can’t resist dropping into Ouest for a plate of soft scrambled eggs with house-smoked sturgeon, and Balthazar remains the place to be if you wish to begin your day in a proper Frenchified way, with a fresh croissant and a great fishbowl-size vessel of the excellent house “Chocolate Chaud.” For a dose of real Gallic raffishness, however, head down to Zucco: Le French Diner, on Orchard Street, and take a seat at the small dining counter, next to the assorted groggy musicians, solitary poets, and pretty girls reading their fat paperback novels between sips of cafe au lait. The coffee is served in blue-rimmed porcelain bowls, properly chipped around the edges, and don’t ever ask the excitable proprietor, Monsieur Zucco, for ketchup for your frites, because he hates the stuff. You’re safe with the fat, sugary slices of French toast, though, or flattened baguettes filled with salty ham and cornichons, or the stately “Le Steak Hache a Cheval,” which is a fat charbroiled burger, served on a boat of mashed potatoes, with a fried egg on top.
From there, it’s on to Egg, in Williamsburg, where the sleepy-looking neighborhood hipsters begin lining up at 7 a.m. to gobble great, crunchy buttermilk biscuits sunk in bowls of pork-sausage gravy (or vegetarian mushroom gravy if you wish), platters of “Eggs Rothko” (poached eggs, sealed into a chunk of brioche with melted cheddar), and the superior country ham biscuit, stuffed with melted Grafton Cheddar, slices of chewy salty Colonel Bill Newsom’s ham from Princeton, Kentucky, and spoonfuls of homemade fig jam. For a bang-up English breakfast, my brunch-time choice is 202, set amid the jumble of coatracks on the ground floor of the Chelsea Market. And if you wish to complement your plate of scrambled eggs and bangers, or Bubble and Squeak, with another dish or two, sprint around the corner to the new Chelsea outlet of Tom Colicchio’s rapidly multiplying ’Wichcraft chain, and shell out $4 for a little paper tub of stone-ground grits, bombed, on top, with smoked ham and melted Cheddar.
Breakfast is now served daily at Lynn Wagenknecht’s new, excessively ladylike West Village hangout, Cafe Cluny, where my wife dines on the organic omelette, my daughters order the French toast, and I call for the superior gourmet version of short-rib hash, decked with two poached eggs and bearnaise sauce. My other favorite West Village brunch delicacy is the brick-oven-baked Alsatian eggs “en cocotte” at August, made with sweet onions, chunks of Alsatian ham, and creme fraiche. Whenever I’m in the mood for something completely different, however, I’ll bundle the family off to Crema Restaurante, on 17th Street, for baskets of warm tortilla chips with great spoons of fresh guacamole, flour tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and guajillo chile, and Julieta Ballesteros’s great “Chilaquiles Verdes y Rojos con Huevos Poche,” made with chicken and shredded tortillas and two kinds of salsa, mixed with melted Chihuahua cheese, fresh cream and fresh cilantro, and a single, wobbly poached egg.