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Nothing goes with lazy summer weekend afternoons quite like brunch.
Frequent sojourners to Manhattan are familiar with the lines spilling onto the steamy sidewalks for a sumptuous meal at some of the city's most coveted brunch destinations.
Not to be outdone, Astoria eateries such as 718 Restaurant, Mojave and Sparrow Bar are serving up tasty weekend delights representative of the neighborhood's burgeoning culinary smorgasbord. The fare and atmosphere at these eateries is as diverse as the borough itself.
Neighborhood hotspot 718 (35-01 Ditmars Blvd) serves up French cuisine with a Latin touch. Its offerings skew more toward lunch than breakfast, with choices as varied as fried calamari, shrimp salad, chicken and tuna sandwiches and grilled hanger steak. For $22, diners can choose an appetizer, main course, and dessert from the prix fixe menu, as well as a mimosa or Bloody Mary. More typical breakfast dishes such as a mushroom omelet and poached eggs Benedict round out the menu.
Raphael Sutter, chef and owner of 718, said the most popular brunch items are the eggs Benedict and the restaurant's signature tarte flambée, synonymous with the Alsace region of France, from which Sutter hails. This French specialty is a pizza-like bread crust topped with ingredients such as the traditional combo of crème fraiche, onions and bacon, or more varied toppings like chicken, cheese and assorted vegetables.
From noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, diners can meet up with family and friends in 718's elegant, relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant's muted yet sophisticated interior, done up in shades of mustard and barn red, features a rounded bar adorned with mosaic tiles that give the space the low-key feel of a Parisian brasserie.
Sutter sums up brunches at 718 as "French with a different style."
"We really try to bring the city into the borough," he said.
The cool adobe interior of Mojave (22-36 31st St.) provides a welcome respite to diners looking to escape the stifling city heat. Visitors to this recent neighborhood addition are transported to the Southwest, with the restaurant's neutral color palette and atmospheric details, including distressed leather booths, exposed wood-beam ceiling and languid paddle fans providing the perfect hint of a breeze. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mojave, the sister restaurant to Agave in the West Village, takes its Southwestern influence seriously, serving patrons blue corn tortilla chips with a duo of piquant salsas as they wait for their meals. The brunch menu at Mojave is vast, ranging from innovative egg-based options and pancakes to salads, sandwiches and quesadillas. Prices range from $6.95 for a three-egg omelet or pan scramble, which includes a choice of three items such as sweet peppers, smoked bacon, sour cream and chorizo, to $15.95 for a Santa Fe Caesar salad topped with grilled spiced Tejas shrimp. Guests can add a mimosa, wine or frozen margarita for $3.50.
The portion sizes at Mojave mimic the vast, open expanse of desert from which the restaurant takes its name. The herb-speckled egg scramble yields a generous portion of eggs tossed with smoked salmon and scallions, joined by a hefty mound of spicy potatoes with sweet peppers and onions.
For those looking for a little more bite with their meal, Mojave offers 60 to 70 brands of tequila, including a special blend with habanero pepper deemed "the punisher," said manager Andrea Piazzolla. Patrons must sign a waiver to try the potent concoction, and those who abstain from food or water for five minutes after downing the drink receive it for free, he said.
"People come here for the good atmosphere," Piazzolla said. "Everybody's smiling. We want people from Astoria to come here and enjoy the food and the music."
Hipster haven Sparrow Bar (24-01 29th St.) specializes in "pub food done with a little more care than most places," said owner Evan Roumeliotis, who also owns the Blackbird Parlour in Williamsburg and the former Oleput Lollipop in Astoria, which is currently under renovation and will be reopened under a different name. With its dark, shabby-chic interior and close proximity to the ever-popular Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, Sparrow has an indie, retro-cool vibe that is reflected in its innovative cuisine.
Brunch offerings range in price from $4.50 for a simple croissant with jam to $12 for a fruit and herb salad, a heady fusion of savory and sweet courtesy of manouri, a semi-soft white Greek cheese, paired with pears, grapes, walnuts and a drizzle of honey.
The Mediterranean menu is inspired by Roumeliotis' Greek heritage and includes a mixture of different European cuisines, he said. The most popular menu items are eggs with speck (a variety of prosciutto) and the brunch burger, he said. Sparrow also offers a full selection of beer, wine and cocktails.
From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, the bar attracts mostly couples for brunch, a distinct departure from the singles scene synonymous with evenings, Roumeliotis said. At Sparrow, diners can expect to find simple food prepared with love in a nice, friendly environment, he said.
"It's a bit more of an inspired menu and a bit more fun than most menus," Roumeliotis said.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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