New York City is an unparalleled universe of boundless potential especially when it comes to all things edible. Forget the superstars who have cashed in their first million here and the aspiring performers who have made their first Broadway headline in the city. Who even cares about the rabid entrepreneurs who bleed Wall Street for all its worth and end up on a Forbes shortlist at the age of 21?! NYC is the foodie gift that just keeps on giving and I’m all about making my culinary dreams a reality.
With so many restaurants to research, so many reviews to wade through and a billion and one menus to mull over, fine-tuning a five-day itinerary was no mean feat. Alas, after three months of um-ing and ah-ing ahead of our double-destination trip to Reykjavik and New York, we had a final plan of action in place. Third stop: brunch at Beauty & Essex.
(First stop: Ellen’s Stardust Diner and second stop: Root & Bone if you’re interested)
When plotting out our map of consumption around the city ahead of our sojourn there last month, Beauty & Essex was one of the first to make the final cut. Various articles, blog posts and Instagram posts only confirmed what I had suspected about this Lower East Side hot spot – that for visitors and seasoned New Yorkers alike, it’s an absolute must.
As a diamond in the rough of the East Village’s bohemian charm, Beauty & Essex is an upmarket restaurant, bar and champagne lounge behind the shabby façade of a fully functioning pawn shop. Yes pawn, not porn. We aren’t at London’s Bodega Negra now. Like Narnia come to life, you make your way through the bric-a-brac and over the threshold of a mint green, Art Deco door into a two-story palace of decadence and semi-fine dining.
We were seated at our table under the impressive skylight in the decorative, sixties-style restaurant area which wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson film. Although we didn’t get round to ascending it, we did pass a grand and winding staircase on the way through, at the top of which hung a twinkling chandelier and Beauty & Essex’s infamous champagne lounge. While it might have been a little too early for bubbles, we did order a Cinnamon Toast Crunk cocktail ($17) with a crunchy french toast rim and the Rise ‘N’ Shine coffee cocktail ($17) , both of which were punchy, inventive and enough to get your cheeks flushing with just a couple of sips.
Already feeling a little tipsy while perusing the alluring food menu and positively ravenous after the 50 minute walk from our hotel back in Chelsea, we were quick to order our edit of the diverse list. We went for some Red Velvet Waffles ($14), Grilled Cheese, Smoked Bacon & Tomato Soup Dumplings ($17), Fried Chicken Biscuits ($15) with Tabasco honey butter and some BBQ Fries ($12) from the ‘Accessories’ menu. The Fried Chicken Biscuits were nothing more than fine but the seasoned fries were delicious and the Red Velvet Waffles and those grilled cheese dumplings were exceptional.
I’d go as far as to say that the waffles and the signature dumplings were actually in my top three edible highlights from the entire trip and there I was, lucky enough to have them both on one table. The waffles came as a portion of three with sweet cream cheese drizzled lavishly all over them, while the dumplings came as a set of six each with their own individual miniature ladle and lagoon of flavoursome tomato soup. I couldn’t fault either of these dishes. The balance of flavour and texture were flawless in both and each plate appeared with immaculate presentation and personality that just wouldn’t fail to make you smile.
The casual dining style at Beauty & Essex calls for sharing and our waitress had recommended four to six plates between the two of us. We started with four and were glad that we had shown some restraint because although most dishes are split into bitesize portions, let’s not forget that this is America and their idea of bitesize is pretty hefty in comparison to the rest of the world. Four or five is definitely enough for two people to share unless of course you’re feel particularly hungry in which case you might prefer something more personal like the Beauty & Essex Burger ($19) or the Prime Hanger Steak & Eggs ($21).
Choice didn’t come easy for us though. In fact there wasn’t much on the menu we didn’t want to try (except maybe the Kale & Apple Salad). Whenever I next find myself in the stunning surroundings of Beauty & Essex I’ve definitely got my eyes firmly fixed on a few of the other dishes on the brunch menu including the Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie ($14), the Oven Braised Chicken Meatballs ($19) and Pumpkin Walnut Bread with candied bacon and salted maple butter ($9).
It’s a unique dining concept that might be snubbed as hipster or millennial (both equally cringe worthy adjectives) but I can vouch for the fact that Beauty & Essex deliver all the substance to match the style; it’s fur coat AND knickers in this classy establishment. Speaking of which, there is a dress code that they claim to enforce on the website which calls for no baseball caps, shorts or trainers but they didn’t seem to be too strict about it while we were there. Admittedly we did go in the early afternoon and we were in New York City where baseball caps and trainers might be considered haute couture with the right slogan but just something to keep in mind.
I would also recommend booking a table well in advance of your proposed visit as this place gets Booked Up with a capital B and a capital U. You can make a reservation at Beauty & Essex online and they suggest doing this at least 30 days ahead. Just make sure you’re wearing your best upscale casual attire and leave your flip flops, tank tops and ripped jeans at home. Thankfully I hadn’t planned to wear my Britney Spears circa 1997 ensemble that day anyway.
Before you head off on your merry way, make sure you give the Beauty & Essex Instagram page some thumb scrolling time!