Please don't hate me, but I didn't like it. Now, I know that in some circles in New York, speaking out against the beloved Sarabeth's is punishable by banishment to the Bronx or torture by way of Japanese Karaoke bar, but folks, I have to say it. I didn't even like it one little bit. The alleged "all-around best breakfast place in New York" left me broke, bloated, and grumpy. Lesson learned: don't judge a book by its cover . . . or a restaurant by its ten-year-old Times review.
I had heard about Sarabeth's restaurant for years, but had never had the opportunity to partake of said "best breakfast", so I decided to put together a brunch of ladies I hadn't seen in a while to catch up over the acclaimed muffins and omelettes. I made a reservation for a party of five at 2:30pm on a Sunday (the last late brunch I would have before joining Cherry Tree Lane for my Sunday afternoons) and went about choosing an appropriate brunch dress. There's something about a nice Sunday brunch that makes one feel like a lady. Perhaps it's the mimosas and daintily prepared eggs. Or the prospect of a languid midday meal that's reminiscent of yesteryear. Or I just like an excuse to wear a pretty girly dress. Either way, I looked forward to a classy meal on Central Park South with tinkling piano music, straight backed chairs tucked under pristine white tablecloths, and teacups that had grazed nary a pinky finger. Oh, was I mistaken.
When we walked in, the place seemed to have abandoned itself to total chaos. Perhaps we had bad timing (I'll give it the benefit of the doubt), but the three frazzled-looking hostesses were herding a gaggle of confused tourists toward the back, a mass of bags, coats, and sour-faced women were squeezed onto the benches in front of the space, and there was no tinkling piano music to be had. In fact, I could only discern the clanking "music" of a cheap downtown diner. When a hostess finally noticed her new guests, she informed us that she would be unable to let us sit at the table until our party was complete. Okay, that's a fairly common practice in the city, but the widespread acceptance of this rule amongst Manhattan restaurants does not make it any less annoying. Rachael quietly jostled for a position on a bench while I pointedly took off my coat and looked around for someone to take it. Nothing. We waited for our fellow diners and I counted the coats on the front benches. Really? I walked up to the hostess podium again and asked this time. Yes, there was a coat check. No, the staff had not been instructed to utilize it to improve the efficiency of the restaurant or the comfort of its diners. Okie dokie, Sarabeth's. I hoped the food would make up for its lack of hospitality.
A half hour later, we were taken to our table at the back of the restaurant. It had a nice view of the garden outside, but the view inside was horrendous. Ladies and gentlemen, if you were confused or uninformed, zebra print sends out a very specific message. Sometimes it's good, but most times, it's really bad. If it's larger than a size 14 or paired with cheap brown leather chairs, please refrain. It's like a unicycle. Only use it if you ABSOLUTELY know what you're doing. And if you do it really well, it can be fabulous.
Okay, enough about the little stuff. Here's the skinny on the food. I ordered eggs benedict, a muffin, and a cappuccino. A classic brunch, but I expected that for $17.95, the eggs benedict would be spectacular and for $12.50, the muffins (Sarabeth's is famous for its baked goods) would be to die for. Not so much. First, instead of my choice of English, corn, banana, bran, pumpkin muffin, scone, or croissant, the waiter informed me that I must choose from "what's left" of the brunch goodies. Bran muffin or English muffin. Hmm. Bran it was, since my eggs benedict would provide me with an English muffin. How good or bad could a bran muffin be? I mean, the muffin was good, but it definitely did not have me jumping up out of my zebra print chair. The eggs benedict was passable. I could see how the English muffin on the bottom was at one time very tasty and moist. When it arrived at my table, it was a little crusty, but still better than your average baked good. And that's about it. Our brunch was nothing special. Nice, but nothing special. And definitely not worth the money. Go to HK or Rachel's for brunch and get a meal that's just as good for half the price. Granted, those restaurants aren't located on the prestigious Central Park South, but at least you avoid the crowds and the lingering scent of horse poop that permeates the three block radius around the park.
Call me parsimonious, but when you order a cup of tea, I believe it should not set you back $7.25. I had a brave friend that was fasting at lunch and only ordered a cup of mint tea ($4.50) and later asked for another tea bag ($2.75). If the tea is infused in house and arrives at my table in a large pot, I am happy to pay a higher price. If it's a bag of Bigelow in a teacup of hot water, I'm a little suspect. I did not order dessert, but I did have the honor of tasting a friend's lemon cheesecake with a raspberry topping. In my one (okay, three) forkfuls of her dish, I got a little taste of what all the fuss was about. The dessert was divine. Perhaps the next time (if there were to be a next time), I would bypass the brunch and head straight to the sweets.
Luckily, I had wonderful company at brunch and I barely noticed that our meal at Sarabeth's wasn't as it should have been. As I always say, don't take my word for it, but if at any point you're conflicted in the choosing of your brunch location, allow me to tip your scales away from an overpriced, tacky, and mediocre meal on Central Park South. Or, if you must go, just have dessert.