Epicurious Eating: Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar
Brunch diving at Avenue 5
Published Thursday, 06-Aug-2009 in issue 1128
The French call it le grand petite dejeuner, meaning “the big little lunch.” Late-sleeping Americans who awaken to hunger pangs simply say “brunch,” a more concise expression for “give me roasted meat and bloody Marys with my eggs this weekend.”
In years past, “brunch” was synonymous with buffets. I never cared much for the experience, no matter how succulent the beef at the carving station. Yet in the past decade, and even through the current recession, countless restaurants have offered this midday meal, along with tangible menus and full wait service.
Joining the bandwagon is the lovely two-year-old Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar, where brunchers can activate their metabolisms with a bowl of disease-fighting acai berries with oats and progress to an artery-threatening croque madame made with hearty sourdough, ham, Gruyere cheese and béchamel sauce. The egg on top “feminizes” the sandwich, thus distinguishing it from its famous husband, the croque-monsieur.
Usual brunch beverages, such as mimosas, bloody Marys, OJ and café au lait, share menu space with snazzy fresh-fruit smoothies (melon-mint, papaya-mango and peanut-banana), plus a couple of uncommon juice choices. Coconut water: nada. Fresh watermelon juice, cold and magenta-red: yada!
Among the healthy meal starters are amaranth bon bons – tiny maize-like grains, highly nutritious and bound into dainty balls by flaxseed oil. The kitchen lightly fries them to a nimble crisp. My companion, who normally prefers traditional breakfasts, concurred that the bonbons were titillating and homey tasting.
“It’s a nice way to get in your wheat germ,” he quipped as we applied minimal tooth pressure to them. We also liked the accompanying ginger-strawberry jam – fruity up front, spicy on the finish. All combined, it felt as though we were eating snappy berry cobbler fresh from the oven.
I had high hopes for the coconut-crusted French toast. But the thick bread slices lacked the starring ingredient, and the surrounding butter-rum sauce was severely unbalanced – way too boozy for our taste. As for the buttermilk pancakes sprinkled with candied pecans, we guessed that the batter lacked those precious air bubbles necessary for instilling fluff. These were thin and dense.
Stellar, however, best describes the sage polenta “coins” served with grilled tomatoes, two eggs and black beans with miniscule bits of fresh jalapeños. The polenta was soft and creamy, taking on a whole new life thanks to decent measures of sage, and as we later found out, Argentinean parmesan. The entire dish won us over.
Avenue 5’s brunch service is fairly new, which could explain why our congenial waiter knew little about the recipes. Or perhaps our questions were too tough. It took him a few kitchen visits to confirm that that the apple wood bacon served here is indeed Nueske from Wisconsin; the aforementioned croquet madam uses Gruyere rather than Swiss cheese; and the “blueberry maple” syrup served with the buttermilk hotcakes isn’t a combination of the two. (No answer was given as to why one was heated and the other served cold.)
Yet part of the appeal here during brunch is the informal vibe fueled by a merry mix of metro folk and nearby churchgoers. This isn’t to say that the dinner hour is pinky-finger stiff. But in terms of service, it’s more streamlined. Spotting a male couple we know well, they revealed that Avenue 5’s brunch is among their trusty favorites while raving about the eggs benedict. “Excellent hollandaise sauce,” said one of the guys.
Other offerings include various omelets, white corn quesadillas with tomatillo salsa, smoked salmon on multigrain, pulled pork sandwiches with cheddar, Angus beef burgers and fat chicken-apple sausages that were lean and savory.
According to chef and co-owner Colin MacLaggan, the brunch menu will soon expand with the assistance of fellow chef Nick Carbonne of Paris.
“San Diego is a brunch town. And it’s one of my favorite meals,” he says.
Judging from the good number of customers filling the elegant sun-drenched dining room, plus the fragrance of breakfast and lunch foods swirling together, Carbonne appears squarely on the mark.