For my birthday, my brother and Hannah (my sister-in-law), got me a gift card to Community Food & Juice, the uptown branch of Clinton St. Baking Co. My initial reaction was “WOOT!” followed quickly by “F*CK!” Not that I hate gift cards or that Community is a bad restaurant or that I wasn’t grateful. (Thank you Hannah and Bro for thinking of my stomach!) It’s just that the location isn’t so ideal for me. Community Food & Juice is located in Morningside Heights. From the East Village, it takes a little less than an hour by train. That’s more time than I want to spend commuting on the weekend for brunch. Years ago, when I was a hungry college student in Morningside Heights (I’m a Barnard girl), I probably would have been more appreciative, but now, not so much. In addition, considering the East Village is seasonal restaurant central, it really doesn’t make sense to go all the way to Morningside Heights for the type of food I can eat a block away. It’s like living in Flushing and commuting to the Upper East Side for Chinese food. I inquired about using the card at Clinton St., but Community said it wasn’t possible. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. Even though Clinton St. is less than ten minutes away from my apartment, I’d probably spend the same amount of time waiting for a table outside with the morning tourist crowd. Not my kind of scene. So one morning, with dragging feet, David and I set off to find out if Community Food & Juice was truly a destination restaurant.
The brunch line is pretty long at Community Food & Juice, but it’s not as bad as it looks. I put my name on the waiting list and was told it would take around twenty minutes, but we were seated in about ten. It seems a lot of people put their names down and give up after a few minutes. David’s friend said this is a Upper West Side thing. Whether it is or not, I don’t know, but it worked out for us and in a few minutes we were tucking into two piping hot cups of cider. I had The Barnard Bear (go Barnard!), hot apple cider with lemon, mint, and honey ($4). Bourbon is optional (supp $5). I opted to partake (go bourbon!). David had the Hot Buttered Cider, hot apple cider with maple butter and cinnamon ($4). I liked the hints of mint and lemon in The Barnard Bear, but nothing beats cider and maple butter (go butter!). Hot Buttered Cider is the way to go at Community. If you need something more to warm you up, as I usually do, a shot of rum is an extra $5.
To soak up the bourbon, I ordered the Biscuit Sandwich ($14), scrambled eggs, chicken-apple sausage, and Cabot cheddar on a whole wheat biscuit with tomato jam and carrot hash browns on the side. The whole wheat part worried me a bit, but the biscuit was surprisingly good. It was crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, and although it wasn’t very buttery, the melted cheddar cheese more than made up for it. Melty cheese solves all. The hash browns were tasty also. Again, the carrot part worried me, but the hash browns were mostly potato and were fried nice and crunchy. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the tomato jam which was less of a jam and more of a thin bland marinara sauce with a little kick. Ketchup would have sufficed.
David ordered the Brioche French Toast with caramelized pears, roasted pecans, cinnamon streusel, and warm maple butter ($12). The cinnamon streusel was really granola as opposed to a crumbly, cakey topping, but it seemed David didn’t mind. He shoved the granola to the side and went to work. I stole a few bites before he completely inhaled the French toast, and I really liked how it wasn’t sickeningly sweet like at most restaurants. I’m more of a savory brunch person, but if I were ever to go back to Community, I may just order the French toast.
After breakfast, there was still money left on the gift card, so we ended up going back for dinner a few days later. As was breakfast, the dinner entrées were solid. I had pan seared Muscovy Duck Breast ($24) with port wine reduction, truffled sauteed brussels sprouts, and organic sautéed spaetzle ($24). Except for the edge pieces of the duck that were a little dry, the rest of the breast was cooked really well so the skin was crisp. The spaetzle had a nice crust also, but was unfortunately oversalted. The shaved brussels sprouts, however, were perfect. The sprouts were cooked so they still had a bite, and the amount of truffle oil wasn’t overdone. The quantity was quite generous too. I love my meat, but I also love my greens. I always appreciate it when there’s a good proportion of vegetables to protein on my plate.
David had the House Ravioli, roasted pumpkin and butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter, crumbled parmesan, and toasted, spiced pumpkin seeds ($18). I was pretty busy with my duck so I didn’t try too much of his ravioli, but of the few bites I had, I thought it was good. The filling wasn’t too sweet, and even with the browned butter, it didn’t feel too greasy. David had no complaints.
To drink, I had the Fig Mojito made with fresh fig puree, Papagayo organic spiced rum, lime, and fresh mint ($14). It was a good cocktail, but a little more sweetness would have been nice. Also, I wouldn’t have minded if it was a dollar cheaper. $14 is pushing it at a non-fancy pants restaurant.
Ultimately, is Community Food & Juice a destination restaurant? If you live in the East Village, probably not. If you live in the remote area though, it’s a gem of a restaurant. In fact, on the way back downtown from our first visit, David and I ran into a friend of his who lives in the area and was on his way to brunch with his girlfriend. We both highly recommended Community Food & Juice, the Hot Buttered Cider in particular. As for us, when the cider cravings strike, we’ll probably fight the masses at Clinton St. instead.