A cheerful, local favorite for brunch serving organic, seasonal creations far better than the average 20-something expects on a Sunday, Rose Water is worth a trip from any of our fair boroughs.
Before I start raving about how thoroughly surprised and impressed I was by a recent brunch at Rose Water on a warm weekend afternoon, I have to take a step back and ask a very important question: when did brunch, like, become a thing?
I have an obvious preference for long, drawn out dinners to end the day, and honestly I cannot remember the last Sunday I ate brunch somewhere other than Table 23 at Union Square Cafe. Brunch for me is a ritual, an opportunity to see some of my favorite people in the restaurant business while resetting for the week among friends and a perfect meal with which I am already intimately familiar. But when I walk around the city during a certain 4-hour stretch of the weekend, I find people waiting in line for bottomless mimosas over house music, scrambling in sundresses to coordinate plans to meet up at the latest brunch sensation. Didn’t they have enough of that the night before? And really, how did the idea of overeating between the hours of 11 AM and 3 PM on a weekend, often with a great deal of booze, ever catch on?
The actual answer comes from food historians who first cite the old English monarchy’s tradition of extended, multi-course meals full of meats, proteins, dairy products, and fruits all consumed in quick succession (and often followed quickly by death, but that's another story). Historians then suggest that the lazy, midday timing of the feast stemmed from the Catholic practice of fasting before Sunday mass, and then enjoying a bountiful meal after the conclusion of the service when everyone was pretty much ready to sin again.
Researchers have also determined that the first use of the world "brunch" was in 1895 in an article in Hunter’s Weekly, in which the author argued for a combination of "breakfast" and "lunch" on Sundays that would feature light fare with fruits and vegetables. Interestingly enough, the writer’s original sentiment romanticizing the intent of brunch still rings true today, telling the world for the first time that "brunch is cheerful, sociable, inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week." I’m not sure what he would have to say about the DJ spinning club music at brunch today, but regardless, the social nature of this idea of eating a lot at a weird time of the day was in place.
Because there is probably no harm at this point in inflating New York’s culinary ego even more, many historians and food authors have suggested that the local cultures and populations of this city were also responsible for defining and popularizing the classic brunch dishes like eggs benedict and bagels and lox that litter almost every standard brunch menu. But, by the end of World War II, brunch finally became established as a social event, particularly for the many women who had just entered the workforce and were looking for a little respite with friends on Sunday, too.
Like any tradition, brunch continued to be shaped by the generation reaching adulthood, and with the rise of Generation Y, the millennials, with their money, their music, their urbanity, their laziness, their flexible work hours, their intense sociability, and their grand civic visions, we got the slogan "brunch without champagne is just a sad, late breakfast" and the contemporary brunch scene we find today.
So now that we know why brunch is a thing, we should go to Rose Water, the sunny bistro in Park Slope that serves a $17 prix fixe brunch full of spectacularly creative and palette pleasing plates.
With its charming red awning and bounty of flowers shading the tables on the front patio from the bright, late afternoon sun, Rose Water is about as welcoming as restaurants come. The cozy, friendly space fills quickly on weekends with friends who just went for a run around Prospect Park, couples waking up nearby, pleased with the bistro’s affordability, and even young families with baby strollers enjoying a lazy morning around the neighborhood. With its carefree, summertime atmosphere, Rose Water is already a winner, but with dishes far better than what those of us who have gotten too used to uninspired eggs benedict in the East Village expect, Rose Water wows.
The peach buttermilk pancakes were simultaneously dense yet fluffy, soaked with an ethereal, barely spicy ginger butter that married perfectly with the crunchy bites of warm, nutty roasted hazelnuts. The crispy baked polenta with creamy goat cheese, poached eggs, and cooked broccoli spigarelli leaves was topped with a spicy, herbal chermoula sauce whose notes of paprika, garlic, and chili also added an incredible earthy heartiness to the dish.
The ingredients used at Rose Water are so fresh and treated with such an extraordinary amount of knowledge and care that one really couldn’t go wrong ordering any of the dishes. This summer’s frittata featured favorites like asparagus, summer squash, mushrooms, and goat cheese, all cooked perfectly in a light, moist, eggy pancake. Because this is a brunch with a lot of that millennial-gentrified-hipster-appeal, there are cocktails like white nectarine rose sangria on the menu, but, really, no one would blame you for ordering a glass or two.
Yes, Rose Water is the brunch we’ve been looking for after all this time. It’s the restaurant at which we take our seat under the idyllic Brooklyn sun and think, "I get it. This is what all the fuss is about. This is why brunch is a thing."