Everyone’s heard of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. If you’re a New Yorker, you’ve probably ordered a coffee and a pastry on-the-go at least once as you either rushed off to your next destination or sauntered through the city for the rest of your day.
And if you also happen to have a fascination for all things fabulous, then you’ve probably also consumed your caffeine and confection while strolling along Fifth Avenue (or anywhere hip or trendy, really), stopping by every once in a while to peer through the pretty display windows of boutiques, shops, and department stores.
Even if you’re hardly ever around Fifth Avenue on a Sunday morning, you at least know what it’s like to eat breakfast and be surrounded by the things that make you feel comfortable, familiar, and peaceful, like nothing else can go wrong. Everyone’s had a kind of Breakfast at Tiffany’s moment at least once in their lifetimes.
But did you know that there’s also brunch at Jack’s Wife Freda? You don’t need to be a young, spirited Manhattan socialite to get reservations on any given day. Just take a stroll and show up as you are.
“Who is Jack’s Wife Freda?” you wonder.
I remember asking that same question one day at work while mulling over what food to eat for lunch. My friend Amy looked at me as she furrowed her eyebrows, looking confused. “You’ve never been to Jack’s Wife Freda?!” she said.
No, I thought. Who was Jack? And who was Freda? Were they famous people whom I should know? Do Ina Garten, Giada, and Rachel Ray know of this Freda? (Clearly I used to watch a lot of Food Network shows in my spare time.) Or is Freda a concept, like Aunt Jemima?
“It’s a new brunch place in SoHo,” Amy explained. “It’s along Lafayette Street. You should go one day and try out their food sometime! They have amazing eggs, sandwiches, and salads. You’d definitely enjoy it.” Amy, one of my best friends, is a major foodie. You want to find someplace good to eat? All you have to do is ask Amy. She’s the human version of Yelp and Foursquare. (I’ve been pushing her to start her own food and photography blog, since food is a passion of hers.)
So after doing some research (see list of sources at bottom of post), it turns out that the brunch cafe was owned by Dean and Maya Jankelowitz. The husband-and-wife team have been running the cafe since they first opened their original location at 224 Lafayette Street, between Spring and Kenmare Streets. Jack and Freda, it turns out, were the names of Dean’s grandparents. Dean and Maya each drew from their family backgrounds and their countries of origin to create a wonderful, comfortable space in which to share traditional brunch items with a South African and Israeli flair.
My coworkers and I decided to go to the new location of Jack’s Wife Freda on 50 Carmine Street, one block away from our office. The place had only been open for a few months, but a line usually forms quickly because of its popularity and its claim to culinary fame as the “most Instagrammed” brunch spot in New York City since its first grand opening on Lafayette Street in 2012. They also have their own Instagram, which you can follow. If there was a contest for most photogenic food, I think Jack’s Wife Freda would be a serious contender for first place.
When we entered the Carmine Street location, the crowd was a mix of tourists, college students, young entrepreneurs, and children accompanied by their parents or their babysitters. The place was small, and the tables were set very close to each other that you would have to be extra careful to make sure that the wool coat you took off didn’t knock over someone’s coffee or fork as you settle into your seat. There was also a long banquet table for incoming guests to sit down and meet new people having a kebab or a baguette across from them. The small space did not detract from the charm, though. However small it was, the few abstract art works with the occasional pops of color hanging on the walls and the rows of round light fixtures on the ceiling gave the place a bright and cozy cheeriness. The place would be alive and bustling with breakfast and lunch being served as more people would come in to claim a spot in the empty chairs just as others would leave, smiling with the satisfaction of just having eaten a good meal.
The brunch menu itself was a delightful and engaging presentation of what the restaurant had to offer any customer that ambles in for something new to try. They also have a dinner menu for the later afternoon and evening hours.
How could you not love the cute little hand-drawn illustrations of their ingredients and drinks? How could you not like the way the menus are set up as quirky placemats on the table? The whole layout of the menu makes it handy to look at more of their offerings while you wait for the coffee or tea you ordered to start off your meal, just as you’re deciding which breakfast or entree you want to eat.
I enjoy eating eggs for breakfast or brunch, so I narrowed down my choices to these top three choices:
- Madame Freda — Pressed sandwich with duck prosciutto, cheddar béchamel, gruyere (a type of Swiss cheese… without the holes), and a sunny side up egg.
- Mediterranean Breakfast — Two eggs any style, chopped salad, labne (yogurt-based creamy cheese), avocado, and pita bread.
- Eggs Benny — Two poached eggs over potato latkes, smoked salmon, and beet hollandaise.
All three sounded well-balanced, nutritious, and just incredibly delicious. I eventually decided to order the “Eggs Benny,” which has a slightly different take on traditional eggs benedict, since the potato latkes take the place of the more traditional English muffins. Amy decided to order the “Mediterranean Breakfast,” which featured a fresh blend of diced cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, and hints of lemon for a citrusy vegetable side. The avocado and labne cheese rounded out the rest of the plate with their creamy textures as Amy scooped up her eggs into her pita bread with her fork.
For drinks, we each ordered the mint lemonade and the fresh cantaloupe juice. They were served iced, and were both very refreshing beverages to accompany our brunch, sans the alcohol (though, if you want, you can also order beer or wine). The cantaloupe juice brought me back to my childhood, when my mother used to make a pitcher of fresh cantaloupe juice to quench our thirst for those sweltering hot summer days. I used to watch my mother shave off portions of the cantaloupe and add them to a pitcher of water and mix it with maybe a tablespoon of sugar (so as not to overpower the natural flavors of the cantaloupe fruit itself). Seeing the cantaloupe juice featured on the menu reminded me that maybe I should make it at home, too, especially with Spring and Summer underway.
The dessert menu consisted of a flourless chipotle chocolate cake (with chocolate mousse), baked fruit crisp with seasonal fruits, a homemade spiced cheesecake, and malva pudding. Each one sounded delectable and delicious in its own light. I ordered the homemade spiced cheesecake (I love cheesecake), and Amy ordered the malva pudding. Both were absolutely lovely sweet treats to conclude a great brunch (though to be honest, we got served dessert first while waiting for our main dishes). The cheesecake tasted like it had pumpkin spice, and it was a nice earthy flavor on what otherwise would have been a plain New York Style cheesecake. As for the malva pudding, a dessert dish which originally came from South Africa, the warm syrup coupled with the whipped cream on the side made a heavenly combination that made us crave more.
For reasonably priced brunch, a cozy and cheerful atmosphere, friendly staff, and delicious food, I’d come back to Jack’s Wife Freda again and bring my younger sisters along for a day out in the city.
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