One of the best parts of the culinary revolution that is happening on Fredrick Douglas Blvd, north of 111th St, is Weekend Brunch. Melba’s Restaurant, a FDB pioneer since 2005, serves American Comfort Food (with a few healthy options sprinkled throughout), and their brunch offerings are generous and extremely affordable. After a leisurely walk across town with my hubby and ever present restaurant partner, we strolled into Melba’s cozy and elegantly decorated dining room, and, though it was still packed with families, couples, and groups of friends at 2:30 on a Sunday, we were seated within 5 minutes and our chipper waiter promptly took our drink order.
We were given two raisin scones to start, and though they each came with individual gold foil wrapped pats of butter and tiny concord grape jellies reminiscent of late night high school visits to the 24 hour diner, there was nothing diner-ish about this still warm in the center starters. Crisp and flaky on the edges with a fluffy and soft center, the scones didn’t need any condiments to have me salivating for the rest of the meal to hit the table.
This being our first time at Melba’s, I was clearly getting the dish she is famous for: Fried Chicken and Egg Nog Waffles. On the suggestion of our waiter I ordered dark meat chicken, and when a plate heaping with three egg nog waffles and two thighs and a drumstick arrived, I was not disappointed. Each piece of chicken was extremely light and covered in an amazingly crisp coating that housed juicy and tender meat. Though I knew this bird had done some time immersed in bubbling hot oil, there was no hint of greasy heaviness that comes all too often with fried chicken. The waffles, which were slightly crisp at the edges with a moist cake-like texture, were topped with a dollop of strawberry butter and surrounded a healthy helping of maple syrup. Eaten independently or together, each component of my plate was masterfully executed and presented with an old school simplicity that demonstrated a quiet confidence that only comes with years of keeping diners full and happy. Though I wanted to dig in immediately, since I can’t have fried chicken without hot sauce our server rushed some Tabasco to the table and I went to town.
Never wavering from his standard brunch order, Keith created a meal out of menu side items and got scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and thick-cut slab bacon. He thoroughly enjoyed his plates; the eggs were scrambled to just the right firmness with ribbons of melted cheddar throughout, and thick-cut slab bacon was cooked very well. The meat of the bacon was not tough, and the fat was excellently rendered, which is quite difficult to do with such thick slabs. All too happy to see an organic item on the menu (and clearly needing to order something that would balance out the excessive indulgence of my main plate) we ordered the Organic Mixed Green Salad with the house balsamic dressing. Because I forgot to ask for the dressing on the side, it arrived dressed, but thankfully no one in the kitchen was heavy-handed and it was not overdone. Both the greens and the tomatoes were fresh, and the dressing had a nice hint of spicy mustard.
My first visit to Melba’s has me thinking about when I’m going back…in what seems like a sea of brunch options on Frederick Douglas Blvd, I might be content to slip back into a cozy corner table, surrounded by other neighborhood families, weekend after weekend, and work my way through their generous brunch offerings.
Brunch Happiness, $25 and Under.
For more information about Harlem Eateries and eating local in Harlem, visit Arionna’s blog, Harlem Food Local.