I look forward to brunch with friends with the same anticipation as I do going on vacation. I think about it all week -- what kind of omelet I'm going to order, what topics of conversation we've missed since our last meeting, whether I'll start with coffee or just go straight for the vodka. It doesn't matter if we're meeting at a hip venue that just started serving brunch beneath concrete ceilings and industrial ductwork or at the hottest breakfast spot with a line around the block, burnt-orange vinyl booths, and faux mid-century Googie decor. In fact, brunch may be best when there's no expectation of the next big thing -- when it's just eggs and toast and a hot cup of coffee and a cold bloody Mary.
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I don't want the arrival of an enormous stack of pancakes with fifteen different toppings to distract from the company. I want the table to be ours for as long as the conversation runs without feeling rushed by the waitstaff, who in turn are feeling harried by the crush of humanity just outside the window. This is the reason Newbarry's exists -- to sit with friends over a slow meal with lots of drinks while forgetting whether it's 10 a.m. or 3 p.m.
At Newbarry's, I can receive the news that my friends are getting married and may be moving abroad and have time to contemplate it, to toast them with brimming cocktails, and to hear about their plans without stopping them in mid-sentence to rave over a plate of bacon-walnut pancakes with chipotle-chocolate-maple syrup, because nothing like that will ever emerge from this kitchen. What Newbarry's dishes up instead are the staples of diner breakfasts everywhere: various combinations of eggs, cheese, sausage and potatoes cooked to a nonchalant perfection requiring no comment.
They serve a waffle that looks like a waffle -- a big, round, flat, crunchy waffle that comes with a single-serving plastic container of Country Crock as its sole garnish (though the flour tortillas that side the Mexican-style dishes come with real butter). They serve breakfast skillets of chopped chicken-fried steak and oval platters of smothered burritos or tamales or rellenos with more eggs and more potatoes that lack any real seasoning, but make up for it with a golden brown shell of caramelized starch. (I can just drag them through a runny yolk or a pool of green chile for a little extra flavor.)
The biggest distraction is just finding room for all the juice glasses, mugs of bloody Marys, coffee cups, side dishes and syrup caddies that come in an endless procession from the time we're seated to the time we ask for our check.
It may also be distracting when the waitress shouts from across the counter, "Do you want cream and sugar with your coffee?" But it may also just blend in with the conversation. And at some point, I may have reminded her that I ordered a side of red chili, but the apology is genuine and the oversight is quickly remedied. That chili is good, too: beanless and fine-grained, because it's intended as a topping, although I like it right out of the bowl. (During a lull in the conversation, the waitress tells me that the chili recipe came from the original Coney Island hotdog stand, back when it was on Colfax.)
My friends and I trade bites of chorizo-stuffed omelet, thin slices of gyros, and tidbits of information from our daily lives. And finally, when the eating is done, we just sit and talk like we're in our own living room. The waitress's shift has ended and our final splash of coffee is served by someone else. We pay when we're ready, because nobody's in a hurry and nobody's waiting for our table.
Had this been a more gentrified part of town, we may have then headed for the nearest bar or coffee shop, but our momentum dies in the parking lot because the corner of Federal and Jewell does not invite lingering. The flavors of breakfast and bits of conversation still linger, though, so I'm already hatching plans for my next brunch.
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For more from our trip up Federal, visit our "A Federal Case" archives.