In early July the chalkboard outside Donnybrook in the Lower East Side offers five reasons for drinking: One’s present (1) or future thirst (2), the arrival of a friend (3), the excellence of wine (4), or any other reason (5).
A solid sixth reason to drink is Donnybrook’s weekend brunch, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. If done right, it will leave you with a full stomach, wobbly legs, and a barely lightened wallet.
“Donnybrook” is an Irish term for a drunken uproar, and while it seems entirely possible for such a thing to occur at this pub, it’s rather tame around noon. On a recent weekend, there were way more open seats than bodies present in the stately old spot, its walls a contrast of exposed brick and regal floral wallpaper. Glistening glass bottles of booze stand in tiers behind the bar, backed by wall-length mirrors that add deceptive depth to the room.
As for the weekend brunch menu, Donnybrook keeps to its Irish roots while offering a few American staples.
The Irish breakfast is a good choice: $15 nets you a plate of sausage, bacon, black pudding, fried mushrooms, grilled tomato, baked beans, and eggs as you like them. This is also an effective way to sop up the remains of a messy night before. But since Donnybrook offers up to three refills on the included bloody mary, mimosa, or screwdriver included with the meal, it’s entirely possible to not feel your legs when you leave.
Shepherd’s pie ($12) comes piping hot in the casserole dish in which it was baked, its mashed potato crust charred with black flecks covering a savory mixture of ground lamb, potato cubes, carrots, and peas. When I ordered it, the bartender/server (just one woman worked the floor that day) put a bottle of Chef-brand “sauce”–which closer examination revealed was a blend of spirit vinegar, sugar, and apples–in front of me and said it went well with the pie. She was Irish, so I trusted her condiment recommendation, but blasphemy be damned, I liked Heinz ketchup on the pie more (though the two sauces mixed together is perhaps its ultimate accoutrement).
Omlettes come with different combinations of spinach, bacon, ham, mushrooms, or cheese ($12 for two choices; $15 for three); eggs Benedict ($12) is served with locally cured Irish bacon instead of ham. A trio of dishes offer Irish smoked salmon as the centerpiece. The Donnybrook sandwich ($12) is a variant of a croque-monsieur, prepared with Dubliner cheddar, ham, and tomatoes, and for those on a budget, $9 will buy organic yogurt and granola–and still you’ll still get three drinks included.
Speaking of the drinks, the brunch beverages at Donnybrook are strong, but the food is the stronger. The bloody mary is properly spiced with horseradish, but is otherwise uninspired, presented in a short glass with an unsalted rim and nothing more than a lemon to garnish. Mimosas and screwdrivers have just a splash of orange juice and plenty of booze, but at the end of a good meal, they come off as pretty mundane.
If you have any extra cash in your pocket, you might consider a proper pint of Guinness at the end of the meal, which will leave everything feeling as it should (except maybe your legs when you stumble out the door).