I love a cheap brunch as much as the next guy, but there are only so many limited item menus I can look at before I pull an eggs Benedict Arnold and abandon the items I love all together. So on Saturday, I opted for the kind of grandeur only the Meatpacking District can provide: I chose to head to the second Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Brunch experience at Malt N Mash (53-61 Gansevoort Street), the pop-up American gastropub from storied chef Nahid Ahmed, who’s served under Gray Kunz and done time at The French Laundry, The Fat Duck, and El Bulli.
The crowd in attendance definitely dressed to impress–brunching in MePa is often one part food, one part fashion. And the concept was experimental, from the early 90s soundtrack provided by the DJ to trend-setting servers wearing extremely short ties. The venue echoed an above-ground underground party, and twists on the ordinary come with plenty of quirk, including a hole in the ceiling where, perhaps, a chandelier was once rooted.
Typical brunch cocktails were overshadowed by options like The Gold Rush and El Diablo, and even Heineken received a facelift. The bar featured an extra-cold draft system which keeps the beer between 29 and 32 degrees, and as a result, the beer that came forth went down a whole lot easier than usual.
Make no mistake about it, though, even with Robyn serenading the scene, the food here was the main attraction. Ahmed created a menu to pair with the mash-up of hits the DJ sampled throughout the party: Items like a hangover steak with fried eggs over onion hash cake represented the mix of tradition with twists, while the duck prosciutto sandwich was popular with many tables. Portions were big, plating was stylish, and even the smartphone addicts were pulled away from texting to ogle a plate of well dressed oysters or foie gras with peanut butter and chipotle. “Why not?” Ahmed says of his wacky fare. “You’re out all night long, you need something to help recover you.”
Brunch also serves as a sneak peek at what to expect from 44 Acres, the permanent location Ahmed plans to open down the street in December. There, the chef plans to offer a fine dining experience in casual digs. “Why not someone do something different?” Ahmed asks, pointing to the lack of culinary options in a neighborhood mostly known for its nightlife.
In the meantime, with brunch, expect the unexpected. Like a hip hop remix, you never know when an updated classic might beat out the original.