Sunday, April 27, 2008

Madeleine Mae: A Change Of Pace on The UWS

Like It Or Not, I Have An Opinion

This proud southerner has noticed that newcomer Madeleine Mae is causing a stir on the Upper West Side.

Critics have been quick to pan this newly opened restaurant/café, but I am not. That said, I feel the need to fire back, so call this my “rebellious rebuttal” to the over-analyzing food sect.

Attention Bruni lovers and Chowhound faithful: Give it a rest.

First, understand what Madeleine Mae is not. This is not a Creole gem such as New Orleans famous “Dookie Chase”. This is not a Cajun imposter, like the recently closed UWS Jacques-Imo’s. This isn’t really a soul/creole/Cajun place at all. Really.

The feel of Madeleine Mae is that of Carolina breeze. This is home to comfort food with an original, nostalgic twist. An unusual shrimp and grits dish, biscuits and cornbreads, sides of greens, mac and cheese, fish dishes and plates of pork loin. Neatly mixed cocktails and a menu of “Rhum Cures”… (rum that is infused with other flavors such as vanilla, banana, cinnamon, etc). Tempting desserts that are worth saving room for.

All of it slightly overpriced for the UWS (shrimp and grits $15.95 for a small side dish portion), but accessible and often delicious.

I’d encourage you to visit Madeleine Mae just about anytime, but without question, this is a brunch joint. The menu provides an interesting mix at dinner, but the brunch menu is full of real temptation.

I’ll set the table for you.

It’s a gorgeous, lazy Saturday afternoon about 2pm. You and the other have dropped the dog at the “Canine Ranch” for an afternoon of playtime. Needing to unwind from an aggressive week of work tasks you left unfinished (you need a raise, and some of the others in the office to allow you to catch your breath), you wander across the street to Madeleine Mae and to ask for the table tucked inside of the open French doors, facing the sidewalk. You are seated.

You pause and think, “this is all good”.

Instantly, the space smells of yumness. The place isn’t crowded, but there are people. You promptly get a menu, and are asked if a cocktail, beer or Rhum cure is in order. You oblige.

The menu reveals fantastic frittatas, large impressive omelets and thick smoky bacon coked to order. This would be an easy decision if not for the sweet and savory French toast, biscuits and gravy and possibly the best Meyer lemon pancakes in Manhattan. Of course there are fresh fruit options and lighter fare as well. You notice these aren’t “Denny’s” prices, but you also realize that you aren’t at “Denny’s”. For this, you are grateful.

After sipping your last sip of champagne, your brunch arrives… looking and smelling terrific. About that time your Rhum cure arrives, and you begin to slip into your Saturday afternoon in style.

This is the part where you ask to see the dinner menu out of pure curiosity. You note the items that might bring you back, and then dismiss them as you have now named Madeleine Mae “your” brunch spot. The check comes; you finish your last sip of vanilla infused rum, and head for the door. Your companion says, “you see, I told you that you would like this place.”

As you leave, you see a couple… asking for the table tucked inside the French doors, and smile.

So, enough… foodie haters. Take a moment and realize that if the bread isn’t heated to 81 degrees, or if the soup is in a bread bowl instead of a heated cup, the world isn’t going to end. There are many reasons why we can love a space, and for me Madeleine Mae offers me several to choose from.

After all, this is my brunch place.

Madeleine Mae
461 Columbus Ave. (W. 82nd St.)
New York, NY 10024

Note: My friends at Madeleine Mae have their faults. An unfinished website and no menupages listing is a kiss of death. My message: Get your act together on the digital side and sell your business. You’ve earned it.

Photo Credit: Steven Richter