There are boilerplate brunches, and then there are some that wake you up. Actually, you have to wake up pretty early to be the first in line at eternally popular weekend spots like Clinton St. Baking Company & Restaurant on the Lower East Side and Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side. Sometimes the herd mentality gets it right. If you're wandering around Greenwich Village, dip into Minetta Tavern for the incredible latkes with smoked salmon, poached eggs and dill hollandaise. In the East Village, Cafe Mogador is a sweet spot, with low-priced Middle Eastern specialties best enjoyed at a sidewalk table. Walking the High Line? The can't-miss brunch nearby is at Cookshop, a New American bistro with fantastic seasonal dishes from Marc Meyer, who wrote the book on brunch. His first restaurant, Five Points, is also a must for wood-oven roasted farm eggs and chocolate French toast with crème anglaise and black raspberry jam. Brooklyn has a wide range of great brunch options, too, such as Colonie in beautiful Brooklyn Heights and Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, where it's agony to decide between pecan pie French toast with bourbon and molasses or the fried pork chop with cheddar waffles and maple syrup. To see which brunch spots made the cut for our top five, read on.
35 E. 18th St., 212-475-5829, Flatiron District, Manhattan
Brunch is no poor stepchild to the dinner experience at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's highly acclaimed ABC Kitchen. The idealized, whitewashed farmhouse setting is as relaxed as an Adirondack chair (if you can get a seat, that is). Do make a reservation and then relax. Executive chef Dan Kluger and his team will take care of the rest. There are seasonal glazed donuts, maple bacon biscuits and scrambled eggs with crispy oysters and hot sauce butter. If you'd like to veer off the egg-centric brunch grid, there's steamed hake with summer squash puree and nasturtium vinaigrette, or wood-oven-roasted Maine lobster.
432 Union Ave., 718-486-7717, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Is there a better back garden? DuMont's low-profile exterior and saloon-like interior give no hint at the halcyon setting in the rear where you can luxuriate in the outdoors and still be shielded from sun and traffic. And the food? The famous burger is a juicy monster and effectively buried under a shower of fries and pickles. The equally famous DuMac and cheese—an overflowing soufflé of radiatore pasta, bacon, cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan—will hold you till tomorrow. If it's eggs you have in mind, the omelets, Benedict and Florentine have flair, but the house-cured corned beef hash topped with poached eggs is the way to go to soak up any excess from the night before. Make an afternoon out of your trip to the neighborhood by paying a visit to Franklin the pig at Crest Hardware and shopping for a Williamsburg-appropriate fedora at Pork Pie Hatters.
40 Ave. B, 212-677-4096, East Village, Manhattan
Fonda flies under the radar, an advantage for anyone seeking a truly great Mexican brunch without a galling wait. Let's assume you've had a variety of huevos rancheros; they all pale next to Fonda's. (You'll see.) Chilaquiles are also a cut above the rest, crispy tortillas tossed in roasted tomato–habanero sauce and your choice of shredded chicken, grilled skirt steak or scrambled eggs. The eggs are organic and the portions are big, but not sickeningly so. Here's another thing that makes it worth the trek: a spicy Bloody Mary, mimosa or Rosalita (a frozen, hibiscus-flavored margarita) is included in the price, which starts at $7 for house-made organic granola with yogurt, pomegranate kernels, pumpkin seeds, pecans, orange segments and sesame brittle. Now that's classy. Service is professional, and the lighting is subdued—exactly what you want when you've just rolled out of bed.
53-02 Roosevelt Ave., 718-426-8023, Woodside, Queens
La Flor is decorated with framed blowups of its Zagat rating—25 points—but is otherwise surprisingly unassuming. It's a humble café, where you'll hear more Spanish than English, under the 7 line's elevated subway tracks. Chef/owner Viko Ortega is a baking wizard who makes remarkable muffins, sweet breads, tres leches cake and pizza. His daily breakfast menu of Mexican and Continental items (scrambled eggs tostada, bourbon vanilla French toast) is supplemented on weekends by brunch specials like a smoked salmon omelet with Brie, or a hefty slice of potato cake layered with ham and mozzarella. Irish immigrants used to dominate Woodside, so in a nod to neighborhood history, Ortega also bangs out a full Irish breakfast.
54 E. 1st St., 212-677-6221, East Village, Manhattan
Men hate to wait, which helps explain the bevy of women at Prune during brunch. Those who have the patience to stand outside this open-air, 30-seat bistro for 45 to 90 minutes will be rewarded with some of the best brunch food on the planet. Let's start with the Bloody Mary list, variously offered with vodka, tequila, aquavit or gin and served with a chaser of Red Stripe. Now you can breathe easy, the wait for the table forgotten. Gabrielle Hamilton's classic eggs Benedict tastes more buttery and lemony than all the rest. Her food isn't particularly feminine, with items such as spaghetti carbonara that's not shy with black pepper. And egg en cocotte might sound French and petite, but the cup holding a coddled egg has a base of savory pulled chicken to be slathered on the thick triangles of toasted white bread. Hamilton's best-selling memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, is currently in development for a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, so depending on how that goes, the lines could get even worse.