Monday, March 23, 2009

Month of brunches: Clover Club

March 15

Sadly I was felled by a cold last week and couldn't make it out to brunch this past weekend. Instead, here's a write up of my visit to the Clover Club the weekend prior.

It seemed like trains in and out of Queens were running on crack on the weekends the entire month of March. Who would've thought I'd find the G to be a more reliable method of transportation? Though that's a little harsh, I've heard on good authority that the G doesn't really deserve the bad rep it gets. My own track record with it hasn't been so great so I'm still going to say: Surprisingly, it didn't fail me as I had to make my deep into the heart of Hipsterburg/Williamsburg for the NYC Beard and Moustache Championships. Any of you following me on Twitter probably noticed that I spotted Bartender Beard Off commissioner Ty Baker, who competed in the full beard freestyle.

So when on Sunday morning I found myself needing to go into Brooklyn from Queens, I made the cumbersome three-train transfer and nodded on and off as the G rumbled me into Brooklyn.

I skipped towards Clover Club like some kind of boozy Disney musical number saying hello to Allen Katz as I passed him by, like Belle saying "Bonjour!" to the townspeople.

"Heading over to enjoy a cocktail?" Allen asked me.

"Indeed I am! I didn't recognize you without the beard," I cheerily answered back and with a twirl of my skirt continued on my way.

The thing about brunch at Clover Club is, it combines two great things. Daytime hours and a full bar. Not that other brunch spots don't have a full bar, but sometimes you feel like you have stick with the stayed Bloody Mary or mimosa. No longer do you have to feel like you're hiding your drinking under the guise of enjoying "brunch."

Some places might even encourage you with a "Endless Bloody Mary and Mimosas!" brunch specials. Nevermind everyone else is guzzling down their fifth Bloody Mary, but try ordering a martini at brunch and all of the sudden everyone at the table looks at you like *you're* the one with the problem.

On the other hand, this sort of thing is understandable since those drinks are more tied with brunch hours and you might find it to be an interesting adventure to order a Bloody Mary at non brunch hours. It also helps that those two are probably the easiest to batch. Especially, with brunch times being so hectic in New York, you feel like a total jerk asking for something off the menu when the bartender behind the bar is up to his/her elbow in bloody mary mix and trying to open a bottle of champagne at the same time.

At the Clover Club, not only are drinks available at a very friendly $9-$10 range, but the drinks list doesn't end with a half-page list of cocktails. Though you might notice the grouping is a bit different from the usual evening hours, at the same time, don't hesitate to ask the bartender what else he could rustle up for you, or order a favorite if you had one.

The first page of the menu to greets you with a couple of Bloody Marys and a bit of trivia and history as well. Thomas Waugh came up with the base for the Bloody Mary drinks. It's an eclectic mixture of several ingredients, like soy sauce, fish sauce and wasabi and horseradish.

The latter are really noticeable since there's a low-burning yet constant heat going on that's a little different from the spicy or peppery heat you might get elsewhere. Bartender Brad Farran said that it's better to described it as a melange of spicy ingredients.

I asked Thomas which Bloody Mary to try out and he suggested the Barman's Bloody. Rye whiskey, basil, Fernet Branca with tomato and spice. I have to be honest, considering my past brush with Fernet Branca it looked pretty intense to me. It ended up being quite tasty. As I told the drink's creator, Giuseppe Gonzalez, later in the afternoon, it had a strong bitter, herbaceous flavor going on that was very complex and made you smack your lips a bit. I've had experiences with Bloody Marys that start off OK, but something about it is almost too tomato-y and the drink gets sweeter with each sip until you feel like you're in ketchup territory. This was in no danger of crossing that line.

Besides the Barman's, you can also get a Bloody Mary with vodka, a Red Snapper (with gin), or the Bloody Maria (tequila).

Clover Club also features a section of champagne-based Royales, as well as Bracers and Pick Ups.

I asked Brad how the different categories were picked for brunch and Brad explained that they tried to keep with traditional daytime tipples, like the Bracers & Pick Ups section. It's a nod to the fact that in the 19th century, cocktails were actually drinks for the day to help perk you up. Then there are sections like Sours and Daises, and the Swizzles. Drinks that are lighter for people who don't want anything too heavy before 6 pm.

After my Barman's Bloody, I decided to try and keep with the rye whiskey theme and ordered a Blinking Daisy (rye whiskey, raspberry syrup and grapefruit juice) from the Sours and Daisies camp.

Of course, it'd be hard to expect anything less in the drinks department from a place like the Clover Club, but the brunch spread isn't too shabby either.

As per Thomas' suggestion, I tried out the Pork 'n Grits, a dish of braised pork served over cheddar grits with sunny side up eggs. It instantly reminded me of my early forays into fusion cooking when I was 13 and hungry, with nothing in the house resembling food. So I decided to cook up some grits, because they reminded me of Korean juk, and top it with a fried egg, some soy sauce and sesame oil.

Other dishes on the menu included baked eggs with chorizo and manchego cheese, ricotta pancakes topped with lemon-honey butter and a housemade apple compote as well as a bacon tasting with three styles of bacon.

Brunch hours are from 11-4 pm, and the kitchen shuts down for an hour before the place switches over to regular service. So keep that in mind if you plan on ordering food while there. The bar stays open during that hour, but if you want drinks at brunch prices, I'd advise ordering before 4pm rolls around.

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