We would like it here or there, we would like it anywhere!
A principle of brunch physics: The more baroque the French toast preparation, the more cloying it’s likely to be. As the kitchen piles more stuff onto and pipes more stuff into the bread, it can tip from merely sweet to heavy cream-cheese coma before you can say “vanilla- mango-peach-mint syrup.”
Based on that, you’d expect Green Eggs Cafe’s “peanut butter crunchy French toast” to be a sugary mess. But it’s emblematic of the many ways in which Green Eggs triumphs over calcified brunch orthodoxy. On a recent visit, the dish was an imaginative and potentially habit-forming tower of golden brioche Texas toast stuffed with whipped-together peanut butter, cream cheese, and, yes, sugar, cloaked in a drippy layer of mixed-berry compote and crowned with a swirl of house-whipped Chantilly creme. It was neither too sweet nor too savory, and the peanut-butter-cream-cheese filling was lighter than you’d expect, its density close to that of the encasing toast. Syrup was rendered unnecessary, a distraction in this context.
Pancakes, though holding no surprises, were fluffy models of technique. Their delicacy allowed a more-than-generous short stack to remain a viable accompaniment to eggs—despite their apparent volume, they didn’t overwhelm. The trick, executive chef Michael Nastasi told me in a follow-up interview, is folding in whipped egg whites after the rest of the batter has been assembled, lightening everything up just before it hits the griddle.
Eggs, too, are prepared well here, even the most austere create-your-own omelets. A vegetable concoction, for example, had the distinct, fresh flavors of spinach, onions and peppers, and packed a punch despite its lack of cheese or heartier, more moisture-providing components. Green Eggs’ eggs may not boast the free-range or organic pedigree that many brunch spots make a point of noting, but they were clearly handled with care in the kitchen.
Nastasi performs equally well with light and heavier dishes, more straightforward preparations and overtly complex ones.
Philly-style eggs Benedict, for example, could easily have teetered over the edge into the realm of overwrought, schmaltzy brunch caricature. But through a formidable sense of vision and balance, it worked, and managed to embody old-school Philly dining. An unabashedly firm pretzel roll—essentially a bagel round, it’s custom-made for Green Eggs Cafe by the Philadelphia Pretzel Factory—was layered with cream creese, a moist slice of dijon-herb-roasted (then grilled) pork loin, a perfectly jiggly poached egg and béarnaise sauce.
If every component had merely been decent, it would still have been one of the best hangover remedies in the city. But with this offering, as with so much else here, the details elevated it to something altogether more interesting. The rosemary perfume still clinging to the pork, the acidic lift brightening up the béarnaise, the generously scattered salt flecks clinging to the bottom of the pretzel roll electrifying each bite—something so seemingly familiar is rarely this exciting as a result of its details.
On the lighter side of things (on the other end of the health spectrum, you could argue) was the quinoa porridge, which I sincerely hope will become more common around town. It’s prepared perfectly here, all airy textures and nutty-deep flavors, and was lent a far more exotic identity by the ingenious addition of agave nectar, golden raisins and a cardamom-nutmeg spice blend.
This, essentially, is a no-lose spot for brunch. The space is bright and suffused with natural light, the service is attentive but never grating (so important during those first delicate hours of the morning), and even the coffee is brewed with care. It’s had enough success, in fact, that a new location, with Nastasi at the helm, is set to open shortly on the other side of town.
In a city blessed with a wide and ever-expanding roster of brunch options, Green Eggs Cafe is a more-than-worthy addition, and reason enough to get up a bit earlier, brave the morning and find a table before the crowds arrive.
Green Eggs Cafe
1306 Dickinson St.
Cuisine type: Well-considered brunch classics rendered with care; sandwiches and salads, too.
Hours: 8am-4pm daily; coffee available until 7pm.
Price range: $2-$10.50.
Atmosphere: Clean-lined, open, welcoming.
Food: Hungover or not, the brunch is as good as any in town.
Service: Helpful and pitched perfectly for delicate early morning interactions.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014