It’s no secret that New Yorkers love to do brunch. These days, it’s not too difficult to stumble upon a restaurant offering a weekend brunch or at least a variation of the weekday lunch menu. But where can you find a menu that goes beyond the local diner staples of silver dollar pancakes and scrambled eggs? If you are looking for a place that takes this important meal of the weekend one step further, you will want to experience brunch at Zé Café.
Located on a dead-end residential block in the Beekman neighborhood of Midtown, Zé Café is housed in a former carriage house whose exterior is truly unassuming (there isn’t even a sign outside). The interior, on the other hand, is a different story. Husband and wife, ZeZé Calvo and Peggy O’Dea, have transformed the space, once home to their unique flower shop, into an exquisite, cozy French-Italian bistro that will shelter you from the cold of winter and the scorching summer heat. Upon entering through the glass doors, you are transported to a vibrant indoor patio with sunrays beaming through the large skylight in the middle of the room. Add the exposed brick walls, beautiful, blossoming floral arrangements, marble table tops, and wicker chairs, and you’ll feel as if you’re dining in an elegant garden.
Zé Café’s décor is only part of the escape. One look at the menu and you’ll probably salivate almost instantly. Whether you’re ordering your own dish or splitting a few items with others, you’ll want to try the vanilla lowfat yogurt parfait with crunchy granola and diced fruit ($9). Sure, parfait is nothing new to brunchers, but Zé Café’s version is not your average yogurt and fruit concoction. The visible yet tiny black vanilla beans alone validate its wholesomeness; the blueberries and strawberries are perfectly sweet; and the homemade granola is natural and tasty. For something heartier (and perhaps a bit more typical), you will appreciate the two-egg ZeZé omelette ($13) with spinach and deliciously rich gruyere, along with your choice of toast, a biscuit, or scallion country fries diced with onions and red peppers.
By far the best choice on the menu (although not the healthiest) is the banana and mascarpone stuffed French toast served with whipped crème fraiche ($15). Covered in a savory, golden coat of crunchy flakes, the French toast is heavenly with every bite. Indeed, this dish exceeds all expectations. While the portion may look small, you’ll realize that the French toast is quite filling. The accompanying side of breakfast sausage may put you over the top. Brunch at Zé Café would be incomplete without sharing a slice of one of the homemade pies or splitting a freshly baked cookie or two—even if your stomach is approaching full capacity.
Except for the inevitable wait for a table, brunch at Zé Café is anything but typical. The décor and food are refreshing, and the servers are quite attentive. It could be the middle of winter or the peak of summer outside, but inside Zé Café you will be invited to disengage from the chaos of the past week and seek refuge in an urban oasis…at least for brunch.
398 East 52nd Street
New York, New York 10022