I’ve decided that I like doing restaurant reviews. It’s a great way to practice writing while simultaneously expanding my palate. Not to mention the fabulous built in excuse: Aw, darn, I’d better go out to eat again… It’s for THE BLOG.
My latest dining adventure brought me to Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain. Better known as the restaurant arm of the Milky Way, the two establishments have settled in nicely to their new home alongside the Sam Adams Brewery.
If you’re familiar with JP, you already know that the only thing more renowned than the breakfast establishments there are the epic waits to get seated. Even on the harshest frozen winter day, or in the midst of a torrential downpour, you can always be sure to find a line of people standing in line on the sidewalk, coffee in hand, waiting for a coveted spot at one of the few JP restaurants serving breakfast on the weekend. Some would call it a loyal restaurant following; I call it foolhardy, myself.
The reigning JP breakfast champions are the Centre St. Cafe and Sorella’s, both of which I’ve been fortunate to have visited on several (sunny) occasions during the 2+ years I lived in JP. While both restaurants serve food that appeals to JP’s vegan, earth-friendly, buy-local sensibilities, they have very different vibes. Centre St. is more deeply rooted in restaurant traditions, and serves dinner in addition to their popular weekend breakfasts. Expect to see large portions of gourmet food featuring things like Vermont cheddar, hormone-free beef, and seasonal fresh veggies.
Sorrella’s, on the other hand, approaches breakfast from the diner side of the fence, with less formal waitstaff and tables, and frequent sightings of the cooks in their grease-stained aprons. The food is served more casually as well, but is distinctly creative, with unusual offerings and multiple items to appeal to both vegetarians and carnivores alike. A personal favorite of mine are any of the many french toast options made from quick breads such as pumpkin-raisin bread or cranberry walnut bread. They also play with both Mediterranean and Mexican riffs on traditional breakfast items, and their menu is, well, huge.
So when I heard that Bella Luna had thrown its hat into the ring by serving a Saturday brunch, I was eager to check it out, but with no small sense of trepidation regarding the potential crowds. I got off the train at 11:30, a half hour after service began, and proceeded to power walk my way around the throngs of young hipsters emerging from the subway at the same tame. Surely they all were headed to Bella Luna for brunch as well — I must beat them there and get my name on the list!
Imagine my surprise upon arriving when I spotted by friend seated by herself in a little red booth in a near empty restaurant. Perhaps the new location wasn’t working out so well after all.
We started off with coffees — hers with Amaretto, and mine, to keep her company, with a side of Mimosa. (What? Mimosa not a side? Says you.) The menu was small but engaging; enough so that we just had to order a basket of blueberry fritters to buy us more time to decide on our main dishes.
The fritters were the highlight of the meal for me personally. Gloriously deep-fried, the confectioner’s sugar-dusted outside was crunchy but not hard, with a pristine cake-like center. Dipped in pure maple syrup, they were a treat of complimentary textures and flavors. (Plus, one had “feet” formed from dripping dough, so I got to play with my food, too, which is always a nice bonus.)
If Vegas had odds on things like “What Joanna LeRoy is most likely to order off a restaurant menu,” you’d find a strong correlation between certain ingredients and the likelihood of the plate ending up in front of me. Mushrooms, cheese, asparagus, sweet potatoes, pasta, rosemary, duck, blood oranges, apples, pistachios, or chocolate? Check. Capers, pine nuts, beets or refried beans? Not so much… Needless to say, the sweet potato, apple & bacon hash appeared in front of me shortly following the fritters.
The hash was sauteed with fresh thyme, onion & butter, and came hidden under 3 fried eggs and a side of wheatberry toast. The eggs and toast were standard, and the hash was sweet and tasty, if a bit overly greasy for my liking. I’d love to try mixing it up with some bread crumbs and making a stuffing; the flavors would be awesome with chicken.
Having polished that off, I reached back into the basket to fish out the last blueberry fritter, when I had a revelation. There, in the bottom of the basket, was a solitary blueberry that had escaped from any trace of batter — but not from the fryer. Yes, a naked fried blueberry. Now, I know that the last thing America needs is the introduction of another fried food, but think about it! You go to a Maine county fair in August, and there among the vendors is an unassuming stand with a big sign reading FRIED BLUEBERRIES. After forking over $3, you’re rewarded with a small paper cone of deep-fried blueberries, perhaps tossed lightly in a sweet lemon glaze… Imagine THAT on top of some fried dough! But I digress.
Happily for Bella Luna, by the time we left at 12:45, the restaurant was now quite crowded. As I headed out the door, I overheard the hostess answer a new patron, “Party of five? That’ll be about 45 minutes.” Ahh. I was back in JP after all.