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Friday, October 7, 2011

15 Romolo Has a Low-Key, Boozy Brunch

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer - BAKED EGG ON FRESH CORNBREAD
  • Baked Egg on Fresh Cornbread
  • Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer

During happy hour on a Friday night, 15 Romolo is packed tightly with hip urbanites waiting for an artisanal cocktail. At noon on a Sunday, however -- when most brunch lines are curling around the street corner -- the bar is half-empty. It's occupied by a few diners chatting quietly at small tables, leisurely sipping coffee (and usually something a little stronger), eating comfort food and recovering from the night before. Given the popularity of brunch in this town, 15 Romolo is a very well-kept secret. 

The restaurant is tucked away in a nondescript alley of North Beach, up a tall hill between Grant and Kearny. Since there's no crowd, you may wonder if you're in the right place -- that is, before you see the vintage-style sign jutting out from the second floor of a dark building. Inside, the bar looks like an old saloon with an L-shaped bar and a few industrial touches; only a few waiters and bartenders work the floor, completing the intimate vibe. 

Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer - BAKED EGG ON FRESH CORNBREAD
  • Baked Egg on Fresh Cornbread
  • Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer
If you're going, be prepared to relax and stick around for a while. Night owls who frequent the bar during party hours know staffers don't rush mixing drinks and getting them to crowds waiting at the bar. At brunch, the slow turnaround isn't so bothersome -- as long as you're not in a hurry. 

Brunch-goers may be few, but the food is satisfying. The menu slants toward Southern comfort food (think andouille sausage and biscuits) and if you're looking for a cocktail to wash it down, you're in the right place.

Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer - BAKED EGG ON FRESH CORNBREAD
  • Baked Egg on Fresh Cornbread
  • Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer
When waiters come around to take drink orders, they leave a little treat behind: a breakfast shot. A powdered sugar-dusted waffle square is dunked into black rum and coffee liqueur, and it's much stronger than you may be expecting. Here's a tip: After you eat the waffle, throw the rest of your shot in your coffee. Brunch just got a lot more fun. 

Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer - BAKED EGG ON FRESH CORNBREAD
  • Baked Egg on Fresh Cornbread
  • Pimm's Cup and Bloody Hammer
It's easy to see why the Pimm's Cup ($9) has become 15 Romolo's specialty. Crisp and refreshing with hints of ginger, cucumber and mint, it's perfect to sip while the sun's still out. The Bloody Hammer ($10) ups the ante from regular old Bloody Marys, surprisingly bright with citrus. Don't expect thick, sweet tomato juice here.

Romolo's Home Skillet - BAKED EGG ON FRESH CORNBREAD
  • Baked Egg on Fresh Cornbread
  • Romolo's Home Skillet
When it's time to order, you better be ready for something heavy -- and something cooked in booze. Romolo's Home Skillet ($8) features a bourbon-braised brisket (or pork, depending on the day) hash, with poached eggs and a horseradish cream. Strips of kale slaw provide a touch of green, and crispy hash browns round out the dish, creating a great sweet-savory balance. 

Challah French Toast - BAKED EGG ON FRESH CORNBREAD
  • Baked Egg on Fresh Cornbread
  • Challah French Toast
The Baked Egg on Fresh Cornbread ($8) covers the entire bottom of a small skillet, drenched in gumbo and topped with andouille sausage. Spicy food lovers will love the not-so-subtle kick in the gumbo, but there's not quite enough of it to flavor all that cornbread. 

Challah French Toast
  • Challah French Toast
No brunch menu would be complete without something sweet. The Challah French Toast ($8) fits the bill, topped with peach compote, pecans and a side of bacon. The toppings are delicious (as is the bacon, naturally) but the actual toast comes out a bit thin and dry. 

Tofu Scramble
  • Tofu Scramble
The only savory vegetarian dish may be the Tofu Scramble ($8), which incorporates hash browns and seasonal veggies like beans and beets. The tofu/vegetable to egg ratio is nice and high, but the dish seems to exist more to fit a diet mold than to create something delicious. In other words: if you're not a vegetarian, skip it. 

Melon and Stone Fruit Salad
  • Melon and Stone Fruit Salad
For lighter fare, there's always the Melon and Stone Fruit Salad ($6), a small serving of arugula, fruit, jicama and herbs with a sprinkle of toasted almonds. 

Not every dish is perfect, but it's all fresh, seasonal, well-prepared and satisfying. And brunch at 15 Romolo is definitely delicious enough to warrant a half-hour wait, so take advantage of this spot while it's still under the radar.

Olivia Ware works for Williams-Sonoma, where she contributes to the company blog, The Blender. She also writes a personal food blog at LivBites.com.

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Olivia Ware

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