For weeks now we've paraded from holiday party to holiday party, dressing up, drinking champagne, and sipping whiskey, so, on what felt like the first sunny Sunday in weeks, we demanded some quiet to replenish ourselves. We headed to peaceful Riverside seeking one of our favorite pizza joints, Hersh's (1843 Light St.,  438-4948, hershspizza.com).
Sometime over the summer Hersh's expanded its offerings beyond knee-weakening Neapolitan-style pizzas and homemade pastas to include Sunday-only brunch, and we had regrettably missed the memo. This was our chance to rectify the oversight. Having checked out the menu in advance, we were very excited.
Greeted like neighbors by Stephanie, half of the brother-sister owner team, and her staff behind the bar, we wandered past several families sharing large eggy dishes and pizzas and settled in at the bar. The bartender presented us with the brunch menu and a bonus tiny menu of breakfast appetizers. Offerings included chestnut flour crepes ($11), warm greens topped with eggs, nuts, and buttermilk dressing ($10), and Hersh's pizzas, including our personal favorite sprinkled with kale, pistachios, and red pepper flakes ($13.50).
Until very recently, we'd not felt the need to add appetizers our breakfast arsenal, but for City Paper, shucks, we'll add another course to our morning rations.
In the name of research, we ordered two starters: the focaccia with housemade ricotta ($5) and the smoked-trout crostini ($6). Adorned with lemon zest and chili flakes, the focaccia came as toasty little rafts topped with mild cheesy dollops drizzled in honey. The freshness of the ricotta balanced with the toppings to make for a light sweet-savory snack that, frankly, was so good and satisfying we could have stopped there.
Our trout snack came bursting with bold woody flavors without feeling heavy. Gently flaked onto crusty bread, the house-smoked fish sat scattered atop a yogurt olive-oil dressing that immediately brightened each bite, giving a tang and saltiness on one bite after another like a healthy addiction.
By now our coffees had been filled, and refilled, and our cocktails delivered. The Alley Cat ($10), also on its evening menu, fits like a glove into the breakfast cocktail offerings with apricot jam, Cynar, and sparkling wine. This more-voluptuous-than-a-mimosa breakfast drink spurred our appetites and felt classy in our hand. Simultaneously, we sipped the Classic Milk Punch ($8), which seemed more like an adult take on cereal for breakfast—rich, wholesome, seasonally spiced, and topped off with bourbon.
As we were chatting away, our entrees swooped in; first to land was the crispy pork-belly breakfast sandwich ($11). It came highly recommended—we're told it frequently sells out— and we could see why. The open-faced, sunny-side-up squares glistened with rendered pork drippings, each bite sexy and decadent. Served with light, crispy fries and garlic-y aioli, the fries were like perfect little potato straws glittering with flaky salt sequins. While not for the faint of heart, this ooey-gooey barnyard tower may be among the greats in hangover helpers.
Diving into our other brunch main, we explored the more exotic The Ottomans Are Coming! Or, Turkish poached eggs with yogurt and fried sage ($10). A shallow bowl of homemade yogurt with two adorable poached eggs peaking out of the center, artfully drizzled with smoked paprika butter, the dish read like a beautiful creamy morning stew. Breaking into the drippy golden yolks, we gently churned the piquant, herbaceous yogurt, scooping up rich bites on crusty baguette toast. We'd never had a yogurt dish like this for breakfast, and we could see this as a hearty go-to for smothering any number of other meals desperately in need of bright, creamy toppings. We will say, however, that without the baguette, the texture is a bit one-dimensional, so be sure to ask for extra toast.
We determined the only sure way to close out our holiday party reprieve was with Hersh's Eggnog of No Regrets ($10). Spiked with sherry and tequila, it has a spunky quality that sets it apart from other nogs. It's velvety and dusted with nutmeg, the rich dried fruit flavor of the sherry playing the straight man to the tequila's cheerful peppery flavors. Truly no regrets on our end.
Bellies full and warm, we headed back out into the sunny afternoon. Thrilled to know that Hersh's dinner A-game translates flawlessly into a midday meal, we'll be back—and we've got our eyes on those chestnut crepes!CallSend SMSAdd to SkypeYou'll need Skype CreditFree via Skype