When you're trying to nullify the consequences of a night out, a quality brunch is important. But when you're also celebrating a birthday, it's exponentially more crucial that the chosen brunch destination is on point.
Such was the case when 12 of us descended on Cava Mezze to celebrate a friend's birthday on a recent Sunday. When it comes to birthday meals, you don't fuck around. Turns out, Cava Mezze doesn't either. Its brunch, birthday or not, hits the spot.
Before the talk of the food even begins, service at this tapas-style restaurant is possibly the best we've seen, particularly in such a busy environment, with servers and runners taking orders, delivering dishes, sweeping away used plates, and pouring pitchers of mimosas in the manner of a well-orchestrated ballet, and always with a smile. Plates were rarely empty, and glasses were nearly always full. Even when it was thought that the bar ran out of bubbly for mimosas, our server was happy to sub sangria (though that shortage turned out to be a brief hiccup, and he returned with pitchers of mimosas, to the pleasure of our table).
Initially, the idea of tapas for brunch was questionable. If you're hungover and hangry, who wants to wait for dainty plates?
In reality, the concept is ideal. Diners can order as many, or as few, plates at any given time. The restaurant's $30 brunch deal includes 1-cent mimosas and as many plates off the menu as you choose to order. It's like dim sum without the cart, and like a buffet without the guilt and shame.
With 19 brunch menu items, and 12 diners, we naturally tried every dish on the menu. The majority were hits, with everyone getting their forks in on the first round that came to the table, and then a half-dozen of us ordering those plates again.
One of the lighter favorites was the salmon, with several rolled pieces of fresh smoked salmon alongside greek yogurt, a few triangles of pita, and marinated cucumbers. Served at a just-cool-enough temperature, the salmon was flavorful all on its own, but was well-complemented by its accompaniments.
Pleased with the initial salmon dish, many of us ordered the Salmon Bennie with the same smoked salmon served over a toasted English muffin topped with a poached egg and covered with lemony hollandaise and especially briny capers that balanced the richness of the dish.
Green Eggs and Ham was another winner at the table. Two deviled egg were delicately filled with a mixture that incorporated whole-grain mustard that we surprisingly loved for its pop of texture and flavor amid the creaminess of the yolk filling. The ham made its appearance in the form of crunchy pieces of salty pancetta, while the green of the dish was a bright yet earthy pesto that circled the eggs on the plate.
The spicy lamb benedict was my personal favorite, with a toasty English muffin smeared with spicy harissa and topped with a slight lamb burger, poached egg, and hollandaise. First, who else regularly serves any form of lamb at brunch? Or harissa? It might be the fact that there's nowhere else that I have ever seen a similar brunch dish that made it my favorite, but it's also just a damn good riff on a traditional benedict.
For savory dishes, the pork belly, with a perfect layering of fat and meat, was also ordered multiple times around the table. The pasta and eggs made for an interesting plate with the salty and tangy cheeses mingling with the poached egg yolk over thick noodles.
For sweet dishes, the French toast had an airy interior texture and crispy outside, drizzled lightly with honey, dolloped with whipped cream, and dotted with berries.
The winner for the sweets, though, was the Nutella waffle. Warm wedges of golden waffles sandwiched Nutella spread, resulting in a gooey, chocolate-y dessert-style breakfast made even better with airy whipped cream and crunchy walnuts. We were grateful this was a small-plate format because there would be no way to resist an entire full-size plate of this.
Banana fritters took a close second to the waffles. The balls of fried dough wrapped around warm, creamy bananas with a dash of powdered sugar and a drizzle of maple syrup actually held the table captive enough to be silent for a brief period of time . . . until all the jokes about bananas and balls started. Thanks, 1-cent mimosas.
And then the real laughter set in when someone ordered the bowl of Greek yogurt and it was delivered to one of the guys at the table (who orders yogurt with a menu like this?). Yet, half the table destroyed the berry-topped creamy dish in minutes. Drizzled with honey, and adorned with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries as well as golden crunchy granola, the yogurt was thick and creamy, almost as though it had been whipped, and bared none of the uber-tanginess that we've experienced in commercial-brand Greek yogurt. It could serve as a dessert as much as any of the decadent sweet dishes on the menu, and would be an ideal healthy option for little ones brought to brunch.
The only dish on the menu with which we were not impressed was the grilled cheese. While this is a basic sandwich with perfectly grilled bread, the only cheese involved is feta, which is not known for its melty qualities. As a result, a congealed wad of cheese filled otherwise-tasty grilled bread. It really could have used another cheese or possibly fruit, or maybe some of that harissa from the lamb benedict.
Another misstep we detected during our visit was a struggle to keep a poached egg runny. All 12 of us at the table ordered various dishes with poached eggs (there are plenty on the menu) and we loved all of them. The yolk was never cringe-inducingly solid (thankfully) but the level of yolk spillage ranged greatly on any given dish (and within the same dishes). In all fairness, there is absolutely no way for a kitchen producing the mass quantity of poached-egg dishes like this one to get it right every time. We were actually impressed with the ratio of high-spillage eggs to low-spillage, but it is an expectation to keep in mind when ordering a dish with a poached egg.
The only other issue at this spot is noise. Because Cava Mezze clearly knows how to do brunch, it's become immensely popular in a short period of time. This necessarily means that the high ceilings and hard walls and floors are going to be reflecting a ton of noise, including the sounds of plenty of twenty- and thirtysomethings singing and swaying along to '80s tunes after downing their fair share of bottomless mimosas. Fear not, though.
Cringe a wee bit, like we did, when you walk in and hear the huge table behind you crooning Madonna. But an hour in, your table will likely also be swilling those grapefruit and OJ mimosas and singing along. This is what 1-cent mimosas do to people. And it's OK. You might have to yell a little at first to hear the person next to you, but the food and the service are well worth it.