It's hard to miss the surge of new living spaces in downtown Syracuse over the past few years, carved out of old derelict buildings, unused warehouses and vacant department stores.
Occupancy is greater than 90 percent, with more units in the works. Young professionals and empty nesters are moving into these trendy apartments because of the convenience of being able to walk to just about everything. Work may be only blocks away, and restaurants, shopping and other daily activities are all close by. Have your hair styled, go to the gym, or even drop off your clothes at the dry cleaners. Downtown Syracuse has officially become a neighborhood.
While downtown bustles during the week, Sunday is a slower day. But with new brunch menus at four long-standing downtown restaurants, that will change.
Steve Morrison, owner and chef of The Mission (304 E. Onondaga St.; 475- 7344), took note of the influx of downtowners and started offering brunch on Nov. 25. "We distributed flyers and even put a sandwich board out front to let people know we were open for business," explains Morrison.
It is the first foray into Sunday morning since The Mission opened 13 years ago in what was originally the Wesleyan Methodist Church, built in the 1840s. The interior reflects the ambiance of a Southwest iglesia, and while one is not really here to pray, the setting is low-key and relaxing.
Brunch offerings, which are served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., demonstrate the Pan-American influence of the main menu, highlighted with eggs, incorporated into familiar items. Five "huevos" dishes combine traditional south-of-theborder ingredients to create rancheros, which are two poached or fried eggs served on top of fried corn tortillas, layered with black or refried beans, red chile sauce, melted cheddar-jack cheese and sliced avocado for $7.50. The same egg choices are added to make sweet potato-chorizo hash, topped with tomatillo-chile sauce and sliced avocado for $8.
Grilled flour tortillas surround cheddar-jack cheese, home fries and salsa for $6. Omelets, standard fare on any brunch menu, blend in cheddar jack cheese and are served with toast or cornbread, also for $6. You may customize your omelet or burrito with mushrooms, spinach, roasted peppers, onions, tomato, jalapeno, avocado, queso blanco or goat cheese for an extra 50 cents a pop. A dollar more each and you may add grilled steak, ham, chorizo, bacon or smoked salmon.
A Mission twist uses blue corn for Belgian waffles, served with maple syrup and cinnamon whipped cream, for $8. Morrison does a Pan-American take on French toast, as well. How about dulce de leche French toast served with maple syrup, seasonal compote and chile-spiked powdered sugar for $8? If you still crave some salty nachos with your breakfast, try the corn tortillas topped with a blend of Mexican cheeses, black beans, guacamole, silky crema and pico de gallo. Small is $5; a hefty serving is $8.
Wash down your food with a cup of Hyman Smith Mexican Organic Fair Trade coffee, for $1.75, or Mexican hot chocolate for $2. Freshly squeezed orange juice is $3 but papaya, guava, mango, passion fruit, pineapple or peach juices might be a little more authentic for your meal, for $1.50. For a little kick, a mimosa cava, a sparkling wine from Spain, pairs with any juice for $6.
"We've noticed some new faces since we opened for brunch, and our regulars really enjoy the new addition," remarks Morrison. Longtime customers who have been accustomed to drop in for lunch or dinner now have another option. Driving into town from DeWitt or Fayetteville is even easier on Sundays, since parking is free and easily available.
Just around the corner from The Mission, at 317 Montgomery St., is Parisa Restaurant and Catering (565-5118), another recently minted brunch venue.
Parisa, housed in what was originally the Brick Alley Grille for many years, has been open for three years.The cuisine here is called "Persian Fusion," and while Parisa does incorporate some Persian items in the menu, they are mostly Middle Eastern spice-infused dishes. "This is Syracuse, after all," says Chance Bear, co-owner and executive chef, referring to Syracusans' conservative palates.
With that in mind, Parisa"s Sunday brunch menu, served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., offers pretty much standard fare, embellished with some of Bear's own creative touches. This a delightful little restaurant that appeals to those looking for a quiet and relaxing place to start the day or for a late Sunday-morning meeting with friends.
Five eggs items, served with choice of toast, include two eggs any style with sausage or bacon, for $5.95. A three-egg omelet, priced at $7.95, mixes in seven favorite ingredients. The fritta (also known around these parts as "fretta" or "frittata") adds broccoli, onions, potatoes and provolone cheese for $8.95. Eggs Benedict is $9.50; make it with bacon and shrimp cream sauce for $11.95.
A list of seven pancakes, waffles and French toast has toppers like apple strawberry or chocolate chip sauce, each for $8.25. Stuff them with bacon and sausage for $8.75.
Créme brulee French toast is one of the chef's innovations for $8.95. Cram the French toast with sausage and bacon, or for vegetarians, strawberry cream cheese for $10.25.
Entrees are for the hungry ones in the crowd. Sausage gravy over biscuits is $9.95. Fill up on Bear's pot roast and eggs with toast and home fries for $10.95. Another beef item pairs New York strip and eggs with toast and home fries for $12.95.
Bagels with cream cheese are welcome for brunch for $3.95; add lox for $5.25. A variety of sides are on the menu if you're extra hungry, and a fruit bowl for $2.75 is a lighter choice. Classic coffees, teas, juices and soft drinks are also available.
Diners like to make brunch a special occasion with a taste of Chance Bear's alcohol-infused novelties. He has created frozen desserts using a liquid nitrogen gizmo at lunch and dinner, and has carried the processes one step further on the Sunday menu.
For Mimosas, the popular brunch drink, a combination of champagne and orange juice becomes a "slushie" after going through the liquid nitrogen apparatus, making it a wonderful cold and textural treat. The same goes for the apple pineapple bilini. Bear even puts beer through the gadget, as Guinness becomes a "guinesschino" after being mixed into the liquid nitrogen machine.
Bear prepares all meals at lunch and dinner at Parisa six days a week. When asked why he added brunch to his demanding schedule, he answered with a smile: "I just love cooking breakfast." In the meantime his creative spirit will be flowing on Tuesday, March 19, when he presents a dinner for the Persian New Year at the famed James Beard House in Manhattan. This is the chef's second invitation to cook there; last year he created a meal for St. Joseph's Day.
Downtowners entertaining out-oftown friends on a Sunday might want to show them that Syracuse isn't just a pasta or meat-and-potatoes place. Walk them to L'Adour Restaurant Francais (475-7653), at 110 Montgomery St., next to City Hall. Everyone will delight in L'Adour's elegant Gallic gastronomy, served by a French-speaking waitstaff. But fear not: English is also spoken here.
Every effort is made to see that you are comfortable, too. This is not one of those stuffy French restaurants you see in the movies. And the menu is great, starting with the in-house pastries. As a suggestion, order the assortment of five pastries for $12 for the table.
Sweet crepes with Nutella, orange butter or sugar, Belgian waffles or French toast (gingerbread, brioche, baguette or French white bread) are served with a choice of blueberry, apple-cinnamon compote or pure maple syrup, all for $9.
Poached eggs are served four ways.
Ask for meurette, to be served with bacon, onions and wine sauce. Ham with hollandaise sauce, mixed vegetables with wine sauce, or Atlantique, which features house smoked salmon and white wine sauce, are all $12.
If you can't decide, try the brunch plate. A poached egg served any of the four ways offered, Belgian waffles, house-smoked salmon, bacon, Provencale tomato and sautéed potatoes, is a masterpiece at $18.
Yogurt served with granola and fresh fruit salad or oatmeal is $8. Savory crepes or a three-egg omelet with various ingredients cost $12. Fluffy quiches, with a choice of spinach, crab or Lorraine (with bacon and onions) cost $10. Four French-style sandwiches are $10. Other favorite sandwiches include the croissant jambon (ham and cheese). Grill the above for a croquet monsieur; top with a sunnyside egg for a croque madame, each for $12.
Specialties digress from the usual breakfast items, like soup of the season for $8, salads of house-smoked salmon or tomato and mozzarella for $12, and fresh oysters on the half shell (if available) at $16. A selection of imported French cheeses with green salad is $16 and goes well with a glass of wine. The classic Burgundy escargot are $9 for six or $16 for 12.
In an unusual wrinkle. L'Adour serves brunch on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., as well as Saturdays and Sundays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. "We were originally open every day for breakfast, but now served during the week on Fridays only, to accommodate companies who hold business breakfasts here," says owner Yann Guigne. "Saturdays and Sundays remain very popular."
The Empire Brewing Company (120 Walton St.; 475-2337) offers brunch at the other end of the spectrum from L'Adour. The vibes for Empire's Blues Brunch are definitely upbeat in this Armory Square venue, and the crowds keep coming.
"We serve upward of 500 customers from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.," says managing partner Adam Eagan, "but things really liven up when the bands come in at 12:30 p.m."
Los Blancos plays three Sundays a month and The Delinquents come in on the fourth Sunday. Eagan explains that both bands play acoustic music, meaning that there are no amps blaring into the room. "This is supposed to be background music, not a concert, and the customers love it," he says, emphasizing that the place is also kid-friendly. The little ones even have their own menu, with pictures to color using provided crayons to keep them occupied.
The brunch menu is not for the faint-hearted. This is big-time eatin', to go with Empire's long list of beers. Other special libations include a Cajun bloody Mary, a lively combination of vodka and juice, topped with a pickled bean and served in a spiced rim pint glass for $6. Mimosas are also served in a pint glass for $6, enough to hold you for awhile. Brunch coffee is a heady mélange of Grand Marnier, Kahlua, dark créme de cocoa and whipped cream laced into your coffee, all for $6.
Nine brunch specials promise you'll have enough to eat for the rest of the day. On the list is a kobe steak and egg burrito, which packs shaved local wagyu beef, scrambled eggs, grilled onion and bell pepper into a soft flour tortilla, topped with Creole sauce and tumbleweed onion, for $12. Even the healthier Empire granola and yogurt is a full meal. A bowl or organic rolled oats and bran, honey, craisins, dried cherries, golden raisins, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, banana chips, coconut, almonds, walnuts, cashews and maple syrup is served with organic yogurt and in-season fruit for $8. Three hefty burgers are $12 each, malted waffles with turkey sausage and eggs are $10, and a grilled breakfast pizza is also $10. You can also order from the extensive main menu.
Eagan has noticed the influx of new downtown residents who walk over to their brunch, along with regulars who show up every Sunday. "We even have a lot of customers who come in on Saturday evening and show up the next morning, too," he observes. Although Empire has a 165-seating capacity, including the bar, Eagan strongly recommends coming early. There is typically a 30- to 45-minute wait, and Empire doesn't take reservations.