by | May 23, 2004 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This morning, I will do something I always swear I will never do again: eat brunch in New York.

What’s that? Why? Sorry. I can’t hear you. I’m in the back of a line that spills down Columbus Avenue. This is the line for people who have reservations. People who don’t just get laughed at, then splashed by a bus.

But that is only one reason to avoid a Big Apple brunch. Here’s another: the Sunday New York Times. Apparently, due to some federal mandate, all New Yorkers must read the entire Sunday Times while eating Sunday brunch, starting from the front page and finishing with the lingerie ads. This, of course, takes 22 hours. Which may explain the line.

But wait. We’re only getting started. And speaking of started, how about those appetizers? Appetizers, you say? For brunch? Didn’t brunch used to mean that you could have eggs and French toast in the same meal? Or maybe Froot Loops and a piece of chicken? That’s how I defined brunch.

Today it means something different.

Today it means “jamming garlic shrimps with white corn fritters.”

Today it means “codfish seasoned with onion, scallions and three peppers, served with callallo and fried dumplings.”

Today it means — and these are all from real New York brunch menus — “corn crusted calamari cracklins with chipotle and avocado cremas.”

There is so much wrong with that.

Dictionary instead of a menu

For one thing, I don’t know what a “cracklin” is. I know “Cracklin’ Rosie,” but that was a Neil Diamond song, and come to think of it, I never understood that. Or Neil Diamond. You wouldn’t really call a woman “cracklin’,” would you? Much less a calamari.

I also have no idea what an “avocado crema” is. It doesn’t sound like breakfast. And while I have read the word “chipotle” before, to me it is sort of like “fennel.” You say, “Oh, yeah, yeah . . . uh, what is that again?”

A dictionary is not how you should start your Sunday morning.

All I really wanted was a place that served eggs and pancakes and maybe a waffle. Someone recommended Norma’s, in Le Parker Meridien Hotel, because “it specializes in breakfast.” I figured, great, that would eliminate the codfish.

And sure enough, when I looked into it, Norma’s did indeed specialize in things like omelets.

With caviar.

And lobster.

In fact, Norma’s, we believe, has broken the record for world’s most expensive omelet. It costs $1,000. It contains an entire lobster, 10 ounces of really expensive caviar, and, presumably, some eggs, although you probably can order it without the eggs, as long as you have the thousand bucks.

I asked the manager just how many people had ordered the $1,000 omelet and he said, “Three. And they were all journalists.”

Not for long.

The high price of brunch

Not all brunches in New York City cost $1,000. Some can be had for as little as $795, although you probably have to bus your own table. Only in New York can you buy a bagel for 50 cents on one corner, then cross the street, put cream cheese on that bagel, and get charged $34.75.

So why, you ask, am I doing it? I don’t know. I guess because, like Disneyland, enough time goes by and you forget all the lines, money, heat and parking, and you keep seeing a smiling Mickey Mouse head. And enough time goes by between New York brunches that I start seeing big stacks of pancakes and French toast and cheese omelets and a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

And not the “Maine lobster, pico de gallo and cheese quesadilla.”

So as I line up for the ATM, en route to lining up for the “reservations only” line, I take solace in only this:

I have a friend who may join us and his nickname is “Rosey.” And in an effort to try to convince him to come, I can, for the first and only time in my life, actually say, “It’s Cracklin’, Rosey, get on board!”

Which makes it all worthwhile.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or”


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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