Cat Ladies Who Brunch

My brother and his single friends have a policy when they meet a new woman who happens to have a pet of the feline persuasion. One cat is ok, but it can’t be the center of her universe; two cats is not ok, but if you really like her, stick it our and look for other red flags– there will most likely be many; three cats, run for your life and do not, under any circumstances, look back. I, unfortunately, fall under category #3. Since hearing this piece of male wisdom, my life has become completely clear to me. I no longer have to wonder why I’m still single. No more wasting my time fussing over my attire, hairstyle or communication skills since it’s about the cats, not me. Through no fault of their own they have led me into spinsterhood with their endearing love and affection.

Now this may seem a sad truth to most people; however there is a flip side to the cat lady syndrome that is not well known—cat sitting. Us cat ladies stick together. We only want one of our own taking care of our loved ones. Someone who will not only feed our offspring, but also give them special attention and sit home with them on Saturday nights watching love movies and/or “Friends” reruns. So, on a warm day in August I arrived in Manhattan for a month-long cat sitting foray steps from Central Park. See, being a cat lady isn’t so bad after all.

Before setting foot in the city I researched and planned many of my meals. Sunday brunch is probably my favorite and after interviewing many New Yorkers and reading unlimited surveys, I come to the conclusion that Norma’s in the Park Meridien hotel is a must, even at their top-end prices.

Since it’s a beautiful summer morning, I set out with my parents, who are visiting from Houston, and cross Central Park on foot heading south to Midtown. Entering the hotel on 57th street, a long, elaborate foyer, hosting an elegant espresso bar, leads to the waiting area for Norma’s. The sparse, modern space is crammed with people sitting on sofas, and waiting in line to enter Manhattan’s breakfast Mecca. This is definitely a hot spot and I feel hip and trendy just being one of the crowd, even as my father complains about the noise. Luckily we’re seated in the quietest corner away from some of the commotion only after a 15 minute wait, which I hear isn’t bad, even with reservations.

When reserving a table at Norma’s they send a confirmation to customers warning them not to eat for 24 hours prior to brunch and after glancing at the menu, I realize it’s a valid suggestion. How is it possible to choose what to eat?? Just in the eggs Benedict category alone there are five choices: Traditional; Norma’s version with pancakes, Canadian bacon and grilled asparagus; Florentine with spinach; Upstream with smoked salmon and “Artychoked “with you guessed it, artichokes and a truffle porcini sauce (which you probably didn’t guess). The sweet side of breakfast features 12 different variations of pancakes, French toast and waffles. The “light and lemony griddle cakes with Devonshire cream” catch my eye. To round out the menu, there’s fruit, there’s oatmeal, but not just any oatmeal. It’s “McCann’s Irish Oatmeal Brulee with sautéed green apples and red pears”. I have finally found a true breakfast establishment that properly pays homage to my favorite meal of the day.

Before going to Norma’s I sent my parents a link to their menu. I was afraid, if I didn’t my father would go into cardiac arrest when he saw the prices. Born and raised in New York, he has spent the last 50 years of his life in Texas where a good breakfast tops at $10 per person. I wanted to reassimulate him with care, knowing the trauma and detriment hefty price tags can cause Depression era babies (and rightfully so). My father always starts his morning with OJ, as he calls it, and on this morning it’s no different until he sees $9 in print next to the words “Unlimited Orange Juice (squeezed today)”. “There must be a misprint on my menu,” he says so innocently, “they can’t be serious.” “I assume that they are. It’s New York, it’s Manhattan and this is the best of the best,” I reply realizing my foresight was meaningless. “Well, in that case, I’m going to get my money’s worth. They have no idea how much OJ I can drink.” And with that comment we proceed to order.

The decision process is grueling. We decide to order a variety of dishes and share. My parents both appreciate a good meal and are excited by the choices, even though my father, after requesting the Arepa (Columbian corn cake with eggs and chorizo), remarks that his father, buried across the river in Queens, would turn over in his grave if he knew how much they charged for a morning meal. We also order the Eggs Florentine, and “buttermilk pancakes with juicy Georgia peaches and walnuts”, as my father adds that if his grandfather, a German immigrant stonecutter, knew that people actually paid $20 for breakfast, he’d drop dead of a heart attack all over again. With that comment he orders his third glass of OJ.

With visions of my dear departed relatives stirring up a commotion in Calvary cemetery, I dig into the Eggs Florentine with gusto. They are perfect—the yolk soft, the white cooked and the Hollandaise a smooth blend of butter, egg and lemon juice. The eggs are accompanied with blue, purple and cream-colored fingerling potatoes, probably the best I’ve eaten in my entire life. The arepa is sweet with corn and a perfect contrast to the spicy chorizo. Cut lengthwise and grilled, it’s also the best chorizo I’ve even eaten and I eat chorizo for a living (as part of quality control in my restaurant kitchen, that is). The pancakes are moist and light; the peaches so sweet that maple syrup is only an afterthought. As we completely clean our plates, my father orders his fifth glass of OJ. By now he’s talking about his Uncle Joe, who also happens to be turning over in his grave across the river.

A theme in my father’s stories rings clear, I come from a long line of simple, hard-working men who knew the value of a dollar. As he says, they might be twisting and turning beneath the earth at this very moment, but I’d like to think that they also might be amused and a little proud that their descendants are able to enjoy the best of Manhattan. (On second thought, though, the Alsatian stonecutter might find our indulgence wasteful.)

With the check my father gets his eight glass of OJ. I tell him that he just spent less for his OJ at Norma’s then he would have at my restaurant in Mexico. This observation brings a smile to his face and peace, finally, to the graveyard across the river.

<a href=””><img alt=”Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien on Urbanspoon” src=”” style=”border:none;width:104px;height:15px” /></a>

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