(New York, NY) — Our final day in Manhattan is September 11. We have a plane to catch later in the afternoon, and we’re not quite sure what traffic will be like, considering the ramped up security throughout the city, so we line up reservations for breakfast early at nearby Aspen Social Club. Other than the info on OpenTable, we don’t know much about the place, though reviews seem generally positive...
When we’re traveling, we try to keep breakfasts pretty much open because we’re never very sure how hungry we’ll be, depending on the previous evening’s excesses. Additionally, we are on different timetables for the first meal of the day; Juliet likes to eat later, while I typically need a little something to nosh first thing. After skipping dinner the previous day (due to our epic lunch at Birreria), an early breakfast appeals to both of us, for once. We hit the streets, dodging tourists in Times Square (including camera crews from other countries) and NYPD uniforms, until we arrive at another relatively non-descript entrance. It is Aspen Social Club, connected to a hotel named simply Stay. (Juliet has been trying to get me to go to Aspen, Colorado for years, so I picked this restaurant as a kind of in-joke. We're finally going to Aspen!)
My hopes soar when we enter. The decor is warm and inviting, rough wood panel and faux stone walls, bamboo, and white antler accents. There is a video fireplace in front of the bar that’s more cool than kitsch. Leather booth seats and sculpted chairs flank small tables. The vibe is pure Colorado in Midtown. A friendly but distracted gentleman greets us off-handedly and tells us to sit wherever we like because “it’s not busy.” This first exchange is a little awkward, but we make our way into the dining room ourselves. He follows after with menus and ice water.
The coffee is pretty bland, but still one notch above regular drip. Although our server is either distracted or sleepy or just plain does not want to be there, he does keep my cup filled. That is the only compliment I can pay, unfortunately. When Juliet attempts to order the Nutella on Toasted Baguette, he tells us, “No bagel delivery today.” I’m not sure what bagel has to do with baguette, but maybe it’s the same bakery? But they do have toast. Maybe he didn’t hear her correctly, so I have to ask him again. “Yes, we have baguettes.” Glad we got that cleared up!
I order the traditional omelette. For my two allotted ingredients, I choose ham and cheddar. It arrives, looking like a limp, uninspired yellow half-moon, sided with toast, home fries, ketchup, and a clearly past-its-prime spinach salad. The cheese and ham isn’t bad, but there isn’t enough inside to warrant $14. I could have had better at any IHOP for half the price. Home fries and toast (supposedly wheat, but tastes like standard white), are both half-cold and possibly even warmed up leftovers from yesterday. I do not touch the spinach, slimy and blighted as it is.
Our check arrives with an automatic 15% service charge on it. No wonder our server does not particularly care if the food is good! He’s got his tip. Even fancy decor does not excuse poor cuisine and sloppy service. If you’re staying at Stay, you might do well to venture a block in either direction for better breakfast. Turns out, the in-joke was on me. Avoid Aspen Social Club.
There is no one at the hostess station and the man who greets and seats us is the server for the whole place this morning. Lucky for him they're far from packed. From the very start he seems slightly awkward and off kilter. Almost like it's his first solo shift on a new job or something. Maybe he had a rough Saturday night or maybe its the somber mood of today's date; this is the tenth anniversary of September 11th and the city is noticeably subdued. Memorial coverage is on every television screen and most Times Square jumbotrons. It is not a perky Mary Poppins kinda morning and yesterday's overindulgences at Birreria don't help.
The restaurant decor is lodge-chic with distressed leather booths, Aspen trees and a giant light fixture made of antlers. A boatload of antlers; there must be over a hundred. (Vegetarians beware!) I've always believed it's a fine line between theme decor and kitsch, but this place seems to understand that, though they're just one moose head or flannel shirt away from overdoing it.
The menu is somewhat sparse and despite skipping dinner last night, nothing really grabs me. I am in need of a good strong cup of coffee to clear the fog. I decide on the fresh fruit plate and the toasted baguette with Nutella. Our waiter explains that they're out of bagels because no delivery trucks were allowed in Times Square today. I am puzzled (bagels?) and trying to figure out what he's trying to tell me. It dawns on me that NYPD probably banned deliveries due to heightened security...but I'm not clear what bagels have to do with what I wanted to order. I'm ready to get an English muffin instead but then my knight in shining armor, Jeremy, shows him the menu and points out on that it reads "baguette" not "bagel." The waiter seems confused as if he doesn't understand there's a difference between a bagel and a baguette, but he writes it down and heads to the kitchen.
A few people wander in and out while we wait for our food. The lack of a dedicated hostess has lost them a fair amount of business today which I hate to see at any restaurant anywhere.
The fruit plate is artfully composed with slices of apples, blueberries, bananas, blackberries and a few raspberries. The blackberries are slightly green and extremely tart while the limp raspberries have seen better days. The rest of the fruit is quite tasty though. I pile it on the crispy baguette slathered in Nutella. It's messy but really delicious and I remind myself to remember to make this at home for a weekend breakfast. The green apple with Nutella is surprisingly yummy. I am disappointed that the coffee leaves a lot to be desired and the fog remains.
Overall, not a great experience. There's a gazillion other great options nearby.