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For over 9 years, this part-cafe, part-bar, part-bakery establishment has won the hearts of both Curry Hill locals and those who change three subways to get here from afar. Considered a diamond-in-the-rough of the humdrum of midtown, Penelope definitely sets itself apart in terms of both ambiance and culinary excellence. The sign on their wall says “good times” – indeed. Simple, and true.

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I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so my assessments will be uninformed and simplistic, but let me tell you that that cup smelt deliciously energetic.

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The downside of waiting two months to recount a brunch experience that it’s notoriously difficult to recall whether I had coffee 🙂 This is where incessant trigger happy photo taking steps in. From the lay of the land depicted below, looks like I did have a cup, right alongside my freshly squeezed almost-pulpy grapefruit juice.

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The menu is actually pretty condensed. There is sufficient variety so you don’t feel like your hands are tied and you can only pick from among three sad options, none of which sounds remotely appealing. Penelope does give you two pages of “stuff” to choose from – some platters, some sandwiches, some savory, some sweet. Pretty standard brunch menu, and yet with a hint of muted rebellion in one or two creative elements snuck in surreptitiously among the comforts of the tried and tested.

Admittedly, we were not a creative bunch that afternoon. Also, the 90+ minute wait may have stomped out the creativity in us a little. Were we a little weary of our aimless wanderings prior to breakfast (though granted, the idea to go find a mango lassi not only helped kill time and shorten the wait, it was also a refreshing start to the day)? Perhaps.

The three-egg omelette seemed hearty. They playfully call it the Farmer’s Market Omelette. There’s a bunch of veggies listed on the menu and you get to pick your top three choices to stuff into the omelette. Looks like my friend ordered spinach, tomatoes and onions for his morning-starter. Served with toast and home fries. And what looks like a small bowl of massive butter slabs. That much? Maybe rename the dish to interventional cardiac surgeon’s delight? I didn’t even notice a defribillator on site …

Instead, packets of salt and pepper may have come in hand more – would have definitely reduced the mad dash for the salt and pepper shakers on the table 🙂 Or ketchup. Or cayenne pepper and a squirt of lemon. Maybe even wasabi. Or seasoning. Of any kind. Just some. Yes, Penny? But then again, why? Since the whisper-chain ensures a weekend 2hour wait, why sweat the seasoning?

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I ordered the salmon-wrapped poached eggs. Check it out – massive slabs of smoked salmon. The poached eggs are blushing from under their cloak of smokey goodness, awaiting to spill their creaming yolk to coat the slice of toast underneath, and the creamy smokey fish in one decadent bite.

Here though, the whole concept of sparing the sodium worked marvelously. My pet peeve about smoked salmon is the overpowering saltiness, to the point where it masks the subtle smokey flavors and all you taste is the leading edge of the salt assault. Penelope’s smoked salmon was delicate. Buttery. Smooth. No jarring salt sting on the tongue, just a mellow caress of the silken fish.

I’m not quite sure how I felt about the dill spiked drizzle. It was a technically sound choice – dill pairs so well with salmon. But I was enjoying the salmon so much, I personally felt that the dill took away from it a little. Almost as if the unique textural choreography being staged by the delicate swan salmon-ballerinas was prematurely raided, the vulnerable swans kidnapped by the cloaked evil dill-knight, and forcibly transformed back into humdrum daily salmon out of a packet. Instead, I wish they had let the salmon shine, staying away from the expected combinations and bridging that step from rebel-wannabe to there-I’ve-done-it-so-sue-me. Mind the gap.

The salad – I didn’t understand. It didn’t pair with either the salmon or the egg yolks, or the fleeting crunch of the toast. It seemed like an afterthought, a splash of color almost, and it left me confused as to how to treat it as an overall composition. Treat it purely as a visual and chomp at it separately? Try to fold it into a bite and mull it over, ambitiously seeking for some harmony that may not have even been originally intended? Or just leave it be, and slant my head at it askance and be content with the part of the dish I *was* able to connect with?

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I ended up treating it as a palate cleanser between sets of bites. It didn’t work that well since it was more bitter than neutral, but ah well. Clearly I didn’t let it stand in the way of clearing away most of it.

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Not enough can be said about the chicken apple sausage we ordered as a side to share. It was so good. Its probably not house-made though, so not sure how much credit we can attribute to Penny.

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I still can’t get over how much butter that is …

20120619-221952.jpgPenelope’s was a solid brunch choice. Good food, cute atmosphere and a perfect start to a lazy sunday spent in some amazing company!

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