Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 15 February 2012
Barbounia: A Restaurant Review

250 Park Avenue South at 20th Street, Flatiron District
Getting There: N,R,W to 23rd Street; 6 to 23rd Street

Some restaurants have such nondescript exteriors that they are often confused for small shops or apartment buildings, while others seem to scream out at passersby, calling for them to come in for a visit. Such is the case with Barbounia, the seemingly never quiet Flatiron eatery boasting fine Mediterranean cuisine. Be it a 6pm happy hour or a weekend brunch, the place always seems to be packed with scenesters, giving off an enticing energy- one where you almost feel like you’re missing out on something everyone else already knows. After years of walking by wistfully, we finally made Barbounia our destination for a weekend brunch.

There’s a lot to like about Barbounia even before entering the massive space. First, they offer the two most important features for any place hosting a brunch- an unlimited drinking option ($17) and perhaps more importantly, they take reservations. Candidly, we’ve wasted far too much time in our lives waiting an hour to sit down at a table for a plate of eggs, and although you still may wind up waiting a bit here, that reservation is an excellent security blanket inside of a packed restaurant. Under the rusty orange awning, the window laden exterior allows you to peer into the crowded bar area equipped with large communal tables, high tops, and standing patrons waiting to be seated. Glancing around the large room, even on a Sunday afternoon the clientele is dressed for a night out, as large parties are toasting mimosas seemingly all around us. The middle of the restaurant boasts large plush booths which only add to the place’s aura of comfortable trendiness.

Because the restaurant serves up Mediterranean fare, the other excellent feature Barbounia offers is an eclectic, non-traditional brunch, and with it, the opportunity to taste something different. Sure breakfast staples like pancakes and an array of omelets have their place on the menu, but we were out to taste something that we couldn’t necessarily whip up at home. Perusing the rest of the menu, we opted for some traditional Mediterranean to start, tasting a sample of three ‘Meze’ dishes ($17.50). An elongated warm, buttery baguette was served alongside the restaurant’s tasty hummus, roasted eggplant, and an excellent creamy taramousalata- a salty, cream cheese like spread, prepared with fish roe.

Once the second baguette was delivered and devoured, we ordered up some of the restaurant’s specialty eggs, which per our waiter were must try dishes. Interestingly, Barbounia describes many of these dishes as ‘baked eggs,’ but really they are served inventively in a skillet, cooked perfectly with a barely runny yolk. The “Shakshuka Merguez” ($16.95) was a spicy concoction of baked eggs and a fiery tomato sauce over a homemade lamb sausage wheel. The tender sausage and egg combination paired excellently and the remaining bread on the table was thoroughly lapped up by the addition of the tomato sauce. The “Turkish Eggs” ($14.95) were also a big hit at our table. Served similarly in a skillet, the eggs were doused with ground lamb meat, chickpeas, spinach, and a tahini sauce for a more unique approach, still using traditional Mediterranean ingredients. Our final dish was the “Eggs Benedict” ($14.95); two perfectly poached eggs served over smoked salmon, with a side bed of mixed greens and tasty breakfast potatoes- an instantly delectable yet conventional collection of flavors.

While you certainly need to change out of your sweatpants before heading to Barbounia for brunch, the servers and staff do their best to make you feel at home. The energetic, brightly lit space is an ideal setting for larger parties, or just a group of friends getting together to reminisce about the night before. The brunch dishes were diverse and distinctive, and most importantly- delicious, to match a restaurant that is equal parts style and substance. Based on our initial experience at Barbounia, the next time we walk on by during happy hour, we’ll be certain to stop in for dinner.

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