As we exit our "Summer of Affordable Lunches," the comfortable autumnal breezes signal the Herald-Leader's first "September of Brunches," wherein we investigate options for mid-morning weekend dining. Who doesn't love a good brunch, that halcyon meal somewhere between dawn and afternoon when, because there is no clock to punch, you might order your juice alcohol-laced?
Natasha's, long (and still) the purveyor of funky, healthy, tasty lunch buffets, as well as dinners served up with theater and music, has entered the brunch arena — and things couldn't be better. Thanks to the kitchen talents of Scott Saxon and Ranata Riley, and the gifted mixology of Diana Williams, this is one of downtown's best places to honor the Saturday and Sunday culinary "staycation."
The menu reads like a who's who of local producers: Sheltowee mushrooms, greens from Elmwood Stock Farm, Blue Moon fennel, and corn meal from Weisenberger Mill. Combine such fine ingredients with a devotion to taste and presentation, and you will want to linger all day.
While picking your entree, sip a fabulous Bloody Mary. Garnished with citrus and olives and mixed with spicy Sriracha chili sauce, this is no longer the salty, diluted and anonymous noontime drink. White wines by the glass are milder, of course, and the selection is good. Try the South African chenin blanc.
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And why drink on an empty stomach when you could be noshing on fruit that might include local grapes resembling Concords, and moist zucchini bread studded with almonds and cranberries?
I have sampled six of the main dishes and refuse to pick a favorite. They all include French fries or salad, but get the salad. The lightly tart, oily vinaigrette is perfect, the local greens are farm-fresh. Plus, although admittedly the quality varies widely, fries are available everywhere.
The most suitable choice for those just waking up is the healthy buckwheat flax jacks, dense yet somehow airy, slightly sweet, bursting with blueberries and served with your choice of syrup, sorghum or honey — or all three. Is there a better way to load up on those omega-3s everyone tells you about?
It's unfortunate that the quiche is served only on Sunday because you won't find a fluffier custard or flakier crust in town. The bright yellow eggs in The LFUCG, offered all weekend, are soft scrambled and outstanding and the biscuits melt in your mouth, but the star of this dish is the squash fritters with a batter like tempura. I did have a problem with the bacon, which was tough, and the tomato relish, which was watery. But that would not stop me from ordering this plate every week.
Really hearty entrees include a tuna melt on toast with nice black grill marks on the bread, and a chicken salad sandwich on a simple bun. Both salads were made with mayonnaise, minced celery and red onion, not astonishing but perfectly fine.
Or get the hummus wrap, a light vegetarian option. I love that Natasha's has toned down the garlic for a more subtle, less burning, flavor that allows you to taste the chickpeas and all the bounty of farmers' vegetables that are packed in the tortilla.
I have been told that the brunches will be ongoing, even as the seasonal options change. What's next? Potatoes delivered straight from the field, cubed and roasted as a side dish with those eggs? Pumpkin instead of zucchini bread? Salads featuring cabbage?
Whatever fall dishes the kitchen comes up with, Natasha's is defining brunch in its own delicious way while staying loyal to local produce and locavore values.