I read about a cool Filipino pop-up brunch place back in December or January and bookmarked it to explore as soon as I had a weekend morning to myself. Then I found out a friend owned it. My friend Enzo Lim, one of NYC’s most talented bartenders (currently behind the stick at Minetta Tavern, Painkiller and a few other top-notch spots) opened Maharlika in January in the old Resto Leon space on 12th Ave. Now that I’ve been a couple of times, I want you to bookmark it for yourself as a must-do this weekend.
UPDATE: Maharlika was also featured in the newest issue of Time Out New York, which came out today.
Enzo opened the warm, cozy Filipino brunch-only spot with Nicole Ponseca acting as GM as well as with a strong crew of folks in the kitchen and on waitstaff. Walking inside, it feels like a clubhouse of sorts as most of the guests know the owners or are friends-of-friends. It’s a nice change from other brunch spots where the long wait or sterile vibe outshines the actual fun of eating together.
Enzo is the creative force behind the drink menu, mixing up such Filipino twists as Pacquiao’s Punch (pictured) and the Bloody Clara, which ramps up the weekend favorite with the addition of fish sauce. Don’t knock it without giving it a sip – it’s salty, but it works. Turning to the food menu, I wanted to eat everything. This isn’t unusual, but from the looks of the plates set around me, the portions were generous enough for me to want to pick just one dish. This was a good move, since Nicole sent out generous snacks of corn nuts cooked in coconut milk and pork chicarrones.
For my main dish, I settled on the Eggs iMelda while my friend ordered the Tortang Talong. We also split a side of tocino sausage. Get this — tocino is cured in 7-Up. Yep, the soda. Unreal. It was so, so, so good I could have killed another order of it on my own.
The first layer of this amazing dish is something called pandesal, which I had to ask about last weekend during my second visit. Pandesal are chewy little yeast rolls and, in this instance, they’re split to serve as the base of the dish as a muffin would in Eggs Benedict. The next layer is two glorious, sunny poached eggs with the brightest yellow yolks I’ve seen. The eggs are topped with shredded taro root leaves cooked in coconut milk, shrimp paste, and chilies. A lot of these elements (taro, otherwise known as eddoe, coconut milk. chilies) are ones I recognize and welcome from our time checking out West Indian food here on MOTB.
To complete the picture and totally mess with your concept of Eggs Benedict, the eggs are topped off with calamansi, a citrus butter sauce that serves as a perfect foil for a pair of large, salty grilled prawns served with their heads and shells still on. I’m not sure if my friend Miishi was amused or horrified when I asked Nicole for a tutorial on how to eat the prawns.
The dish was rounded out by kamote (Filpino sweet potato) fries doused with a few splashes of house-infused garlic/hot pepper vinegar. I loved how the salty elements laid up against the heartiness of the pandesal and the rich, familiar taste and feel of the quality poached eggs. The jury is still out on how I feel about calamansi, but I enjoyed this dish so much that it was a struggle not to order it again when I went back.
This is what Miishi ordered. I love eggplant, so I had to sneak a bite. The eggs were scrambled, omelette-style, around the roasted eggplant, and it was served with a traditional Filipino salad of tomato, cucumber, onion and cilantro. While I found it delicious, I definitely think I won at brunch this day.
A couple weeks after my first visit, I brought another adventurous friend out to Maharlika and this time I NEEDED heavy food. I got my face rocked off at a Simian Mobile Disco/Hard Weekend show the night before and it was so amazing. Sunday definitely found me in full recovery mode.
Armed with my appetite, coffee and a pair of sunglasses, I navigated the menu and walked my friend through the last experience. We both decided to try things that I hadn’t already eaten, except the tocino, which I had to have her taste.
She went with the Barrio Breakfast (corned beef hash, 2 eggs any style, homestyle pandesal, kamote home fries, guava paste, coco jam & atchara – pickled green papaya) and I went with the Ilog Breakfast. Hers was tasty (no pic), but I felt I again won at brunch. Not that this is competitive or anything.
See that picture? You could not create a better plate of food for someone recovering from a literal Hard Weekend. We’ve got fried rice, a sunny side QUAIL egg, some of that traditonal salad and then almost 2 cups of the most amazing 7-UP cured sausage wonderment. Mix it all together and add some of the house-infused vinegar we talked about and, man, we are in business.
So, here’s my verdict: GO. Eat everything. Except the eyeballs on the prawns. Those are kind of funky.
Enzo and his team are bringing sexy back in this bright and sunny space with their salty, creamy combinations on the plate and drinks that make you wish you were on vacation.
This is my first post on Filipino fare, and I’ve never eaten it before. I know nothing about it, but I am beyond fascinated with the melding and fusion of cultures (mainly Chinese and various Hispanic influences) that have touched the Phillipines and their cuisine. Since we don’t have a big Filipino enclave here in the city, I could do something unusual for MOTB with this post and just talk about one restaurant instead of a whole neighborhood.
Below is a funky Filipino version of ketchup made with bananas. This is the stuff that fascinates me.
I’m hoping this post reigns you in to talk to me here about some other Filipino gems in the city. I know I’ll be picking Enzo’s brain and begging his friends to cook with me soon so I can start learning as much as I can about this special place.
- 351 East 12th street @ 1st avenue (former Resto Leon space)
- Open: Saturday and Sunday 11 am – 3 pm
- Walk-ins welcome for parties of 2 or 4, reservations necessary for parties of 5 or more
- Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Menu: http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/maharlika/menu
You can see all my photos from Maharlika here.
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