The weekend morning meal. This sacred cow for many, consists of copious amounts of coffee, newsprint (for you digital hold-outs), and a healthy combination of carbs and protein. In addition to providing fuel for the errand-filled, kid-chaffeuring day ahead, brunch can also be one of the most frequently debated destinations of your weekend.
Since they began serving brunch just a month ago, Sugar & Olives in Norwalk has easily moved to the top of my brunch list. House-made ingredients, a green certification and a happy space make Sugar & Olives the type of place you can drop-in with your friends, a gaggle of kids or simply fly solo and enjoy this most important of meals.
A healthy respite from the greasy spoon options, Sugar & Olives has a menu that boasts a little bit of everything, from oats to pancakes and eggs and lobster not to mention fresh fruit and a duo of brunch cocktail options. Many of the ingredients are made on-premise when possible, including yogurt made from local milk and bread pudding made from their own freshly-baked loaves. It is this attention to ingredients and source that brings a clarity to each brunch dish.
First, a bit of disclosure. We’ve been frequenting Sugar & Olives since its inception and on more than one occasion, it’s doubled as our unofficial office. So if there is a place we’ve researched more thoroughly at CTbites. it could only be our home kitchens. And unfortunately for me, I can't make brunch nearly as impeccably as the folks at Sugar & Olives.
The Brunch Brigade, their aptly named weekend menu, is a compelling list of dishes small and large you’ll want to tackle with your extended family and friends, and over the course of several visits.
A few small portioned dishes kick-off the menu which are a good match for tiny appetites or can double as sides to share with a group. The Porridge Cakes with Preserves (available almost any morning at S&O) are my go-to during the week. They have just enough density, somewhere in between a scone and an oat cake, with a lightly sweet crumb and are accompanied by a small cup of seasonal preserves.
The Broiled Grapefruit drizzled with Red Bee Honey and ginger is perfect to share but plan on polishing it off yourself. The Angel Food Cake French Toast Sticks are a must for kids. They’re light and airy and just plain fun to eat. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a plate of duck bacon, which went so fast it's hard to recall anything but the fact it was smoky and delicious, and a perfect foil to the dishes on the menu.
Sugar & Olives does healthy well. The rolled eggs with mint and basil pesto, accompanied by a smear of strawberry coulis is a minimal and clean dish, its distinct flavors showing through. An egg white frittata, with braised greens and roasted tomatoes pairs with a carmelized onion and pea puree making it light yet decadent with a layering of rich, roasted vegetable flavors.
Decidedly more sweet than savory, the Sugar & Olives morning trifle is tough to pass up, with layers of fruit, granola, yogurt, fruit and lemon curd served in a mason jar. Along these oaty and sweet lines, a bowl of steel cut oatmeal called the Steel Cut Breakfast Brulee, is a rich and creamy dish, rendered by proper time and cooking and not by the addition of massive amounts of dairy. A sugary and crisp crust completes this simple yet satisfying dish.
Moving onto those dishes worth sharing, the skillet pancakes with lemon curd and blueberry compote are giant cakey saucers, a kids dream come true. Three pancakes, each almost an inch thick and the size of a frisbee, take up most of the real estate on their dish, challenging in their size, but with airiness that means that you can and will make quite a dent.
The Lobster Lumberjack Special is the Sugar & Olives upscale nod to the obligatory hungry man/woman dish. Sub-out the usual bacon for lobster, replace butter with a perfect Hollandaise and trade the grits for a nutmegged polenta and you can almost get the idea. The Sugar & Olives version uses a nutmegged and velvety soft polenta as an anchor to chunks of warm lobster, two cast iron-cooked eggs and a perfect hollandaise that has been whipped into the polenta. Chunks of apple also make a guest appearance, giving a nice burst of acid among the richness of the rest of the dish. Healthy? No. Impossible to put down? Yes.
The brioche bread pudding is dense and evenly moist. Like everything at Sugar & Olives, the bread in the bread pudding is made on-site. This attention to the ingredients makes this dish and speaks to the success of the rest of the menu. From idea to execution, each brunch dishe can stand alone.
Like much of the dishes, Sugar & Olives itself began organically. Looking for a location for her burgeoning kids cooking classes, owner Jen Balin, herself an incredibly busy single mother to 4 kids ages 6 to 16, found and transformed a former factory space in Norwalk in about 6 weeks. Simply wanting a spot to host her cooking classes, Balin didn't even have a menu for the first 9 months, the thought of a restaurant never really crossed her mind.
Speaking of restaurant, Sugar & Olives is not your typical restaurant. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a restaurant. The happy and bright loft-like space, a beam and mortar construction with white-washed rafters and towers of cookbooks and ample seating, has evolved into a bright and modern spot for private parties (she averages two a week), a weekly dinner service on Thursday evenings, sporadic Food Truck Fridays, a weekend brunch hot spot as well as a mini cooking school complete for both kids and adults.
As for the operation, although the restaurant industry can be wasteful, Balin and her team buy what they need (much of which comes from Connecticut farms) and use almost all of what they purchase and create, a three star Green Certification speaking to this dedication.
With her uncanny ability to spot potential both in ingredients and space, Jennifer Balin's Sugar & Olives is the weekend destination for a discerning brunch brigade.
Sugar & Olives 21 1/2 Lois Street, Norwalk. 203.454.3663. Open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch; Thursday nights for walk-in dinner. Closed Mondays. During the week they are open for kids and adults classes and private parties.