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French Fries: They’re what’s for breakfast.

I woke up this morning sick as an old hound dog with the mange. I had brunch scheduled with some childhood friends, but had to call between hacking coughs to beg off because I knew that if I went I would probably drink too many bellinis in an attempt to forget about my various aches and pains. You’re probably thinking, “Shocking! I always thought bellinis were indicated for upper-respiratory infections. Why wouldn’t she go?” but I feel the responsibility to alert you to the fact that heavy drinking* does not, in fact, stave off illness. I know, I know.

Brian is still getting over the cold he just transmitted to me (his attempted cure: Drambuie), and we both spent the morning lolling around the apartment bemoaning our pathetic states and the lack of brunch. So we swore not to drink and went to brunch anyway, hoping that french toast might be the miracle cure that bellinis are not.

*Heavy drinking for me = 2/3 of a bellini. Shut up. No, you’re a wuss.

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Not the English Breakfast Tea I ordered.

We headed to Marco & Pepe, one of the first higher-end places to open in Jersey City when gentrification really started taking off. It opened as a bar and small-plates joint about 6 years ago, and eventually turned into a West Village-y new American style restaurant. There are plenty o’ folk around here what hates it, finding it overpriced and pretentious. It is pretentious, but the food ranges from average to really good, the beer list and cocktails range from good to excellent, and for a regular dinner out I’d rather give my cash to a local overpriced and pretentious place than one in NYC.

Quite good: the thin, crispy and perfectly salted french fries with garlic-chili mayo, not pictured above because we sucked them down like starving vultures.

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DSLR? We don’ need no frickin’ DSLR.

Really good: The croissant french toast with strawberries and maple syrup. For a run-of-the-mill french toast, I like challah or brioche, or even a really good white loaf. For a crazy-decadent french toast, I go to Marco & Pepe. Its brief milk-and-egg dunk is just enough to make it french toast, but is not so heavy that the flaky butteriness of the croissant is lost.

As you eat your way through it the maple syrup starts to soak the layers of the croissant together, so that eventually it becomes almost like tender, custardy baklava. This can be a bit much for breakfast, but you’re typically almost done with the plate by the time this happens. At least, you are if you eat it the way I eat it.

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Playing while I ate this: a klezmer cover of Metallica’s “Anywhere I Roam.” Not that the restaurant is trying to be cool or anything.

Also, a slab of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon helps cut through the sweetness. Mine had been on the griddle too long and was on the dry side, kinda like a rasher from an English breakfast (sorry, English people), but bacon is bacon.

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Brie: Cornerstone of a nutritious breakfast.

Brian got the ham and eggs, interpreted by Marco & Pepe as an oversized English muffin topped with thick slices of ham, poached eggs, and an assload of melted Brie. There were a few wan slices of melon on the plate, but all they really did was highlight the massive amount of cheese. I didn’t taste this because I don’t really do Brie (I know, I know), but I have to assume that it was good because I had to physically move the plate to keep Brian from licking up the dregs.

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Sad.

The brunch menu at Marco and Pepe has small but well-curated sections of starters, breakfasts, sandwiches and entrees, making it good for a group who can’t agree on whether to do breakfast or lunch. Most of the food is quite good, including their take on mac and cheese (gruyere, mascarpone, goat cheese, lardons and caramelized mushrooms) and any fish dish – whoever’s manning that station can cook the holy hell out of some seafood (in a good way).

And although I abstained today, I can personally attest to the yumminess of their bellinis, the Hemingway cocktail, and the draught La Chouffe. There’s also an excellent beer menu with a great selection of interesting, non-Heineken or Amstel imports (and some great Belgians in particular).

Not so great: oh, the service, the service. The service at Marco & Pepe has never been great; there always seem to be two or three less people working than the place really demands. Pacing is erratic to non-existent. Today we waited almost 20 minutes just to have someone ask if we wanted coffee (which never did come), and on other days courses come out one on top of the other. For a 6-month period a few years back there was a creepy lurking guy in a suit who was always pacing the length of the restaurant but was not a server, busser, or front-end manager. Who the fuck is that guy? We never figured it out, and his presence had no discernible affect on service (of lack thereof).

We usually just deal because we factor it into our trip there – M&P would never be my choice for a quick bite – or because we’ve decided on a leisurely brunch, like today (we brought the Times’ crossword puzzle). I don’t blame these issues on the servers at all, since they’re always busting their asses. Dear Management: Your restaurant is always packed. Please schedule more servers. Thank you, The Neighborhood.

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Too much contrast, or artfully obscured cost of my breakfast?

Marco & Pepe
289 Grove Street, Jersey City, NJ (2 blocks south of the Grove Street PATH station)
201-860-9688
Open for brunch and dinner Tuesday – Friday