WHERE: 301 Lark St., Albany
WHEN: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Friday; 10:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted. Not handicapped accessible. Telephone: 436-7008. justinsonlark.com.
Justin’s on Lark Street is an Albany institution that seems to be doing quite well a couple of decades after its inception.
One of the draws is that, depending on when you go, you can listen to live jazz while you dine. But you’ve got to have good food to keep them coming back.
Among its popular culinary offerings is Sunday brunch, which I would highly recommend. Think Sunday brunch in New York City, and you’ll get the flavor of the place. The dining room is particularly appealing, with lots of lovely dark wainscoting, banquettes along the walls and interesting art here and there, with a large and prepossessing abstract painting of a piano player as a dominant focal point. At one end of the room, near the entranceway, sits a grand piano and on the other, an elevated working fireplace.
The menu is not extensive on Sundays — a dozen or so possibilities along with the day’s special — but you’ll find something to tempt your palate in Justin’s array of comfort food.
There’s a Norwegian frittata (talk about fusion cuisine) for $9.25 that features Norwegian salmon, fresh baby spinach and gouda cheese, along with sautéed potatoes and fruit.
The Rustica Stratta Scramble ($8.75) is fresh basil, roasted red peppers and sweet Italian sausage on a bed of scrambled eggs, all topped with Parmesan cheese and accompanied by potatoes and fresh fruit.
A basket of warm cornbread with butter infused with what seemed to be brown sugar arrived with our coffee and served as a tasty portent of what was ahead.
My brunch partner chose the classic Eggs Benedict ($9.25), and it made for a pretty presentation — two warm poached eggs with Canadian bacon sitting on an English muffin, and all topped with Hollandaise sauce. It comes with potatoes and chunks of sweet melons.
On my guest’s recommendation, I ordered the Casted Hash and Eggs ($9.25), which is Justin’s own corned beef hash baked in a cast-iron skillet and topped with eggs of your choice and Hollandaise sauce. I chose scrambled eggs, which were delicious with the Hollandaise, but then what isn’t good with Hollandaise?
The hash, served in a cast-iron skillet, was a savory treat — heavy on the corned beef and light on potatoes. If you like corned beef, you’ll love this dish. The cool melon chunks made for a nice contrast to the hot dishes.
If you’re in the mood for a little Italian for your brunch, there’s My Aunt Jane’s Italian Sausage and Egg Sandwich ($8.50), a grilled Portuguese roll stuffed with sautéed Italian sweet sausage, eggs, Parmesan cheese and sherry, with the standard sides.
And if you’re low on protein, there’s a Meat Lovers Egg Wrap ($8.75) — a wrap stuffed with scrambled eggs, your choice of Swiss, cheddar, pepperjack or smoked mozzarella and your choice of bacon, ham or sausage. Or you could go for Joe’s One-Eyed Breakfast Burger ($8.75), a 4-ounce sirloin beef patty with applewood-smoked ham, a fried egg and cheddar cheese.
Justin’s offers several other menus, including a selection of what it calls cafe platters — dishes like Irish Stew ($10.95), lamb slowly simmered in Guinness stout with red potatoes, pearl onions, carrots and celery, and served in a crock with cornbread, and Cafe Rope Vieja ($9.95). On the menu for more than 20 years, it’s a braised brisket of beef simmered in Cuban sofrito until tender and served with gingered rice and black beans.
‘It’s real good, mon!’
There is also a sandwich menu, appetizers and daily soups and a more upscale selection of dinner entrees, like lamb chops seasoned with coarse salt and black pepper and chargrilled and topped with apple chutney and served with mashed sweet potatoes and veggies for $21.95. You can also get pan-seared duck breast glazed with orange and brandy and served with mashed sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas and black beans for $20.95.
Justin’s signature dish since 1990 is its Jamaican Jerk Chicken ($17.95). The all-natural island marinade is complex and spicy, and the restaurant’s online menu sums it up this way: “It’s real good, mon!”
I have to mention the good service we received from Max and colleagues, who were attentive to our needs but never intrusive.
Our tab for two brunch entrees and coffees came to $29 with tax and tip.
We hung around after brunch to hear jazz icon Lee Shaw on the piano. Who knew brunch would include a memorable dessert?