- TRYING BRUNCH: EJ's Benedict Florentine Toasted English muffin topped with bacon, tomato, spinach, poached eggs and hollandaise.
We love many things about EJ's.
First, we admire its commitment to downtown eating and drinking as more than just a lunchtime pursuit. At Sixth and Center streets, EJ's is not near the River Market hustle and bustle, but it still offers happy hour and dinner hours on weekdays, a full-day opportunity on Saturday and 10 am. to 2 p.m. Sunday brunch hours.
Second, the staff is friendly and the place has a pleasant, low-key vibe, even when its 25 tables are packed — as they are most weekday lunches.
Third, the menu is large and has something for almost everyone, most notably its collection of huge sandwiches and baskets of crunchy, not greasy, homemade potato chips.
The fact we love EJ's is why we regret to say our most recent Sunday brunch there was disappointing. The yolks of the poached eggs on the Irish Benedict ($8.95), which subs corned beef hash for Canadian bacon, were hard-boiled. We should have sent the dish back, but we almost never do that. A friend had the full order of corned beef hash ($8.95), and the fried egg atop his bounteous mix of salty, diced corned beef and cubed potatoes was past medium instead of over easy as ordered, and that compromised the egg's intended role in the dish.
There are lunch-menu items available at brunch, including soup. The beer cheese offering ($3.95 for a cup, $5.25 for a bowl) was thick and flavorful, but the experience was almost like eating cheese dip with a spoon.
EJ's gives you a quarter of a whole homemade quiche with a nice mix of fresh fruit for $8.95, a good deal, but its quiche is different in texture than most. It's thicker and denser with more cheese and is less eggy.
There were some brunch high points, and let's start with the highest: the mimosa deal. EJ's provides a bottle of Wycliff sparkling wine and a carafe of orange juice for $9, meaning each standard-size mimosa checks in at less than $2. Try finding that deal anywhere else.
We also really enjoyed the biscuits and gravy ($6.95), which fills a standard dinner plate with two dense homemade biscuits split and topped with plenty of tasty, sausage-rich gravy; the accompanying cheese grits are indeed grits with cheese folded in vs. the cheese grits casserole many places serve and which we prefer.
The California turkey ($8.50 with chips) features plenty of good deli turkey topped with avocado, Monterey Jack, sprouts, lettuce, tomato and cream cheese. It brought us back around to what we first loved about EJ's: those fabulous sandwiches.
And that experience sent us back for lunch a few days later. Our pepper jack chicken soup was creamy and the spicy pepper jack flavor really came through. There were just as many potato hunks as chicken hunks, and it was a hearty, filling soup. The large Philly cheese steak ($9.95 with chips) was easily enough for two. Fact is, no Philly outside the Northeast U.S. stands up well compared to the original, but this is a decent representation — plentiful tender ribeye topped with a mixture of sauteed onions and red bell peppers with a slice of provolone. But it was a bit dry and could have used more cheese and onions/peppers to goo things up a bit.
But know this: One bummer brunch won't launch us from the EJ's brunch bandwagon's ejector seat. No matter how the eggs turn out next time, the $9 mimosa hookup is foolproof.
EJ's Eats and Drinks
523 Center St.
EJ's has a great weekday happy hour with a relatively small but loyal gang of regulars. Drink prices are even better than usual, and the late afternoon light makes it a pleasant place to hang out.
10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Full bar, all credit cards accepted.