By Meredith Sharpe
The morning sun on Third Avenue streams in through the open windows of The Smith during breakfast hours, brightening the dark tones of its decor. Black and white photographs line the walls, while the tiled floor of the East Village dining staple hints at memories of classic diners which seem to be the inspiration for its retro decor and American cuisine. Green bottles, assumedly the aftermath of a vast wine selection, provide complimentary sparkling water and accent the dark wood furnishings. The musical selections of the day are equally retro-chic, including classic Rolling Stones hits and bluesy melodies by The Black Keys, their volume intended to enhance conversation rather than overpower it. But while the decor may be responsible for initially drawing in The Smith’s vast and loyal customer base, it is the scents that waft through the restaurant which inspire them to stay.
I had often stopped by for a delicious yet slightly overpriced dinner, but the breakfast atmosphere of The Smith is another experience in itself. As I walked deeper into the restaurant at 9 A.M. on a Monday morning, I was hit with a wide variety of smells that evoked the Saturday morning breakfasts of my childhood. Bacon sizzles and spits alongside the clattering of plates in the kitchen, its scent permeating the establishment. It mixes with the heavy aroma of fresh coffee grounds and the doughy scent of cheddar biscuits, one of the restaurant’s signature breakfast appetizers. The fresh air brought in by the open windows brings an element of the outdoors inside, transforming the otherwise sophisticated, dusty atmosphere into that of a diner-style breakfast joint that matches the lower prices of the morning menu.
While the morning selections are more limited than those of the dinner menu, they provide customers with a detailed twist on classic American favorites such as eggs benedict, a BLT sandwich, or french toast. My selection, the vanilla bean french toast, came out garnished with a generous layer of caramelized bananas and nearly too hot to bite into, the plate piled high for only $9. While many vanilla-infused dishes tend to only provide the diner with a hint of their intended flavor, each slice of french toast was saturated with a creamy vanilla taste that brought to mind an ice cream sundae, especially in conjunction with the sugary bananas. Though not a healthy breakfast by any means, the dish was exactly as its menu description suggested–I felt that I’d had dessert for breakfast, and I was thoroughly satisfied.
True to the cliches often applied to American cuisine, the portions are sizable–even after deliberately avoiding too many of the biscuits placed on the table at the start of breakfast, I was unable to finish my meal. But excess seems to be The Smith’s strong point, rather than its downfall. My table of seventeen was provided with enough appetizers–including the famous cheddar biscuits, bacon, and plates of sauteed spinach–that we could have foregone full meals entirely, while the service was prompt and attentive in refilling drinks and taking orders. Each dish–at least the ones I experienced–contained a variety of spices and flavors that added to its classic base rather than detracted from it. If the fascination of the downtown area with the Smith’s atmosphere and cuisine does not seem justified in its crowded, pricey dinner hours, the morning hours when it returns to its more simple diner roots may be more enticing.