When I first moved to the city, Max Brenner was one of the first restaurants I tried. I’ll admit I was drawn by two things – one being the prominence of chocolate on their menu and two being their slogan, “Chocolate by the bald man.” Who was this bald man and does he really know his chocolate? I still don’t know who the bald man is but I think the answer to that second part is a definite yes.
There are two locations in the East Village – one closer towards Union Square and one further south more towards the heart of the East Village. Neither take reservations, so it’s just luck of the draw. There is far more seating at the Union Square location, but it also tends to be packed at almost anytime other than off-peak hours, so it’s best to plan to visit here when most aren’t out for dinner.
I’ve always been a big fan of their Mediterranean Platter, a dish featuring three types of dip (hummus, Babaganush, and an eggplant spread) and the best fresh pita wedges I think I’ve found anywhere. I found Max intent on changing as much as possible on my visit this past Monday. The amount of each dip was less and those fresh piping hot pita wedges? They’d been replaced with fried pita wedges. Fried pita? My thoughts exactly. Why mess with what had been one of the highlights of the meal? And this meant they’d managed to downgrade the healthiness of one of their few healthy selections. Bad move. The bread was a sad crispy almost. Had cinnamon sugar been dusted on top, they could almost pass as sopapillas. Definitely not something I would pair with the Mediterranean spreads.
Their main menu had also changed. I’d always gotten a turkey panini which came with a spicy spread. It was perfect – the touch of flavor from the sauce serving to offset the comforting slight flavor of turkey. Again, gone. Instead I split their turkey club. It wasn’t bad. It was huge, so perfect for sharing. In place of the tiny salad of Max’s former life, this sandwich was served with seasoned waffle fries. They were quite good but I actually found myself wanting a salad after all of the fried pita slivers.
The only comfort, aside from the barrage of refills of fountain Diet Coke, was that they had not changed my finale of choice – the chocolate pizza. Amazing. Sold either as a half a pizza (2 large slices) or a whole pizza (4 slices), you can choose a topping of either toasted marshmallows or hazelnuts. Both are mixed with hot almost liquid milk chocolate. The hazelnut is good, adding a subtle contrasting crunch to the ooey gooey chocolate, but the marshmallow is the clear winner here. Toasted to the point of just becoming a bit liquidy, Max manages to stop before their tops are too crunchy but yet makes sure that they have lost that squarish rigidity with which they started. If nothing else, sit in the tables by the bar and grab a couple of slices. Or perhaps better yet, grab ’em to go. While I might opt to pass now on the remainder next time (although upon reviewing their menus online, perhaps only the Union Square location has altered their menu), I do think one thing’s still true – that bald man knows his chocolate.
Max Brenner – Two Locations
841 Broadway (between 13th and 14th)
141 Second Avenue (at 9th Street)
212.388.0030 – Reservations for large groups only