Make Brunch Better: Lessons from Eva Pesantez

By Fabiana Santana

When you think of BBQ chances are a hurly, burly, bearded ‘cue cook with a padlock on a jar of sauce comes to mind. But in New York City, it’s Eva Pesantez who is manning the grill and guarding the sauce at the city’s most popular BBQ chain.

During the course of her career, Eva Pesantez has put in her time in the kitchens of some of the most talked about restaurants in the culinary scene. She was the Pastry Chef at the Four Season’s Hotel in Boston, served as Sous Chef at New York hotspot Monkey Bar under famed chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, and opened her own catering business, Savor, in 2005. Sharing a space with the central commissary of Brother Jimmy’s, the successful sports bar/restaurant chain run by her brother Josh Lebowitz, Eva lent her culinary know how to Brother Jimmy’s menu and customers noticed the difference. It was under her watch that the restaurant went from a simple hangout to a top-notch nightlife venue and dining destination constantly rated in the high ranks on Zagat. She was appointed executive chef for all the restaurants, and now she’s upping the ante with a southern style brunch that has new Yorkers licking their fingers clean.

Brother Jimmy’s is taking brunch to a new level. There are those must have traditional brunch menu items like eggs Benedict and omelets, but they do have a Southern spin on them. The eggs, for example, are topped with buckboard bacon and BBQ hollandaise. And a traditional Southern chicken and waffle dish feature a corn meal waffle that is even more decadent with the addition of Eva’s homemade maple butter. Even the BLT is getting the special treatment – the sandwich is made with applewood bacon, lettuce and fried green tomatoes. Brunch is a great meal to get creative with and Eva says it is an easy one to entertain with at home, too. You just have to have a game plan.

How did you come up with the menu at Brother Jimmy’s?

I wanted to included traditional brunch items, but incorporate the southern staples, too. Like hash and eggs – smoking the corned beef seemed like the right thing to do to add that smoking BBQ flavor into it.

Some people see brunch as late breakfast while others favor it as an early dinner. What is ideal?

If it is just breakfast, I like eggs. So brunch is a bit different. For me, brunch is sweet and savory. It’s a bit of breakfast and dinner, so the chicken and waffles is a perfect brunch meal. It has the slightly spicy chicken, which is savory, and the sweetness of the syrup with the waffles hits the sweet spot. Brunch is a bit of an indulgence.

How can a single woman host a great brunch party at home? Wouldn’t serving everyone at the same time be difficult with eggs involved?

The key is to serve things that don’t need to be piping hot, or to pre plan. A frittata is a great egg option because it is hearty and you can make one large frittata that serves the whole table. Put out breads like bagels and cream cheese, salmon, fruits salads, granola, fresh muffins as extras. A savory bread pudding with sausage and cheese is another great, hearty, warm option. You can set it up the night before and bake it the day of your party.

Even waffles would work. I have mad them the day before and cooled them. Then before serving, warm them in the oven until they puff up. I am not a fan of pre made fried chicken so if you are not making the chicken that day, serve them with the maple butter. Just whip butter and maple syrup until it’s all incorporated.

Lots of people like a sweet brunch or a dessert after a savory meal. What is a good dessert to serve at brunch or if you want to do a completely sweet menu?

The red velvet cake waffle at Brother Jimmy’s is perfect. We serve it with cream cheese icing flavored ice cream. I developed the recipe after a party planner said that a red velvet waffle would be a great idea. The ice cream is a bit hard to make, but cream cheese icing is easy and you could serve the waffle with that.

What is your favorite brunch cocktail?

I love our Bloody Mary. I make chipotle pickles that we put in the drink and it adds that little something different. I am not a huge beer drinker, but the Bloody Beer is great because it is not as heavy as beer and not as strong as the Bloody Mary. Sangria is a good one, too.

What is your go to, eat at home alone meal after a day of BBQ at Brother Jimmy’s?

I usually make a salad with whatever protein I have in the house. It’s usually a can of tuna or eggs. I use whatever veggies I have in the fridge. I love salad with fried eggs or tuna and olive oil. It’s healthy, delicious, and substantial.