Restaurant review: Natalie’s pizza fires up a wonderful new brunch

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From the October 3, 2013 edition

If you’re reading my column now, then you likely know about the lovely and sophisticated pizzas baked in Natalie’s coal-fired oven — they’re among the best pies in town. But are you aware that Natalie’s has recently added a Sunday brunch? If not, then I’m happy to report it’s pretty damn wonderful. Monster-Bargain Teaser: This brunch features a drinks-n-entree-bundled, NYC-style super-deal I’ll soon describe.

First things first, you gotta slake that thirst. The start-the-day-right beverage list is well-versed in the expected classics: bottomless cups of Luck Brothers coffee ($2); a rich and spicy Bloody Mary creatively concocted with the housemade pizza sauce (all hooch-fortified quaffs are a reasonable $7); fresh-o.j.-loaded mimosas; prosecco-fizzy bellinis; and punchy red sangria that’s fresh, potent and uber-pulpy. These all go down beautifully with Natalie’s perfect-for-a-crusty-Sunday hushed lighting and its urbane mood fueled by a relaxed vibe and free live music (which might be jazz, a string quartet or tasteful pickin’).

OK, killer deal time. One beloved Big Apple standard is single-price brunching in which drinks are included. Since this practice is rare-to-nonexistent in Columbus (Why, oh why?), Natalie’s is yet again functioning as a local trailblazer a la its oven/pizzas and its equal commitment to food and music. Anyway, your bottom line “brunch special” cost here for coffee, a cocktail and an entree is $15. Even without factoring in Natalie’s cool ambiance, that price is hard to beat — especially with shareable-large entrees.

Like, for instance, those fantastic, homemade-mozzarella-topped pizzas (a three item beauty — with free organic egg if desired — is otherwise $12 a la carte). Probably because this brunch is still relatively new, pre-designed brunch pies aren’t yet on Natalie’s menu — but my bacon, egg, peppers and onions combo was definitely a brunch-fest of champions.

Ditto for a hugely impressive — and huge — Quiche wedge entree ($10 a la carte). Displaying a light and attractive oven-browned sheath, it was rich and custardy, appropriately lush with gruyere cheese and strewn with leavening spinach and tomatoes. Now tack on a crispy, stout, buttery and flaky crust and you’ve got yourself another A+ brunch. But wait, there’s more! Two sides — a neat grated sweet potato hash with lots of flavor from sauteed peppers and onions plus a pert little salad — complete the generous meal-deal.

Eye-catching Eggs Benedict ($10 a la carte) also scored high. Anointed by a velvety and properly lemon-kissed Hollandaise sauce, my good free-range poachers sequentially rested above thick slabs of ham-steak-like seared Canadian bacon and then excellent and tangy (if hard to slice with the provided butter knife) housemade sourdough toast rounds. On the side: more of that fine hash.

Mostly naked arugula made the bed for two hulking and unusual — in an interesting way — fried risotto balls (Arancini, $10 a la carte). Spinning an Italian classic, these were stuffed with Welsh cheddar, sweet butternut squash and al dente black beans, then swathed in a mild “goat cheese cream sauce.”

Got a sweet tooth? Then don’t leave without a homemade Maple Cinnamon Roll ($5). Though not particularly maple-y, mine was crusty in the right places and gooey where it should be, and it had a super-smooth and addictive icing. But there’s also garlicky and cheesy Baked Macaroni ($6) and Caprese Salads ($6) and fresh Fruit ($3) and … oh hell, just meet me at Natalie’s next Sunday for brunch.