This week, Eater NY staffers are writing about restaurants we love — ones that might not be hot and might not be cool but have special places in our hearts for one reason or another. They’re love letters of sorts, odes to the places that give us faith in restaurants, and New York, too. Today we turn to reporter Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, who is trying to heal a broken heart with Miriam’s Israeli breakfast.
As I sat there at a restaurant bar in Park Slope, killing time between therapy and acupuncture, and eating my simple but delightful breakfast while re-reading Heartburn, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was I merely reading a Nora Ephron novel or living one?
I often find myself living — or pretending to live, if we’re being honest — the queer, brown, millennial version of a Nora Ephron character’s life, a manifestation of my love for Ephron’s work and romantic comedies in general. After my most recent heartbreak, which I’m still very much living in, her work has become even more relatable, especially in how she talks about food.
Ephron uses food to explore heartbreak, lust, loss. Amid rants on the affair that crashed her marriage, the protagonist of Heartburn, a cookbook writer who blends personal essay with recipe writing, details recipes for dishes like lima beans with pears, bread pudding, and linguine alla cecca.
For me, food and restaurants have also become inextricable from romantic relationships, and heartbreak fractures my relationship with food. With the pain, my passion for trying new restaurants dissipated. Instead, I fell back on familiar, easy comforts. I craved simplicity. Along the way, I found the meal that makes me feel the most Ephron-character-esque of all in the aftermath: the Israeli breakfast at Miriam’s in Park Slope.
It’s wildly straightforward: two eggs, warm pita, tangy labneh, breakfast potatoes with the skins on, all served next to a colorful burst of salad made with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions. I add coffee and a side of bacon, and it all comes out to over $30, an admittedly extravagant cost for a decidedly un-extravagant breakfast. It has become my go-to post-therapy meal after morning sessions — fitting here, given the many shoutouts to psychotherapy in Ephron’s writing.
Every time I go for it, I think of her. In addition to her self-effacing writing and her many lasting contributions to the rom-com genre, Ephron celebrated the NYC’s dining scene. Her works of fiction are a tribute to an old-fashioned, classic world of New York food free of pretension, gimmicks, and creativity — food that isn’t photo-ready but bursts with emotion and meaning nonetheless. The lovestruck characters of her movies bounced between NYC icons like Katz’s Delicatessen, Zabar’s, Cafe Lalo, Cafe Luxembourg, and the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park.
Ephron celebrated unfussy, timeless food in her personal essay writing and everyday life, too. She went to markets and delis like Zabar’s, Citarella, H & H Bagels. She went to Minetta Tavern, La Caridad, Boulud Sud, and Peter Luger’s. She loved steak. She loved potatoes. Frank Bruni at the New York Times said it best: “Nora was a foodie in the best way: driven not by snobbery but by the joy of discovery and eager not to one-up you with her latest bliss, but to share it with you, guide you toward it.”
Miriam and its breakfast captures that sort of stripped-down, unpretentious style of food Ephron gravitated toward: a short ingredients list, ample butter, comfort food that satisfies without surprising. It provided a brief sense of stability and comfort — you can’t really mess up eggs, bread, potatoes, and salad — in a time when I struggled to grasp at both. Food heals, a lesson Heartburn teaches well. And sometimes you’re too broken to make your own breakfast. Have I mentioned the meal even holds up when delivered? How did people suffer heartbreak in New York before Postmates?
Park Slope is, of course, far from the Upper West Side where Ephron lived and spent most of her time. But I like to think that she would have been attracted to its darling sidewalk cafe on a corner off the other Fifth Avenue and its dim but cozy interior with touches of understated Mediterranean decor. Eating at Miriam while re-reading Heartburn — a darkly funny tale about infidelity, betrayal, and manipulation I could suddenly relate to much more than the first time I fell in love with it — felt right. Eating this breakfast while re-reading it felt right, too.