Restaurant review: Urbane brunches at de-NOVO are a damn good time

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

You've gotta hand it to Yavonne Sarber. As an apparently tireless owner of the brand new Chez du Bon (expect a review on that place soon), Manifesto and de-NOVO, she's been ambitiously investing in - and betting on - our Downtown's revival. So whatever you think about her flamboyant enterprises, the bottom line is if her businesses thrive, it's great for Columbus. This is why I was glad to discover the fun and urbane Saturday and Sunday brunches (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) now being served at de-NOVO.

In the past, I'd have to characterize my experiences at de-NOVO as a mixed bag. Ergo, if my recent brunches are indicative of a general trend, it looks like the sometimes-wobbly operation has found some solid footing.

Tasteful music and a jazzy vibe help ease patrons into de-NOVO's relaxing brunch. Further enhancing the cool Downtown mood are brash artworks of Columbus sites (like the LeVeque Tower and a sorta self-portrait of de-NOVO) plus extra-courteous, vest-clad servers dressed in black. Oh yeah, and rich, spicy and strong Bloody Marys that are right-priced ($5) and "dirty" with olive juice. Since I wasn't driving, I treated myself to two. Oops!

Lots of regular lunch items are available, but for my purposes, I stuck with the brunch-only stuff listed under "Griddle Time" and punningly corralled by "Break Out of Your Shell (these are eggier options)." From that latter column, I sampled a couple omelets that were about as good as they are distinct.

The fluffy Bacon and Pimento Cheese three-egg assembly ($9) convincingly combined its tangy, red-pepper-flecked dairy filling with earthy pork belly, crispy bacon bits and a nifty "onion jam." The Surf and Turf omelet ($12) oddly partnered plenty of lemony leavened crabmeat (some still fridge-chilly) and pleasurably snappy asparagus bits with crumbled bison burger chunks. This hefty creation was somewhat perplexing and lacked much of its promised hollandaise sauce, but I found it kinda stoner-iffically compelling. Both omelets came with toast and a ton of very good coin-shaped home fries whose careful use of salt and pepper (rarer than you might think) was characteristic of my brunches here.

Even though the menu-promised cheese was MIA, those same spuds were exponentially better in the steal-of-a-deal de-NOVO Fries ($6). That killer poutine-like pile featured smoky and peppery tasso ham gravy plus inspired flourishes of candied tomatoes and sliced jalapenos.

The recommended de-NOVO Eggs Benedict ($12) are also sparked by inspiration. Goosed up with that brazen tasso gravy (it's popular here), two medium-cooked poachers were sprinkled with candied bacon and innovatively employed tempura-ish fried zucchini slabs (in place of English muffins) as foundations.

If all this sounds too rich, you can order a healthy dish without sacrificing good flavor. That simple but nice option would be the Vegetable Egg White Frittata ($8). Though rather floppy, it was colorfully packed and perked up with a slew of chopped bell peppers lending plenty of character.

Whether you saved caloric room with that healthy choice - or you're just continuing a no-doubt-well-deserved splurge - the Creme Brulee French Toast ($9) is a must-order brunch dessert. Served with warm syrup and fresh berries, it's thick and eggy griddled bread with a crispy "cinnamon crunch infused whipped cream" that's incredibly fun to munch on. And will leave you with fond new impressions of de-NOVO.

Photos by Tim Johnson