The building on SE 9th and Pine will always be "the old La Luna" to me; I can't walk past it without catching a glimpse of my 15-year-old self sitting on the curb wearing a Sleater-Kinney shirt and drinking a rum-spiked Slurpee. La Luna is long gone, of course, and so is the Pine Street, the Womb, and the myriad other venues that have graced the premises over the years. But if you walk by on a Sunday, you might hear a different kind of music coming from the basement of 828 SE Ash: tinkling melodies of silverware scraping plates and crescendo-ing moans of gastronomic fulfillment drifting down the halls and out the windows, luring diners into the Simpatica Dining Hall.
Every Sunday, from 9 am to 2 pm, the chefs behind Viande Meats and Sausage (at Citymarket NW) and Simpatica Catering open up their dining hall for brunch, and it's fair to say that they offer one of the best in town. Though a sandwich board outside is the only advertisement, the weekly brunch didn't stay secret for long. Good press, enthusiastic word-of-mouth, and the blogosphere's stamp of approval mean that the small space fills up quickly—get there early if you don't want to wait.
The dining hall seats about 40, and most of the seating is at long communal tables. I generally hate "family-style" dining, whether with total strangers or my own family. Fortunately for haters like myself, the space is bustling enough that there's no sense of forced intimacy—the only thing diners have to share is the carnal camaraderie induced by Simpatica's mouthwatering menu.
The menu changes weekly, but one constant is the quality of the meat: All of it comes from the Viande operation, and promises to be free range and hormone free whenever possible. The carnivore-centric menu highlights items like bacon, fried chicken, hanger steak, and boudin blanc, but veggie options like French toast and waffles are available as well.
On my first visit I ordered crêpes, which were stuffed with bacon, falling-apart-tender asparagus, and crème fraîche; token roughage came in the form of a side salad of mixed greens. My crêpes were crunchy on the outside, velvety rich on the inside, and so good that I found it difficult to speak or even look up from my plate until I'd finished giving them my full, reverent attention.
The andouille and prosciutto cotto hash was noteworthy for its large, sweet chunks of prosciutto, while the French toast comes topped with a decadent heap of chantilly cream and rhubarb marmalade. And for the breakfast weary, Simpatica puts the "unch" in brunch with offerings like a cheeseburger with bacon, a Philly cheese steak, and an Italian sausage sandwich.
If the French toast alone doesn't meet your daily caloric needs there is also a limited dessert menu. I tried the olive oil cake, the richness of which was offset nicely by a tart rhubarb sauce. And of course, it wouldn't be brunch without booze: My extravagantly garnished Bloody Mary swam with spicy flecks of horseradish, while fresh grapefruit juice rendered a Salty Dog eminently sippable.
In addition to a kick-ass brunch, Simpatica offers a Sunday-evening dinner called 10 Sandwiches (guess what's on the menu?). Whether you wake up early for waffles and OJ, or drag yourself in late for a Bloody Mary and a cheeseburger, Simpatica on Sunday is, quite simply, a must.