Elm City Jazz Brunch

Jazzed Up

Entering Elm City Market from the Pitkin Plaza side, it seems like a normal morning at the grocery store. Hungover-looking graduate students and downtown dwellers mill around the vegetable section, doing their Sunday shopping.

It’s not until you reach the dry goods that you hear the music.

Following it leads to an area packed with people from the stroller-bound to the septuagenarian. They’re in the store’s State-side seating area, near an upright bass, a keyboard and a piano. Morris Trent and Friends are playing those instruments, joking with each other over the music, their audience lingering over made-to-order brunch dishes produced by the market’s kitchen, which usually acts as a prepared-food deli and sandwich counter.

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It’s one of Elm City Market’s Sunday Jazz Brunches, and it’s a happening scene—one that may soon multiply. Alexa Apotria, the grocery store’s marketing coordinator, says the brunches have been so successful that organizers plan to extend it to Saturdays, but “excluding the jazz. It’ll be music, the same menu, but different talent—either a solo or duo artists instead of a whole band.” She says the Jazz Brunch, which began in December 2016, is an effort to engage the community in a different way, while giving Connecticut jazz artists exposure and upping the deli counter ante by offering a Sunday-exclusive brunch menu like a restaurant might.

As the Trent trio takes a break from serenading brunch guests, I speak with Trent, a New Haven native. “This is a baby bass,” he says, introducing his futuristic-looking miniature version of an upright bass. “It’s mostly used in Latin , like salsa.” That’s fine, as the music on the menu isn’t strictly traditional jazz. It also veers into bossa nova and other Latin styles. “We like to mix it up, to keep it different,” Trent says.

Along with Trent are Don DePalma on the keys and Alvin Carter Jr. on drums. DePalma, a notable jazz presence on the Hartford scene, says that when they play in Hartford, they’re often called Don DePalma and Friends. It just depends on where they are. Of the unique grocery store setup, Carter says it’s not bad for staging a trio. “We’ve done a bunch more with a lot less space.”

As for the food? Executive Chef David Lee tries to keep it relatively simple. “It was a start-up program, so we didn’t want to go too crazy,” he says. The market’s usual customizable breakfast sandwiches are still available, along with a series of brunch classics that come with a choice of side.

First, I try the Eggs Benedict ($11). Two poached eggs are arranged over light, flaky Virginia-style ham. The whole affair is bolstered by a lightly toasted english muffin, with a small tureen of butter-yellow hollandaise to pour over it all. Sadly underdressed is a side of kale salad, leaving it plain and dry.

Next up is the Baked French Toast ($8). Served in a neat line of golden-brown slices, the bread is dense, sweet and creamy, and not too eggy. “Instead of cinnamon in the batter, we have brioche with cinnamon baked in,” Lee says. “We make a very very plain vanilla batter and we soak it for a few hours. Then we pan-sear it and finish it up in the oven.” Here I choose a side of russet potato hash, which comes with onions and colorful sweet peppers and is quite tasty.

In the kitchen, everyone is busy slicing, stirring, plating. It’s a choreographed rush, with the chefs as in tune with each other as the musicians outside. Lee says the bustle reminds him of his “good old restaurant days.”

Or the good new ones. For a few hours every Sunday, a corner of the market is transformed into a sort of jazz club, without the smokiness or the low light. Then the musicians pack up, the chefs return to deli prep, and all is quiet again—until the next week.

Sunday Jazz Brunch
Elm City Market – 777 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Sun 10:30am-1:30pm
(203) 624-0441

Written and photographed by Anne Ewbank.

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