Ate brunch at the Essex Restaurant today with a group of 10 to celebrate a friends birthday. Overall, I would say it was a good experience. For $15 you get an entrée, coffee and three drinks (bloody mary, screwdriver, or mimosa). Not a bad deal at all.
MENU: Especially nice was how varied the brunch menu was. Options included standard eggs, omelets, challah french toast, and variations on eggs benedict, but also included yummy mac-n-cheese dish, matzo brie, Mexican brie (looked like migas to me), and burger.
DRINKS: brunch drinks were cheap ($3 each, or 3 included with brunch), but you get what you pay for. They make a whole bunch at once and leave them on the bar. I'm sure this reduces the amount of time to get people their drinks, but you end up with weak, watered-down drinks. Probably helps people keep from drinking too much!
SPACE: The space itself was nice. The high-ceilings of the two-story place, as well as the light coming in from the high windows gave it a pretty nice feeling. It definitely helped off-set the crowds. There is seating on the ground level and at both ends of the restaurant in loft-type spaces (I feel sorry for the staff having to carry the dishes up and down the stairs!).
SERVICE: The hostess was obviously harried, the place went from busy to packed while we were there. It took about 15 minutes for us to get menus (we had drinks and good conversation, so not so bad), and our server seemed annoyed with us throughout (she was much busier texting on her phone than paying attention to her tables). The real kicker seemed to be when she added the gratuity onto the bill. It was hand-written on there, and was more than 20%. MORE THAN 20%! I was appalled. I can understand 18%, *maybe* 20% automatically tacked on for a large table if the service is good, but it was not. I think she figured we wouldn't look and she was going to get her tip either way.