Image of Sam BelangerBy Claudie Benjamin

Sam Belanger started out in NYC as a singer/actor, supporting himself by waiting tables. After years of success touring on the road and leaving NYC for Regional Theater work, he moved on to restaurant management full-time, opting for a more “steady” job. Still, over the past almost 30 years, he has taken breaks from his jobs in the restaurant industry in SoHo, Hells Kitchen, and other parts of Manhattan and from the position he has held for eight years as General Manager of  French Roast bistro on Broadway and 85th Street. During this time, he has performed in a wide variety of productions in NYC and around the country.      

Over the past three years alone, he has performed in cabaret-style productions in the Upper West Side’s Triad Theater (158 West 72nd Street) in “Side by Side by Sondheim” and at The Laurie Beechman Theater in Hells Kitchen in “Company,” “Pippin,” and “Into the Woods.”     

French Roast has “evolved” over the years, as Sam put it, moving from cafe to bistro. It is one of the Chef Driven restaurant group’s many eateries that originally espoused the concept of having multiple restaurants, each with a menu that featured a different part of France. Over time, Italian, Mediterranean, and California Baha representation has been included. Most recently, Sempre Oggi (Always today) has opened at 164 West 75th Street off Amsterdam Ave. with farm-to-table Italian countryside inspiration.

Through the years, the wide terrace that wraps the northeast corner of 85th Street has been a big draw. Over the years and, of course, during and post-Covid, there have been many restaurants with outdoor patios and street dining, but French Roast has a particularly inviting location and offers consistent quality. The latest feature is only several weeks old, in addition to an extensive brunch menu, “a Petit Dejeuner” for $10 consisting of a choice of coffee (drip, latte, cappuccino or espresso) and a selection of patisserie and juice.” Where once American tourists in France were frustrated by the customary petite French (sans eggs) breakfasts, tastes have changed, and this mentioned option seems sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

However, not to worry, there are plenty of enticing brunch options with everything from traditional brunch favorites like Eggs Benedict, Waffles, French Toast, Build your own Omelette, as well as more lunch offerings like burgers and salads. French Roast also boasts a full bar and cocktail list.

In April, a witty promotion went out online. It serves as the reminder to enjoy brunch well beyond just once a month.

“Celebrate National Eggs Benedict Day at French Roast and enjoy our take on this classic dish. With three Benedicts on the menu, including our favorite — Eggs Scandinavian — which one will you choose?

We serve all of your brunch favorites every day, so what better way to spend National Brunch Month than with us? Pull up a seat in the sunshine on the best corner of 85th St!”

Diners tend to think of brunch as a contemporary combo of breakfast and lunch. Though specifics vary, most commonly detailed is the history that brunch began in the UK in the 1860s and first gained popularity in the U.S. in New Orleans. One account of the history of brunch notes, “According to some, it used to be a part of the English tradition of feasting after a hunt.” Other sources claim that “it came from the Catholic tradition of fasting before attending church and then indulging in a big lunch afterward. Many New Yorkers also believe that the concept of a Sunday brunch originated in the city, thanks to the amazing breakfast and lunch choices after a long night out.” 

The menus in the New York Public Library’s digital collection include some that are specifically celebratory, like one for a 1955 “Mother’s Day Brunch” at the Hotel Gramercy Park.

The thing Sam enjoys most is the feeling that French Roast is genuinely a UWS neighborhood restaurant. “We enjoy being part of the community.” Many regulars do not wait for Mother’s Day or high school and college graduation celebrations to come in for breakfast, brunch, or dinner prepared with French flair and flavor. Some people come in three to four days a week.

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