SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Merc on Broadway is a very cool place, hopping even at brunch on a dark day at the track in Saratoga Springs.
Until last year it was known as the Mercantile Kitchen and Bar. While the name has been streamlined, everything else is the same.
It’s gorgeous, with outdoor tables behind obligatory flower-box-topped fencing, and handsomely restored inside. The Merc is beside an alley, so there is a row of high windows along one exposed brick wall that brightens up the place, which might otherwise be gloomy with its dark-painted high metal ceiling and wood floors.
We liked the white and black tile in the entryway and by the bar, which is on the left side of the roomy interior. There’s a banquette accompanied by small tables by the front. The other half is all wood tables and padded chairs.
It smelled good, too, with the scent of eggs and maple syrup in the air.
The Merc serves brunch every day but Tuesday, opening at 9 a.m. They stay open until 9:30 p.m., closing early on Sunday and Monday at 4 p.m.
Brunch at The Merc looks like small plates: Think soups, deviled eggs ($10), avocado toast ($12). There are salads, and sweets such as buttermilk pancakes ($13) and brioche French toast ($14). Two eggs your way with potatoes, choice of meat and toast is $12. Have a breakfast sandwich ($11) on a brioche bun, or carnitas in your eggs Benedict ($16).
Sandwiches include adult grilled cheese with gruyere and cheddar, caramelized onion and rosemary butter on sourdough bread ($17). Another heart-stopper is house-smoked pulled pork shoulder with coleslaw and crispy onions ($18).
Dinner selections overlap a bit. The Merc burger ($18) and quinoa black bean burger ($18) reappear, as do crispy Brussels sprouts and truffle fries (both $13). And add fancier plates like PEI mussels ($17) and a Caesar salad ($13).
Entrees include stuffed chicken breast ($27), shrimp risotto ($24) and steak frites featuring a 12-ounce strip steak ($38).
Even in the morning of a dark day at the track, The Merc was hopping.
“You’ll have to wait if you want a table outside,” the hostess said to Sheryl and me. We didn’t mind, and were rewarded with the first two-top in the front window.
What with all the people it’s a bit noisy, and we were glad to be in a quiet nook. A server came after a while and took our drink orders, returning shortly for food orders.
It didn’t take long for my cup of tomato bisque to show up — lovely, warm, freshly made soup served with a slice of ciabatta. Balsamic glaze drizzled over the soup added a bit of sweetness; herb oil floating on top added richness. It was a pleasant soup with a bit of texture and good flavor, but I couldn’t help missing basil. This time of year I want fresh everything, and there’s a ton of deep-green basil in my garden.
The bread, brushed with oil, was a bit chewier than I’d like. Even a prolonged soak in the bisque didn’t help much. But I enjoyed the soup and finished it all.
Our meals looked beautiful. Sheryl had the eggs Benedict ($14), a classic preparation of poached eggs over English muffins.
The muffins looked grilled, and the chipotle Hollandaise sauce looked rich and delicious.
“There’s something hot in here,” observed Sheryl, thoughtfully. How was the ham, I wondered? In response, she switched to the steak knife, which also helped slice the muffin. The eggs were just this side of soft-boiled, not runny as husband Eric likes them, but Sheryl didn’t mind and enjoyed it all.
The breakfast potatoes, nicely browned, included red and green pepper and red onion. Very nice, and there was ketchup to go with them.
The Merc’s niçoise salad ($17) looked beautiful, with tuna switched out for colorful salmon, and parts of it were outstanding.
Their warm salmon portion was exquisite. However they cooked it produced the moistest flakes, with delicious flavor between each. Unseasoned, its own flavor was the focus, and it was lovely, really the best salmon I’ve had out that I can remember.
The Merc uses perfectly soft-boiled eggs in place of the traditional hard-boiled and keeps the olives, represented here by excellent pitted green and Kalamata varieties.
A central element is tomatoes, and given that it’s late summer you’d expect them to be good. The several types used here all tasted unripe and were hard to cut. Sliced fingerling potatoes were arranged attractively but undercooked, crunchy even.
The dressing is red-wine mustard vinaigrette, brilliantly balanced and sweet, delicious even to a mustard-hater such as myself. It elevated the greens, which were past their prime, but was no help for those pesky purple ones that go bad before the rest of the spring mix.
Quinoa scattered over it all added a bit of texture and a pleasant toasty flavor, but the dried capers were crunchy shells — empty.
Still, gorgeous salmon was my takeaway.
The tab for this brunch, with one coffee ($3.25) and one diet soda ($3.75), came to $56.15 with tax and tip.
The nice server came around to check on our meal, but well after we were into it. Otherwise, service kept up with the busy dining room.
The track season is in full swing, but I love the dark days when the city becomes approachable. Have a meal at The Merc anytime. You’ll get the typical upscale Saratoga dining-out experience.
WHERE: 430 Broadway, Saratoga Springs; (518) 886-8479; themercsaratoga.com
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and Monday; closed Tuesday
HOW MUCH: $56.15 with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa. Apple pay. Reservations accepted on Open Table and by phone. Use downtown parking lots and street. Children’s menu. ADA compliant.