Eating Out: Joxer top of the brunch bunch
5-7 Holborn Avenue,
028 9131 3809
IF we're playing a bit of word association then maybe the best fit for 'brunch' is 'relaxed'.
A lazy brunch is very much a thing and just the fact of playing fast and loose with the old breakfast, lunch and dinner structure adds to the notion of the most laid-back meal of the day.
And the menu is usually pretty relaxed too, with sweet, savoury, and bits of every other meal all happily popping up. There's even scope for cocktails, but more of that later.
So it was off to Bangor for the relaxed affair of brunch at Joxer, although it could have been very different.
It was impossible not to notice a pair of cats in don't-mess-with-us formation, manning the alley across the road from the front door, standing guard like a pair of street toughs.
This was a problem as we had in tow a dog whose head explodes at the very suggestion of feline proximity.
It doesn't even need to be an actual. I swear a silent notification of a picture of my niece Hannah's cat, sent from another country, is enough to set suspicious ears twitching in the next room.
So two real live moggies would be enough to send any hope of relaxation for her, us, or anyone nearby straight out the window.
Somehow, with a bit of screening work a celebrity magazine who's bought exclusive pictures to a WAG's wedding would be proud of, everyone got inside safely and quietly.
I tell you this by way of noting that Joxer isn't just dog-friendly but dog-encouraging. Whether that makes you want to beat a path to the door or avoid it like the plague is up to you.
So, cats thankfully unnoticed, our third wheel settled under the table in the forlorn hope a portion of eggs Benedict would magically hit the floor.
Joxer's Holywood branch is perennially stuffed around, unsurprisingly, brunchtime at the weekend, and it's easy to imagine the same goes for their recently opened Bangor spot.
There's an evening menu available at the end of the week but we're here at 3pm on a mizzly Wednesday, hoping for something a little more, you now, relaxed.
The place itself is pretty unprepossessing, but it's as bright and breezy as the service, while the menu is the type that invites a return visit or two to work you way through it.
There are variations of a fry but the more interesting stuff comes in the form of pancakes with elderflower butter, candied walnuts and blueberry compote, or that Benedict, made with cider-baked pork belly and a cheddar and potato rosti. The eggs in the steak and eggs being scrambled rather than fried feel like a wasted opportunity, but then you see they're scrambled with porcini and prosciutto.
In the end we lean towards the American south, with chicken and waffles and a prawn po' boy.
The po' boy is a solid take on the classic New Orleans sandwich with hefty prawns in a crisp batter spilling out of a toasted brioche roll, with a fresh crab salad and warming creole mayonnaise falling off everything.
It's a generous mouthful even without the burnished, skin-on chips flecked with a smoky barbecue seasoning.
The boneless pieces of fried chicken are well cooked and seasoned under their crumb, and work nicely with the honey cinnamon butter and fluffy, crisp-edged waffles. There's maple syrup on the side too and adding that has the whole thing teetering on the edge of a sugar coma. But also on the side is a scarlet pot of salvation – the vinegary, garlicky, chilli whack of sriracha which isn't just welcome but necessary.
Both the chicken and the po' boy are comfort food that also jabs you awake.
You may need another nudge after one of their scones, a mammoth thing that would pique the interest of a minesweeper, but lovely with a cup of coffee, as was the beautifully light lemon and pomegranate sponge. Like the brunch menu, the selection of stuff to sit next to a cuppa was begging to revisited in the spirit of completion.
Every one of the cocktails makes a strong case to send your day off the rails all by itself. A bloody Mary, a grapefruit and tequila-packed paloma, a blood orange mimosa or, the choice in the end, a chilli and pineapple margarita, with spicy tequila and mezcal, have trouble written all over them.
Joxer is the sort of place you feel you could sit all day, with or without those cocktails.
Just beware of the dogs. And, obviously more importantly, the cats.
Po' boy £12
Chicken and waffles £12
Lemon cake £3.50
Chilli and pineapple margarita £10