“Balançoire” means “swing” and the restaurant/nightclub has been swinging of late. Formerly The Blue Macaw, Balançoire has been in operation since 2013 in the Mission and hosts a variety of musical events and performances, ranging from hip-hop nights, to New Orleans jazz and swing dancing. Its newest addition are the drag queen brunches that began about six weeks ago to great success. Not only is the entertainment great, the food is quite good. I visited Balançoire for happy hour last year, and found the fare just okay, but they have a new cook in the kitchen and you can taste it.
As for the entertainment, what makes this brunch special for me is that it fills a void in the Mission: Esta Noche, a dive of a gay dance club that had been on 16th near Mission for 33 years, primarily frequented by Latino men, closed down last year, taking with it the only place in which queer Latinos could congregate outside of the Castro. It’s a different subculture, and the niche had a following. It was really the only place that LGBT minorities could call home. Luckily, the drag queens have been, for the most part, absorbed by Balançoire – for brunch and for night-time performances as well. (The dinner menu features Cajun and Creole specialties.)
The BF and I visited two weeks ago Sunday for the second show. We sat at the bar as most of the tables were full, including a large, lively party sitting at the communal table. We asked our server how the Bloody Marys were. “Okay,” he said. We should have taken the hint, as they were pretty subpar. The tomato juice separated from the alcohol, the flavor was flat and the spicing weird and without any bite. I also had a mimosa, which was the standard. Bottomless mimosas are on offer as well and most of the tables around us had them.
For brunch, I ordered the Croque Madame, made with Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese and a nicely browned béchamel topping. The sunny side up egg on top was cooked perfectly and the whole thing was savory and cheesy, with crispy, buttery, toasted bread beneath it all. The mixed greens on the side were a bit under-dressed and unexciting.
The BF ordered two eggs over easy with Andouille sausage, house potatoes, a toasted and buttered French roll, and fresh blueberries. A pretty basic dish that nonetheless tasted great, as every portion of it was cooked right.
I finished off with fresh berries with rum crème fraiche, a very good, not-overly sweet but refreshing finish to the meal.
I went back solo the following week to taste another dish and to see a second show. The place was less full at noon, but people slowly trickled in. I sat at the bar again, ordered a Mimosa and the Eggs New Orleans – a crab cake on toasted baguette, topped with perfectly poached eggs, covered in a sauce maltaise. While the sauce was good, it tasted more like a regular hollandaise, as I could not discern any orange flavor.
The downside was the crab cake itself, which I actually pulled out and left behind: it was mushy, too salty, and tasted like it had been frozen. They could charge a little more and use fresh crabmeat and this dish would be a big hit. That said, I am sure it is a very popular brunch item. I would have been happy to have a slice of Canadian bacon in there. The potatoes that came with the dish, however, were wonderful. They seemed almost to be a patty of fried mashed potatoes, crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside, the spicing reminiscent of a good New Orleans seafood gumbo.
I also snuck a picture of the French toast with a berry compote and maple syrup at a table nearby, which looked quite delectable.
I’d recommend brunch here for a group, for a festive occasion, and to watch the lovely ladies in action. They’re vivacious, fun, and you can tell they love what they’re doing. While the queens here lip-synch, as opposed to singing themselves, they put their hearts and souls into it, and you’ll be part of a long, almost disappeared, Mission tradition. Bring your dollar bills, as the ladies love tips!
EDIT: TUESDAY night, not Thursday night!
Though not specifically run as a gay or a drag event, KJ Paul’s Thursday night karaoke at Balançoire is a VERY gay event. I recommend it. Plus, there are costumes to choose from, so you can sing as your favorite diva (or divo if you prefer).