Breakfast out, other than the fast-food variety, is a special occasion for many people. Breakfast out means Sunday brunch, a vacation treat, a major commitment of time and money. It's not the sort of thing most people do without significant forethought.
How nice it was, then, to meet my husband one recent Friday morning at the Inner Harbor Sheraton for its weekday buffet breakfast. And not expensive, either. At $4.95 for all you want, the cost was only marginally more than food on Styrofoam and certainly much less than a dressed-up weekend outing.
Served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. daily, this is also a breakfast that becomes an option for early business meetings or for easing yourself -- alone or with co-workers -- into the workday.
We found the food quite good, the surroundings relaxing and the service pleasant and accomplished.
The buffet is served in McHenry's, the hotel's main dining room one floor above the lobby. The room is large, with a quiet decor. Windows line one side, although the view is largely of neighboring buildings; banquettes and large decorative urns lend privacy.
It was very quiet and not at all busy for most of our meal, although a wave of late breakfasters began to arrive as we were leaving around 9:30. The service was pleasant and efficient; the waitress left a pot of coffee on our table -- a thoughtful practice.
The buffet is well planned for people with a variety of preferences, and almost everything we had tasted good.
Those preferring the lean, nutritious style of breakfast have plenty to choose from: fresh fruit, both whole apples and oranges and a mixture of cut-up melons; canned fruit; yogurt, plain and strawberry; oatmeal and cold cereal. The cereal selection included a "natural" cereal as well as the more traditional corn flakes and krispies.
For those who want to dress up their cereals, brown sugar accompanied the oatmeal, and there was a selection of toppings, such as granola, raisins and slivered almonds, for the dry cereals. Both whole and skim milk were served.
If your idea of breakfast is more, the buffet had that, too: very good scrambled eggs, bacon, waffles, potatoes and slightly dry biscuits, the only bread offering. I prefer bagels, muffins or just plain toast, which is, of course, tough to keep warm on a buffet.
The potatoes were tasteless, but the rest of that lot was quite good.
Whoever put this buffet together definitely believes in choices. The eggs were surrounded by garnishes such as mushrooms, onions, chives and a mixture of grated Swiss and Cheddar cheeses. The waffles could be dressed with maple and blueberry syrups, pecans and powdered sugar.
I enjoyed the delicious melon, plain eggs and crisp bacon the most, although I was lured into ending my meal with waffles swathed in the warm blueberry syrup. These weren't the world's finest waffles -- they seemed to suffer from having been cooked a while -- but they weren't bad.
McHenry's also offers its a la carte breakfast menu, which includes items not on the buffet, but at typical hotel breakfast prices.
The buffet is served on weekends, too, for $1 more; children can eat for $3.95 every day. In fact, the Sheraton buffet breakfast would seem to be a good way to start a leisurely Saturday -- for those who have leisurely Saturdays -- in a town where brunch seems to be largely reserved for Sunday.
** 1/2 McHenry's
Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel
Hours: Breakfast buffet, 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. daily
Reservations: Not usually necessary.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.