Blame it on the Paley exhibit, or the favorable press the Museum Cafe's brunch has received in Chef magazine, but it's hard to get in for Sunday brunch these days. Luckily we had reservations, and we were seated immediately -- ahead of a long line of people waiting.
If you don't have a reservation, be warned: People were complaining of waits up to an hour.
With the crowds, brunch at the Museum Cafe is not exactly a peaceful meal. In fact, it's remarkably noisy considering that the walls and even the columns are carpeted. But the setting is lovely, especially if you're seated near the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sculpture garden. And the kitchen and wait staff do a fine job of getting the food on the table in a reasonable amount of time. They also fill in for each other, so you don't sit endlessly waiting for someone to take your order or clear your table.
This isn't one of those all-you-can-eat brunch buffets, which is fine with me. I can never consume enough to justify the price tag, and I don't really enjoy eating roast beef and belgian waffles and steamed shrimp and chocolate mousse all in one meal.
I do like to start with a mimosa, and if it's made with just orange juice and sparkling wine, as it is at the Museum Cafe, that's fine. What wasn't fine was that it was served at room temperature.
With brunch come the cafe's warm, crunchy little multi-grain rolls. They turned up again in the "Southern Fried Toast," a decadent variation on French toast made by wrapping the bread around bananas, deep-fat frying it and serving it with syrup. Have it with the Museum Cafe's good crisp bacon or fat link sausages.
There are more elegant choices for brunch, such as poached salmon with poached eggs. You might start your meal with cream of asparagus soup, pale green, creamy and not too thick, with bits of asparagus and flavor that will remind you of spring.
If you want eggs for brunch, the cafe has them in every shape and form. There are the classics like eggs benedict, with the poached eggs still runny in the middle and a decent hollandaise. And there are trendy selections like an omelet of the day filled with blackened chicken, leeks and mushrooms. I wasn't wild about the combination, it was heavily seasoned, and the eggs were cooked to a fare-thee-well.
Not everything is calorie- and cholesterol-laden. A spicy oriental chicken salad had slices of grilled chicken over fresh spinach, with sprouts, red pepper strips, mushrooms and water chestnuts. The salad was drenched in its sesame dressing, though -- you might want to get it on the side.
If you have room left for dessert, the Museum Cafe has them: tiramisu, of course, like any self-respecting '90s restaurant, and creme caramel. But the most unusual selection is a banana wrapped in a spring roll shell and deep-fat fried, then served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I've had it before and it's been great. But this time there was almost no chocolate sauce, so it wasn't sweet enough and I can't recommend it.
Where: Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive
Hours: Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V
Features: Sunday brunch
Non-smoking section? No smoking allowed.
Call: (410) 235-3930