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Brunches: Sunday best

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's the heat of the summer, and you don't feel like cooking. But the relatives have come in for the weekend and they must be fed. Often.

Here's what you do: Kill two meals (breakfast and lunch) with one outing. Sunday brunch is your ticket out of the kitchen. There's a good chance the kinfolks will eat so well they'll even want to skip Sunday dinner.

There's a long list of area restaurants offering Sunday brunch, so we sent some food lovers out to pare it down for you. The result is a sampling of some highly recommended places - 17 in all.

Our reviewers are Sloane Brown, Helen B. Jones, Gina Kazimir, Suzanne Loudermilk, Joanne E. Morvay and Karin Remesch.

Baldwin Station, 7618 Main St., Sykesville, 410-795-1041. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. $6.95-$10.95. Baldwin Station is in a refurbished railroad station that's located along a still-active rail line. Patrons have a choice of dining in the station or on the prettily appointed platform outside. Passing trains are part of the restaurant's charm, as are the deer, herons and other wildlife that visit the banks of the nearby Patapsco. Don't be alarmed at the absence of breakfast items on the regular menu - they're always offered as Sunday specials. On the afternoon we were there, we watched a number of diners order that week's version of steak and eggs: a New York strip in a port wine demiglace accompanied by eggs cooked any style. We opted instead to start with some great salads; ingredients included very fresh greens, Gorgonzola cheese and purple onions. The light and airy Chesapeake crab omelet had just the right amount of lump crab meat and was topped with an excellent seafood Newburg sauce. That day's vegetable pita included sauteed carrots, zucchini, yellow peppers and sweet slices of tomato. Desserts run from the fresh and light, such as a wildberry sorbet and a honey-laced strawberry shortcake, to the decadent, such as a chocolate pate. - J. E. M.

Carrol's Creek, 410 Severn Ave., Annapolis, 410-263-8102 or 410-269-1406. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $17.95 adults; $8.95 children under 10. It's a feast not only for the palate but also for the eyes - actually it's a double visual treat. First there's the beautiful presentation of dishes artfully arranged and served from food stations along the wall and from the center of a spacious room adjacent to the dining room. And then there's the view. What a view! From the gently swaying masts of sailboats moored at the Annapolis City Marina below to the Naval Academy across Spa Creek. Whether you're sitting on the deck or near large windows in the dining room, there's something tranquil about gazing out onto the water, sipping a mimosa and munching on freshly poached salmon, or smoked bluefish, or seafood risotto, or eggs Benedict, or pasta, or.... The menu seems to be endless. Peel-to-eat shrimp is available in abundance. A carving station serving tender beef, juicy lamb and smoked ham stands next to an omelet station staffed by a chef who's juggling skillets and a waffle maker. And one drink - champagne, bloody Mary or mimosa - is complimentary. - K. R.

City Cafe, 1001 Cathedral St., 410-539-4252. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (Saturdays also.) $5.95-$8.95. Trendy young things dressed head-to-toe in black rule here, but all are welcome. You'll feel oh so urban in the airy, contemporary, multilevel dining room as you look out on the Mount Vernon street scene through the ceiling-to-floor windows and sip a bloody Mary, a mimosa or one of the 30 coffee/espresso drinks. The food? Delicious. Try a flavorful Tuscan omelet (mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, Cheddar and basil) or a tender, golden-brown Belgian waffle with or without a fruit topping. There are also pancakes, a breakfast burrito, French toast, croissant sandwiches, egg dishes, tarragon chicken salad, a granola and fruit combo, several specials and more. Service is efficient and friendly and, best of all, lingering over your chocolate Chambord latte is not frowned upon. - H. B. J.

Crossroads, Radisson at Cross Keys, Village of Cross Keys, 410-532-6900. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $24.95. What a spread - spicy shrimp, ice-cold oysters, tender beef, flowing champagne. And we weren't even at a wedding reception. This groaning board is a regular Sunday procession of good eats at the hotel restaurant. Most patrons seem to know the drill. They're barely seated before they hop up and head to the buffet table, juggling plates with salmon, omelets, waffles, blintzes, strawberries, cheeses, salads and more, including desserts. Some, such as the guy with the huge plate of oysters, take a simpler approach and load up on one kind of food. Foods are temperature-perfect, and the wait staff is excellent. Soiled plates disappear and corks keep popping as glasses are filled with bubbly - and refilled. Sunday brunch here is a pricey indulgence, but add the two-man combo playing light jazz and the workweek suddenly seems far, far away. - S. L.

DuClaw Brewing Company, 16-A Bel Air South Parkway, Bel Air, 410-515-3222. $12.95 adults; $6.95 children 6-11; under 5 no charge. DuClaw is known as Bel Air's only brew pub, but it's quickly becoming a hot spot for brunch, too. And the notice is well-deserved. DuClaw serves a brunch buffet that's got both the standard favorites and some special touches. The stuffed French toast - two slices of bread with strawberry cream-cheese filling - is a unique item. Even better, though, are the perfectly done, freshly made waffles, offered with a variety of toppings. And the restaurant is one of the few places to offer oatmeal, with bowls of brown sugar and dried cranberries to stir in. Omelets are made to order, and your server will bring them to you - no waiting in line. There are the standard eggs, bacon and home fries plus danish, brown-ale chicken, pit ham and turkey. DuClaw includes your choice of juice and coffee or tea in the price as well, and the juice glasses are huge. Service is cheery and unpretentious. - G. K.

Hampton's, Harbor Court Hotel, 550 Light St., 410-234-0550. 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $26-$35. This is classic European elegance in an oh-so-civilized atmosphere. Here, the only buffet offered is for dessert, included in the price of your served entree. Also included: your choice of appetizer (including shaved aged goat cheese on autumn mesclun greens, poached artichoke hearts and sauteed crab meat, or seasonal sliced fruits and berries with warm brie croutons), complimentary champagne, muffins and fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice. The menu, which changes seasonally, offers items such as eggs Florentine with Canadian bacon, filet mignon en croute, strawberry mascarpone-stuffed French toast, along with weekly fish and roast specials - presented under a silver cloche that is removed with a flourish by your waiter. Although the restaurant's formal dress code is relaxed for brunch, this Sunday outing calls for pressed khakis and subdued summer dresses rather than cut-offs and flip-flops. - S.B.

The Harryman House, 340 Main St., Reisterstown, 410-833-8850. 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. $7-$15. The brunch menu at Harryman House has every angle covered. Besides the traditional French toast and pancakes, there's eggs cooked every possible way, salads and sandwiches too numerous to count and even a couple of dinner-style entrees, such as a terrific grilled Atlantic salmon. The appetizers are a meal in themselves. Don't miss the quesadilla with blackened crab meat. And don't bypass the Chesapeake crabs Benedict, the pride of Harryman House. It features poached eggs with jumbo lump crab meat and grilled Canadian bacon served on toasted English muffins and topped with hollandaise sauce. The Scottish breakfast - a variation on the same theme with a generous serving of smoked salmon instead of the crab meat and bacon - is just as impressive. With seatings until 3:30, this is one of the latest brunches in the area - a big plus in our book. There isn't a children's menu, but on holidays the restaurant offers kid-size portions of a few of the more popular entrees, such as pancakes. - J. E. M.

Helen's Garden, 2908 O'Donnell St., Canton. 410-276-2233. 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $1-$11. Helen's is casual, fun and funky. Some people come in for just a bagel (with butter, with artichoke and Parmesan spread, or with Nova salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion and capers), while others go for the crab and portobello omelet, the menu's most expensive item. Everything is a la carte, with the menu offering a variety of omelets, French toast and pancakes, along with several sandwiches. Favorites include the banana walnut French toast, the classic BLT sandwich and the tomato, Cheddar and bacon omelet. Right now, Helen's doesn't take reservations, but brunch is proving so popular that the policy may change - S. B.

Hull Street Blues Cafe, 1222 Hull St., 410-727-7476. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $10.95 adults; children under 12 half price. Wear loosely fitting clothes when indulging in this Locust Point restaurant's smorgasbord - your waist is destined to expand a bit. Named "Baltimore's Best" brunch twice in the last decade by a weekly newspaper, Hull Street Blues CafM-i does not rest on its laurels, but continues to spread out a feast. Each Sunday, the 30-foot antique shuffleboard in the rowhouse restaurant's cozy tavern is transformed into a banquet table laden with not only traditional breakfast dishes such as fresh fruit salad, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, roasted potatoes, creamed chipped beef and baked ham, but also chef's creations that change weekly. On our visit, they included seafood Newburg with succulent shrimp, plump scallops and fresh mussels and vegetarian red beans in a spicy Southwestern sauce. But wait, there's more. Fresh fruit pancakes and Grand Marnier-laced French toast will be delivered fresh from the kitchen to your table by your friendly server. And do save room for Miss Peggy's array of homemade desserts. - K. R.

Josef's Country Inn, 2410 Pleasantville Road, Fallston, 410-877-7800. Noon-2:30 p.m. $7.50-$11.95. We should have known we were in for a treat when we arrived at this Harford County restaurant to find people waiting for the doors to open. Indeed, from the cheerful host who seated us to the congenial waitress who took our orders, we were treated like valued patrons. Although you can order from the dinner menu, we focused on the seven-item brunch menu. We couldn't resist the English crab, one of the most expensive offerings. It was worth the cost - two toasted English muffin halves topped with Canadian bacon, plenty of jumbo lump crab meat and finished with melted mozzarella. The omelet also was a fine midday repast. The fluffy, cheese-glazed eggs hid a filling of diced potatoes, mushrooms, leeks and bacon. Save room for dessert. The Empress cake, a three-layer torte with raspberry filling and a decadent buttercream frosting, is worth the calories. - S. L.

Joy America Cafe, 800 Key Highway, 410-244-6500. 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m. $5.75-$12. Trade in your bloody Mary for a margarita and prime yourself for a south-of-the-border-style brunch at this harborview restaurant in the American Visionary Art Museum. Eggs get punched up with salsa, Jack cheese and black beans. Burritos bulge with chorizo sausage and peppers. Timid taste buds need not fear. French toast and bagels with salmon and cream cheese also are available. You can start out with such offerings as tamales, ceviche and chalupas, or skip right to the brunch menu for that great burrito or a delicious spinach-and-grilled-portobello omelet. Bring a hearty appetite. These dishes come with generous servings of roasted sweet potatoes and a fresh-fruit melange of blueberries, mango and papaya. Another nice touch is the mini-scone and muffins served on a little glass dish. What's not to like about this meal as you watch boats parade around the harbor? - S . L.

Manor Tavern, 15819 Old York Road, Monkton, 410-771-8155. 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. $13.95 adults; $7.95 children to age 10. With jockeys' silks and equine art on the walls, the Manor Tavern feels like the kind of place you can go after a day out fox chasing. And you can. Nestled in the heart of hunt country, Manor Tavern is a horse lover's haven, with good food as an added benefit. The restaurant's brunch buffet is fairly lavish, with all the usual breakfast items, including eggs, French toast, sausage and bacon and home fries. But where the Manor Tavern really takes off is with the lunch part of the brunch. Among the more traditional fare are three items you won't want to miss. The beef bourguignonne is surprisingly tender, the green beans are wonderfully fresh and delicately seasoned, and the turkey salad is mouth-watering - chunks of fresh white turkey perfectly blended with grapes, walnuts and celery. Be sure to save room for dessert. The cheesecake is rich and creamy, and the chocolate cake is worth every moist calorie. Two quibbles: The seafood tortellini was too fishy and the coffee was weak.

The Oregon Grille, 1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-0505. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $6.75-$16. If the Manor Tavern is the place to go after the hunt, the Oregon Grille is the place to go after the hunt ball. Richly paneled in cherry with lush carpet and subdued lighting, it's a more upscale look. Live piano music complements the decor. Go to the Oregon Grille when you've got lots of time. The food, beautifully prepared and presented, lives up to the setting, but it can take a while to get to the table. Appetizers are outstanding - a duck breast, even medium-well, is moist, and the blueberry "ketchup" is a perfect complement. The Oregon salad is an unusual melange of hearts of palm, endive, artichoke and mushrooms. The grilled tenderloin may be one of the best cuts of meat in town, butter-tender and generously sized. The vegetable napoleon bursts with flavor; it's one of the best vegetarian entrees we've had. Dessert is where the Oregon Grille really shines; the choices are simply marvelous. The savarin is worth skipping dinner for, and the blueberry slump is a true classic. Unfortunately, the coffee is nothing special, so skip it or choose tea instead.

Pisces, Hyatt Regency Baltimore, 300 Light St., 410-605-2835. 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $29.95. "Over the top" might be a good description of Pisces' brunch - for both the food, a sumptuous buffet/a la carte combo, and the 15th-floor view - one of the best views of Baltimore's harbor. For your $29.95, you get to roam the raw bar (oysters and clams on the half shell, steamed shrimp and crab claws); graze a buffet bulging with fruit, salads, cheese, breakfast breads and smoked fish; order an entree (seafood quiche, grilled red snapper, the omelet of the day, Belgian waffle, steak and eggs). Then head back to the buffet for dessert. Meanwhile, a piano player and a complimentary glass of champagne add a nice touch. Pisces' brunch is so popular that those in the know book two weeks in advance. And they arrive on time, especially if they want a table by the window. - S.B.

The Polo Grill, the Colonnade, 4 W. University Parkway, 410-235-8200. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Buffet, $24.95; a la carte, $7.95-$18.95. Breakfast or lunch, buffet or a la carte, or a combination of all of the above - that's what you'll find here. The Polo's buffet offers breakfast choices (bagels, danish, muffins, fruit, bacon, sausage, a variety of smoked and cured fish), lunch items (two carved meats, pasta, salads, raw bar, steamed shrimp), complimentary Champagne, and a dessert table heaped with cakes, cookies, pastries and chocolate-dipped strawberries. A la carte items include eggs Benedict, the Polo burger, the Polo's famous fried lobster tail and crab cakes. Stylish and lively - and a favorite hangout for Baltimore's power brokers and social set - the Polo is a good place to people-watch. Reservations are preferred, but walk-ins are welcome. While there is no dress code, the unwritten rule seems to be smart-casual. - S.B.

Waterside, Sheraton-Columbia Inn, 10207 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, 410-730-3900. 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $19.95 adults; $10.95 children 5-11. The buffet brunch here is a groaner's delight. You push away from the table and groan, "I can't believe I ate so much." Carved meats, custom omelets, fresh-made waffles, green and pasta salads, smoked oysters and salmon, steamed shrimp, eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit platters, a variety of rolls and seemingly as many desserts as main courses. Except for pieces of fish (marlin) and lamb that had sat too long in chafing dishes, everything we tried was worth a second and even a third try. Service was quite good - remarkably so on a busy holiday. The dining room is pleasant enough, with its deep-green color scheme, but just outside the room's large windows, Lake Kittamaqundi splashes by. After your meal, go outside and stroll the path beside it; there's an exercise course with your name on it. - H. B. J.

Ze Mean Bean Cafe;, 1739 Fleet St., 410-675-5999. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. $6.95-$14.95. An extensive menu and live music to munch by are two highlights of the jazz brunch offered here. Everything's a la carte, and we do mean everything! There's a new and extensive menu each Sunday, always offering seafood entrees (tilapia filet stuffed with Dijon crab meat), sandwiches (grilled chicken Parmesan melt), French toast (cinnamon hazelnut), pancakes (Georgia peach), eggs (portobello, Florentine, Benedict), omelets (green chili, bacon and Cheddar) and a few Eastern European selections (pierogi, chicken Kiev). Exposed brick and eclectic decor give Ze Mean Bean the feel of the "Friends" coffee house, with an added element of citified "cool" - jazz from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Major music lovers tend to sit downstairs or outside at sidewalk tables, while those who prefer their jazz in the background enjoy eating upstairs. Attire is come-as-you-are. Be cool. - S.B.

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