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  • Florence Low / Special to The Bee

    Can you say "wow" and "mmmm" at the same time? Trying the crab cake Florentine at Maranello in Fair Oaks might help you pull off the feat.

  • Kyle Grantham / Bee file photo 2010

    Menu offerings are less extensive than some brunch spots, but everything at Bistro Michel is prepared expertly. The restaurant's outdoor seating is also delightful this time of year.

  • Florence Low / Special to The Bee

    The chips are on the bottom, but the flavor adventure is way up there with the chilaquiles at Thir13en in Sacramento – tortilla chips in fire-roasted habanero sauce with shredded chicken, eggs, cotija cheese, avocado and sour cream.

  • José Luis Villegas / Bee file photo 2010

    Sienna, in El Dorado Hills, features distinctive seating areas and the only brunch buffet on this list, and a pretty good one at that. More bacon, anyone?

Brunch on the horizon: One week to get ready for Mother's Day dining

Published: Sunday, May. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 12AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 6, 2012 - 3:55 pm

Brunch is a great meal – potentially.

It tends to be more casual and less expensive, while providing hefty portions. While there is the chance to enjoy an adult beverage such as a bloody mary or mimosa, there is less pressure to order booze than there is when you dine out at dinner. Coffee, juice or something with alcohol – it all works with this versatile meal.

Brunch is a great occasion to gather with friends or, as millions will do next Sunday, treat mom for Mother's Day. Brunch is a meal you can enjoy with reading material. No one will consider you rude if you pull out the newspaper as you nibble on toast.

Sacramento has plenty of brunch options, and we traversed the region looking for them. We focused on quality cooking, interesting and meaningful menu options, fair prices, setting with service. We ordered omelets whenever we could, for the omelet done right indicates solid technique, attention to detail and an appreciation for proper seasoning.

We landed in Auburn, El Dorado Hills and Old Sacramento, midtown and downtown. We even found restaurants serving excellent but underappreciated brunch fare within minutes of Tower Café, where folks line up for 30 minutes or more to get a table for brunch.

Offerings were different enough at many restaurants that direct comparisons were challenging, if unnecessary. Instead, we broke the restaurants down by categories – something for almost everyone not addicted to Tower's French toast. The ratings show the strengths of each restaurant. The parity in the totals shows that many restaurants take brunch seriously – and are impressive in their own way. Many of these places will have special menus for Mother's Day.

HIP, URBAN AND KID-CENTRIC

Dad's Kitchen

2968 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento

We got here early on a Sunday and watched the room fill up. Lots of young, urban parents with plenty of well-behaved kids.

The food was nicely done and the menu had one of the best combinations of breakfast and lunch fare, with everything from omelets and French toast to a 12-ounce hamburger and a meatloaf sandwich with barbecue.

We especially liked the omelet featuring chicken jalapeño mango sausage, bacon, sautéed spinach, tomato and cheese, with home fries and a light, flaky biscuit. The eggs were cooked with skill, meaning there was no browning to the outside. The interior was still creamy and slightly weeping on the edges. The entire dish was loaded with flavor. It came with a serving of hearty home fries with onions and bell peppers – among the best-tasting potatoes we had for brunch.

The French toast uses brioche, which seems to be the bread of choice for its buttery richness and tender crumb. We enjoyed the syrup infused with orange zest and liked the idea of sliced bananas atop the bread. We just wish the bread were thicker and more crusty.

The beer-battered onion rings sound like a great idea – maybe an effective hangover cure. We stuck with coffee, which was very good.

Food: 8

Ambience: 7

Value: 8

Service: 7

Total: 30



LOTS AND LOTS OF GOOD FOOD

Sienna

3909 Park Drive, El Dorado Hills

This is the only brunch buffet on our list and it's an especially great bet if you haven't eaten in the last 48 hours. The setting is first-class, the service is friendly, and the food? Well, it's all you can eat for $21.95 and, as buffets go, the eating is good.

You compromise somewhat when the food is all laid out ahead of time. Things tend to dry out, like the English muffin with our otherwise lovely eggs Benedict. The bacon sits around longer than it should, so it's not as hot and tender as it could be.

But there's plenty of appeal, including the salmon, the rice, the light and crispy waffles and the made-to-order omelets. Lots of desserts, too. The coffee was a little harsh but might appeal to those who enjoy a dark roast with a touch of smokiness.

The best part about brunch here is the setting. The restaurant is big and beautiful, and there are plenty of tables on the patio to enjoy a cool, sunny springtime brunch.

Food: 7

Ambience: 10

Value: 8

Service: 6

Total: 31



SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Hot Italian

1627 16th St., Sacramento

No omelets, no French toast, no strips of bacon. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a new and unusual brunch at this stylish, forward-thinking pizzeria.

The brunch items look like pizzas, but in true brunch tradition, they eat more like breakfast. In fact, when our "Nibali" pizza arrived, we wondered where the eggs were. Then we took a bite and got this creamy, eggy mouthfeel to go with the thin crust and toppings of mushrooms, spinach, two cheeses and a drizzle of truffle oil. The eggs actually replace the traditional tomato sauce, with pleasing results.

The best came last, a dessert calzone filled with organic chocolate-hazelnut spread (think Nutella, but without the heart-stopping palm oil). The way it is sliced and sprinkled with powdered sugar, it is a little work of art. Bonus: With coffee beans from Sacramento's Chocolate Fish, the espresso-based drinks, including an Americano and a cappuccino, were a pleasure.

Food: 7

Ambience: 8

Value: 7

Service: 8

Total: 30



QUALITY FARE, NICE TWISTS

The Eatery

2155 Town Center Plaza No. E110, West Sacramento

Here's a restaurant that's easy to like. The dishes combine classic preparations with touches of playfulness, all done with good eating in mind. Brunch is no different.

This was one of the better omelets, made with care and skill. The accompanying potatoes, thinly sliced, could have been great if they were uniformly cooked. Some were crisp and delightful, others were undercooked and less appealing. Too many potatoes cooking at one time, perhaps, added up to a minor disappointment.

We had the scrambled egg special with asparagus, mushroom and sausage – and it was excellent. The potatoes on that plate were a little better but still could be done with greater precision.

The showstopper on this occasion was the large, housemade cinnamon roll, covered with enough cream cheese frosting to please anyone. Additionally, we remembered our server from months earlier when we reviewed the Eatery. Her excellent work continues.

Food: 8

Ambience: 6

Value: 8

Service: 9

Total: 31



A FOCUS ON BREAKFAST

Maranello

8928 Sunset Ave., Fair Oaks

Chef Gabriel Glasier and his staff continue to produce beautiful, delicious food – including what we encountered at brunch.

Our smoked salmon omelet with fire-roasted red pepper sauce was amazing – perfectly prepared, aesthetically pleasing, loaded with flavors and, due to precise cooking, combined wonderful textural components. It was our favorite omelet of all the brunch spots we visited.

There's plenty more here – and it's all very good, including the "Lumber Jack Stack" of fluffy, oversized pancakes, the classic eggs Benedict as well as a crab cake Florentine, huevos rancheros, a quiche that changes with the seasons, blintzes with sweet ricotta and spiced apples; and if you want to lean more toward lunch, there's the open-faced steak sandwich with pickled sweet onions and Gruyere, or cannelloni with pork braised in red wine with mozzarella, ricotta and fire-roasted tomato sauce.

Food: 9

Ambience: 6

Value: 9

Service: 8

Total: 32



IT'S ALSO WHAT'S FOR BRUNCH

Bistro Michel

1501 14th St., Sacramento

Though delicious mussels, steak frites and risotto come to mind when we think of this place, we still can't forget a brunch we enjoyed last year at one of the sidewalk tables. The salmon Benedict featured perfectly poached eggs atop slices of a crisp baguette and covered with Hollandaise. Thin slices of salmon gave the dish a creamy, toothsome texture. There is also a vegetarian Benedict with mushrooms and spinach.

We also liked the "croque marquis," an open-faced sandwich with ham and sautéed spinach on a slice of pain au levain, all covered off-white Mornay sauce.

Though the menu offerings are less extensive than some brunch spots, everything here is prepared expertly. That includes the drinks, including tomato beer, mimosas and sangria.

Food: 9

Ambience: 7

Value: 8

Service: 8

Total: 32



HIGH QUALITY AND COZY

Taylor's Kitchen

2900 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento

If you're a fan of Taylor's Market, the small but premium grocer and meat market, you'll know the high standards extend to the restaurant. Brunch here is really good, and one of our dishes even gave us a Cajun jolt of hot spices via an exciting plate of shrimp and grits. Who knew?

If that's too exotic for you, Taylor's also masters the traditional breakfast – ours included two large pancakes, eggs over easy, sausage and country potatoes.

Then there's the breakfast pizza. Loved it, especially how the egg yolk oozed over the top, giving the thin slices of potato and pork a delicious, creamy component. The coffee here is very good.

Food: 9

Ambience: 8

Value: 8

Service: 8

Total: 33



OUTDOORS IS FINE FOR DINING

Restaurant Thir13en

1300 H St., Sacramento

When the weather is right, as it is this time of year, the setting on the patio is sublime. The food features owner-chef Adam Pechal's signature combination of refined and forceful elements, assuring you'll get plenty of flavor on any dish you order.

Our chicken-fried pork chop was our favorite meaty dish in the entire brunch tasting – a large slab of bone-in pork, perfectly cooked and tender, set atop a thick and delicious piece of polenta and plated with scrambled eggs (our choice). The flavors just kept giving, and the oversized portion called for a doggie bag.

The pancakes were a treat too, featuring goat cheese to give them a tanginess and an exciting mouthfeel, served with two large sausages.

Food: 9

Ambience: 8

Value: 8

Service: 8

Total: 33



PLEASANT AND HISTORIC

Latitudes

130 Maple St., No. 200, Auburn

The setting is always pleasing here, with tables tucked here and there throughout a historic Victorian home. The food showed a sense of adventure, with traditional breakfast selections and hearty options beyond those.

The French toast, made with thick pieces of artisan bread, was among our favorites. This is a good place for vegetarians, with dishes such as tofu rancheros featuring Mexican scrambled tofu, or tofu crepes with spinach.

The omelet filled with shrimp and topped with tartar sauce was a creative treat. You'll also find lots of fruit here. The dark roast coffee, however, was a tad harsh and bitter.

Food: 7

Ambience: 7

Value: 7

Service: 8

Total: 29



HISTORY, COMFORT ON THE WATER

Delta King

1000 Front St., Old Sacramento

The Delta King is an Old Sacramento treasure, and so is the brunch. The menu has changed in recent months, going from the all-you-can-eat champagne brunch to more traditional ordering from the menu (the champagne brunch returns for Mother's Day).

Our omelet with honey-cured ham, bell peppers, onions and cheese, showed hints of browning on the outside of the fluffy egg, but it was tender and not otherwise overcooked.

The uncommon croissant French toast was flaky and buttery, though we wish the dipping were a bit more thorough with the egg batter, which would have added heft to the dish. Topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries, this was still pleasing.

The setting is always a treat on an old boat with beautiful wood accents, especially when you get a seat at the window overlooking the Sacramento River.

Food: 7

Ambience: 8

Value: 7

Service: 6

Total: 28

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Blair Anthony Robertson



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