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From crispy French toast to savory ribs, Park Avenue Grill's brunch buffet is a winner.

A Sunday to Savor

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Park Avenue Grill
2922 Park Ave.
Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-3 p.m.;
6 p.m.-12 a.m.
Friday-Saturday 8 a.m.-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
Sunday Brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
355-2125 I long ago swore off brunch buffets. Either they were a gorge-fest for me or, if I was watching my weight, a gouge-fest for the restaurant. Besides, buffets seem so, well, so indulgently '80s. But I recently had an epiphany, perhaps brought on by the strains of Billy Joel and the Stones, at a newish Upper Fan eatery. It was a sunny Sunday morning in the Fan, not unlike the many of my post-college days, when Sunday morning brunch provided the hair-of-the-dog remedy for Saturday night. I was, however, much more alert than in my younger days; a remedy wasn't even needed. So when the doors of Park Avenue Grill opened promptly at 11 a.m., I just followed my nose to the groaning board on the bar. My breakfast partner hadn't arrived, so I sniff-tested the shiny pot of tomato basil soup. Tasting proved that the tomatoey broth was substantial without cream; chunks of fresh tomato gave it its heft and its tang. When my friend arrived, we homed in for closer inspection. A large platter held a mound of ruby-red strawberries, plump grapes and large chunks of honeydew and cantaloupe. Next was an equally bountiful platter of bagels, slabs of butter and cream cheese, and a pot of jam. A chafer alongside held crispy bacon, sausage patties, hash browns, scrambled eggs and airy-light French toast. That much of the buffet can be had for $5.95. But I heartily recommend going in for the whole 10 bucks. You won't believe what that gets you at Park Avenue Grill. Having surveyed the rest of the buffet, I tried to go lightly on the first half, concentrating on my personal preference of fat foods. The bacon, with few exceptions, was evenly and crisply cooked. The sausage, as well, was perfectly done to light brown in the middle. The French toast was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Since underdone hash browns are a travesty, I made sure to spoon up a few and found them, also, to be perfectly cooked, if not overly seasoned. Round two was even more exciting. A peek in the first chafer revealed roasted chicken quarters, which proved to be tender and moist, with a delicious savory crust. Beneath chafer-top number two was a casserole of baked salmon and rockfish, again, expertly cooked to doneness. Two large bowls of greens stood waiting delicately dressed and, in one bowl, topped with what appeared to be freshly made croutons — for more health-conscious diners. When I opened the third chafer, I fell in love. To digress for a moment, when Bob Cunningham of the Houndstooth Cafe in Ashland passed away last month, I mourned not only Bob; I mourned his ribs. Infallibly, Bob's ribs were meaty and moist, with just enough smokehouse char to confirm that they were as slowly cooked as they should be. His sauce was light on consistency and large on flavor. And always, always served with a smile. So when Bob passed, I figured all the good ribs had gone home to heaven with him. But Park Avenue Grill carries on Bob's legacy of the best ribs in this part of the world. An added bonus to the sauce-swathed ribs was lots of pulled pork, also sauce-kissed, beneath the abundance of rib bones. I immediately wished I'd skipped courses one and two. Nonetheless, I loaded on the ribs with nary a speck of conscience. If you feel even moderately passionate about ribs, come to this Sunday brunch. Pay the 10 bucks, and pork out. If all that wasn't enough, there was a hidden surprise. One of the kitchen staff mentioned in passing that there was homemade banana pudding for dessert. Indeed, it looked richly eggy and tasted less intense than packaged brands I've used. Slices of banana were a little too cold to bite without a jolting chill. Topped with fluffy whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate and served in a stemmed sundae bowl, it was just like grandma's, minus the vanilla wafers. Our waitress was new (the restaurant is only six months open), but competent and friendly. My only complaint throughout the entire experience is that they were out of my cola choice when they opened that day. But that is a minuscule transgression. I don't suppose I've reconverted to Sunday brunch as a genre. But I have devoutly converted to Park Avenue

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