Sunday brunches are just glamorous buffets.

Mouthing Off 

Sunday brunches are just glamorous buffets.

Breakfast of champions: There's a world of difference between a buffet like the Super Buffet (reviewed above), a cafeteria, and a Sunday brunch. The buffet concept, typically an all-you-can-eat restaurant where the customers serve themselves, is an idea that probably grew out of the old cafeteria concept. A bustling place like the Piccadilly Cafeteria (11741 Metcalf Avenue) still looks pretty much like cafeterias have looked since a young entrepreneur named John Kruger opened the first one at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. A few years later, more self-service restaurants opened, nicknamed "grab joints" -- since that's what people did with their food as they moved through the line with their trays.

A Sunday brunch is a more exalted (and more expensive) version of a buffet, with both breakfast and lunch items arranged into little tableaus (a mountain of cheese cubes, a jumbled pile of glazed pastries, an artistic array of fruits) so that customers can pick and choose at their leisure.

For years, Kansas City's most glamorous brunch venue was a high-tone affair at the old Ritz-Carlton Hotel (its new incarnation, the Fairmont Hotel, doesn't offer one). But heartier, if less posh, fare can still be found at Stephenson's Old Apple Farm (16401 E. 40 Highway), where $14.95 buys plenty of solid tcountry vittles, such as eggs and ham, bacon, brisket, and baked chicken. And at Figlio (209 W. 46th Terrace), Sunday means brunch Italiano, with the kitchen crew cooking up made-to-order frittatas (Italian omelets with your choice of ingredients) and pasta dishes, and buffet tables heavy with the usual egg dishes, salads, cheeses, and desserts. At $12.95, it's a bargain.

But the once-grand Sunday brunch at the Marriott Hotel is looking tired all around. True, it has a terrific setting (the old Allis Hotel's atrium, with splashing waterfalls and sunlight streaming through skylights) and the petite Marilyn Marlin playing show tunes on the piano. But the food and service have become second-rate. On one visit, the formally dressed waiter kept promising to bring me coffee, then would dash off in the opposite direction, like a character in a Marx Brothers film. Finally I got up and brought the pot over myself. There's a chef on hand to make omelets or eggs Benedict to order, but he seemed offended when we asked him to do either ("I guess I better poach some eggs," he said, shrugging), and the crusty, nearly empty bowl of hollandaise sauce (presumably to spoon over the ingredients for a do-it-yourself eggs Benedict) was never refilled or replaced during the hour we sat there, watching the snappily dressed servers standing around chatting with one another. The other dishes, steaming away in big silvery tureens, ranged from fair (potatoes baked in layers of varieties of piquant cheese) to awful (long-sitting wedges of French toast that were so tough I could have used them as a sponge). The brunch goes for $14.95 and includes a complimentary glass of champagne to drown your sorrows.

And on a bubblier note, French champagne should be abundant at the new French restaurant opening in Brookside in October, as yet unnamed by Megan Sparks and Emanuel Langlade, two of the founding members of Parkville's Café Des Amis restaurant. After Sparks and Langlade hastily bid au revoir to Parkville, they eloped to Las Vegas and just as quickly started negotiating for space in the Crestwood Shops at 55th and Oak, where they'll serve dishes comparable to those at Café Des Amis ("After all, Emanuel did create that menu," Sparks says) and wines and beers until they can add full bar service.

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