The idea, of course, is that by combining breakfast and lunch, diners can justify shelling out more cash than they would for, say, a basic cheese omelet and a cup of coffee. Benton's Steak & Chop House in the Westin Hotel (One Pershing Road) tops out at the high end, at $24.95 a person -- $27.95 if you want a glass of champagne -- and although the view is gorgeous, the fare is hit-or-miss. But the brunch bunch loves the place, and it's frequently packed.
The spread of fresh fruit, pastries, scrambled eggs, French toast, eggs Benedict and smoked salmon artfully arranged in the Oak Room at the Fairmont Hotel (401 Ward Parkway) is no longer called a brunch. Though the buffet stays open until 1 p.m. (it starts at 8 a.m.), it's just a "breakfast buffet," says the hotel's publicity director, Will Gregory. "There are no lunch items on the buffet, so it doesn't extend into the realm of brunch," he explains.
The Oak Room's buffet is $21, including a mimosa (made with a cheap-tasting champagne) or a Bloody Mary, made-to-order eggs from an omelet station, a lovely view and a fawning maitre d'. There's also the potential for celebrity look-alike sightings. One day I saw someone who appeared to be Baby Jane Hudson from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
Joe D's on 39th Street (1815 West 39th Street) offers a much better deal. The servers wear pajamas, and the "Morning After" menu -- ranging from $7 to $14.50 -- includes a terrific crab Benedict and a fluffy Grand Marnier French toast. For an extra four bucks, patrons can also hit the "brunch table," heaped with bagels, fruit salad, smoked salmon, a hot fruit crisp and, unfortunately, the worst cinnamon rolls I've ever tasted.
But my friends loved the place, even vinegary Ned who complains about everything. I also saw a table of penny-pinching rich people, which must be a sign that the economy is rolling along.