The great gilded age of the American Brunch was probably the late 1970s, when there was fierce competition among restaurants to lure in the hard-partying young sophisticates who got up late and were happy to pay a premium for a starchy buffet and a potent mimosa or Bloody Mary.
In those days, Sunday brunch was a sure way to extend the festivities of the night before. I remember hearing people — sloppy drunk and perched woozily on their bar stools — organize their brunch plans Saturday night. A friend of mine was so annoyed by this habit that he lobbied to start an organization called GAB: Gays Against Brunch. He was perfectly serious.
In the 1980s, brunch fell out of favor, no thanks to my friend and no surprise to anyone who, like me, had witnessed one too many sorry tables groaning with mounds of cheese cubes, flavorless melon balls, reheated blintzes, soggy scrambled eggs, hideous pastries, and "eggs Benedict" made with leathery English muffins. By then, the more expensive brunch buffets often had the worst food. It took a couple of stiff Bloody Marys to make the experience seem like anything but punishment for the night before. When I stopped drinking, I gave up brunch, too.
Two decades later, brunch is enjoying a revival. Buffets haven't returned in force — though the phrase "all you can eat" has regained a certain cachet in this economy — but the menu-driven morning salve to offset the weekend's sins is everywhere in Kansas City.
Mind you, variations on those old buffets do exist, and at least one doesn't adhere to the price-to-quality inversion of days past. The most expensive buffet brunch in the city is probably the swanky spread at Benton's Prime Steakhouse, atop the Westin Crown Center Hotel, with a view of the city below and an elegant display featuring oysters and shrimp and caviar on ice. The price for adults is $32 ($2 more if you want a glass of champagne to wash down the caviar). It's a special-occasion venue, to be sure, but one that answers the call for Sunday-morning glamour.
The least costly buffet brunch? I'd vote for the overloaded affair at Cinzetti's Italian Market Restaurant in Overland Park. It's far from intimate or elegant, but it's a lot of plate-filling bang for $14.49.
Arguably, though, menu brunches are more cost-effective. Not everyone, especially after a hard-drinking Saturday night, wants to pay for a big buffet brunch if just hungry for buttered toast and coffee. Then again, some diners believe passionately that brunch and buffets are inextricable. "If I can't eat as much as I want," one friend of mine insists, "it's not a brunch."
Three of the more unusual brunch options in town are offered by restaurants that aren't well-known for even serving breakfast. On the Country Club Plaza, the M&S Grill puts out a buffet brunch that's reasonably priced. Over in Brookside, the upscale pizzeria known as the Blue Grotto has been serving brunch from a simple, modestly priced menu for nearly a year on Saturdays and Sundays. And in Westport, the wine bar and bistro Boozefish offers a menu brunch on Saturdays but not Sundays. (Owner Maija Diethelm-Floyd doesn't have a Sunday liquor license.)
Diethelm-Floyd's brunch business has been hit-or-miss over the past two years, she says. When special events coincide with the brunch hours — the jewelry shows offered the second Saturday of each month, for example — the dining room fills up. But the place was empty when my friend Martha and I stopped in a couple of Saturdays ago. That's a shame, because Boozefish's brunch is pretty damn good, if you like crepes. The Saturday brunch menu is heavy on the crepes, both sweet and savory. There's also an attractively puffy quiche of the day — the classic Lorraine that we sampled was baked in a crust with just the right flake.