No budget is too big or small for this weekend tradition

Fried Crab Stars at Sweet Fingers Restaurant and Bar

Fried Crab Stars at Sweet Fingers Restaurant and Bar

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

Leave it to the Brits. According to legend, brunch was developed in 19th century England as a “meal taken late in the morning or just around noon to make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.” Americans did not embrace the tradition until the 1930s when coincidentally, the country was coming out from under the dour days of Prohibition.

Some grumpy types—who might benefit from the above-mentioned brightening—still perceive brunch as a stodgy affair. For me, any meal sanctioning the drinking of Champagne is worth participating in. And River City residents are blessed; there’s a cornucopia of venues to match most personalities and pocketbooks. So take a chance. Your attitude just might come around.

Slocum House

I’m not sure what it was—maybe the skillful rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” performed by the harpist, the little girl showing off her shiny Mary Janes, the animated family discussing vacation plans, or the unmistakable tinkling of glasses touched in a celebration occurring behind the manicured hedges—but, brunch at Slocum House was near perfect.

OK…it was a beautiful fall morning. I was relaxing next to the fountain, the resident chickens were polite, and according to my server, my $18.95 meal included a “Starter Brunch.” He assured me it would help tide me over until my entrée arrived. The bountiful buffet of fresh fruit, cheeses, plenty of pretty pastries and a complimentary glass of bubbly was a grand beginning.

I pondered my choices while nibbling my flaky fruit turnover—Mimosa Pacific King Salmon poached in champagne and orange juice or Smoked New York Steak Hash with sautéed crimini, oyster and shiitake mushrooms? The Dungeness Crab Scramble sounded sublime. It was. Delicately scrambled eggs were blended with imported brie and fresh tarragon and were served with fried potatoes topped with a rasher of bacon. 7992 California Avenue, Fair Oaks, (916) 961-7211.

Central Valley Coffee

Brunch at Central Valley Coffee is inexpensive. But low-cost doesn’t mirror quality. Housed in the former Taylor’s Coffee Emporium, Dianah Croy and Susan Marty recently opened what’s become a neighborhood favorite. With five enticing varieties of homemade waffles, 25-cent refills on coffee, outdoor seating, and a basket of newspapers, you could hang out all morning.

Begin with a fluffy Belgian waffle drenched in maple syrup for $5.49. Or up the ante and discover the delights of a chocolate-chip waffle topped with chocolate whipped cream. If your appetite veers toward the savory side of the spectrum opt for the Central Valley Salad—mixed greens, pears, walnuts, cheese ravioli, raisins and gorgonzola drizzled with reduced balsamic vinaigrette for $7.25. If you must eat and run, grab a favorite of the commuter crowd; the Good Morning Bagel is stuffed with scrambled eggs and cheddar for $3.99. 3198 Riverside Boulevard, (916) 443-1709.

Sweetwater Restaurant and Bar

The little-black-dress of brunch is Eggs Benedict paired with a skinny flute of champagne. Sweetwater Restaurant and Bar delivers the classic combo in a casual neighborhood setting. If you’re inclined, you can add $7 onto your brunch order and indulge in unlimited servings of champagne or mimosa.

Sweetwater also offers up its share of surprises. So what are Fried Crab Stars anyway? Try crab, cream cheese and herbs wrapped in a fried wonton wrapper served with sweet chili dipping sauce for $5.95. Feeling frisky? Try the Big Easy Shrimp paired with a dark sauce of bourbon, Worcestershire, hot sauce and garlic and served with grilled garlic toast.

Crepe Eggs is the newest item on the regularly updated menu. Scrambled eggs paired with sautéed yellow squash, zucchini and onions wrapped in a warm crepe and topped with hollandaise sauce for $7.95. 5641 J Street, (916) 731-8857.

Cream Puffs at Brioche Artisan Bakery

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

Brioche Artisan Bakery

I came for brunch and was ambushed by the cream puffs. Beckoning from a crystal-like display case, the little temptations were nestled in demure paper dollies. Staying the course, I navigated through other patrons unashamedly ogling the jewel-like bakery confections. Seems David Schmidt, owner and executive chef of Brioche Artisan Bakery, has created a temple for those burdened with bakery lust and a love of brunch.

I settled into a ladder-back chair outfitted with a comfy cushion at a delightful table. The menu presented the next hurdle–a chicken salad sandwich on black pepper brioche for $6.95, or French toast, made with brioche, nutmeg, cinnamon and Grand Marnier, topped with whipped cream and served with fruit for $7.50?

The Brunch Combination seduced me. Two eggs made to order, plus choice of meat, fruit or roasted potatoes and toast for $7.75. The poached eggs were done just right; the potatoes, crispy; and the sourdough toast, perfection. It seems good food blended with casual elegance does something to inhibitions—friendly conversation wafted easily between tables of strangers. Toddlers gurgled contentedly while devouring small dainties. I headed toward the cream puffs. 723 56th Street, (916) 452-7085.