In spring, this woman’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of brunch. French toast, bacon, fluffy pancakes, eggs, orange juice, coffee—I want it all, while I bask in the spring sunshine and plan out my afternoon nap. I don’t know what it is, but the recent “spring forward” time change, which makes me sleep in later than usual on the weekends, seems to have something to do with it.
I recently combined this craving with a little day trip down to the Delta for the lavish brunch buffet at the Ryde Hotel, which I’d been hearing about for years but never sampled. This plan had the advantage of working pleasant scenery into the ideal of the perfect Sunday, and the disadvantage of requiring a semi-long drive home rather than a stroll followed by a nap. (The key, I think, is to volunteer to drive there. That way, your companion, if he or she has any grace at all, will have to drive home. Voilà! The nap is yours.)
The Ryde Hotel is a flamingo-colored cube overlooking the broad Sacramento River in the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Ryde, which has a post office and not much else. It’s just a couple of miles from Walnut Grove, which is actually the site of the hotel’s official address. The hotel, built during Prohibition, was renovated not long ago to restore a certain Jazz Age feel, with an art-deco logo; movie-star posters in the lobby; and, it must be added, quite deluxe bathrooms off the dining room.
The champagne brunch every Sunday, at $21.95, attracts hotel guests and other visitors. We saw several large parties apparently celebrating birthdays and the like, and, indeed, the periodic popping of champagne corks lends the slightly dark room a festive air. (Try to get a seat near one of the windows, where you can get a hint of sunshine and look out at the quiet orchards and fields that stretch out behind the hotel.)
Servers come around to offer orange juice, champagne and not-very-good coffee. Seemingly unlimited quantities of all three are included in the price, which makes it a deal for morning drinkers. After that, you’re left to navigate the various stations on your own. My favorite was a fairly traditional breakfast-foods table, which sported subtly sweet French toast; sausage; an array of cut fruit; muffins; biscuits; home fries; and some truly excellent crispy, salty bacon. The muffins and biscuits were a disappointment, tasting suspiciously of a mix, as were the home fries. As my husband said, they looked better than they tasted. (Considering that I thought they were oddly grayish, that was saying something.) But the French toast brought me back for seconds, and the bacon, I regret to say, for thirds. There’s just something about all-you-can-eat bacon.
Next to this was a table of hot offerings. Some of these had the feel of wedding catering, where the dishes look impressive and are arranged prettily, and there are lots of them, but they’re not all that delicious. I steered clear of some options that looked fishy in both senses of the word. The salmon looked visibly overcooked, and I feared for the texture of the “champagne mussels,” which languished in a steam tray. A cheese-rich strata with tomatoes was yummy, however.
At the cold-salad station, I was more enticed by the seafood. The nicely chilled prawns with cocktail sauce were tender and delicious. There was also a Caesar salad and a pasta salad, but neither one seemed quite the thing before noon or with French toast. (Because the brunch goes until 2 p.m., there’s a strong presence of lunch-style foods—a boon for late risers.)
Instead, we headed to the pièce de résistance: the made-to-order omelet station, where a chatty woman flipped eggs and the chosen fillings in a well-oiled pan with practiced ease. Nearly sated, we decided to split one, compromising on onions, mushrooms, ham and cheese. Green peppers and tomatoes were available also, rounding out a range of basic fillings that was satisfying but could have been more creative. Our finished omelet was fluffy and cooked just right.
Our final temptation was the dessert table—again, probably intended for the post-noon crowd. We hit it anyway, trying a cinnamony bread pudding and a sweet and light slice of cheesecake. I grabbed one of the crisp, delicious chocolate chip cookies, too, thinking it would be good to have for the road. I was foiled by my husband, who immediately reached over and broke off a piece. “Road, schmoad,” he said, and once the cookie was partially eaten, I joined in too.
As we staggered out, the grill was just getting going. The afternoon portion of brunch seemed to feature ribs and tri-tip, which smelled smokily enticing—or would have, if we hadn’t been full of the bacon that was among the best things we’d tried. As with many buffets, the Ryde Hotel’s brunch offerings can be uneven. Still, I can forgive a lot in spring. If you pick carefully, you certainly can get a tasty brunch—and a lovely, restful nap on the winding drive home up the river.