Blue Water Grill
Sunday; reservations accepted
Cost: $7.95-$22.95 a la carte entrees
Brunch is served in the bar area of the restaurant, near the sushi bar. Sleek black tables and chairs set a sophisticated mood along with the jazz in the background. Service was friendly, and the food came quickly and was hot. Each brunch entree -- such as omelets or huevos rancheros or buttermilk pancakes -- included a choice of champagne or cocktail, a nice touch. The bloody mary was loaded with spice, the Bellini, a bit too sweet. The crab cake Benedict included two nicely poached eggs over a fairly decent crab cake covered with a rich hollandaise sauce with a red-pepper kick. The challah French toast had good flavor, but could have been crispier. It came with bananas, sliced almonds and a rich sweetened cream. The applewood-smoked bacon is worth a return. House potatoes, though, needed crisping up. -- Carol Mighton Haddix
Saturday and Sunday; reservations recommended
Cost: $6-$10 a la carte entrees
From the moment we walked in to Ba-Ba-Reeba!, we could tell from the colorful walls and decorations that this Spanish tapas spot was lively -- a place where you'd like to hang out on a Friday or Saturday night. But on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it was nearly empty and the staff a little scattered. The two hostesses couldn't figure out who was supposed to seat us. Once we were seated, the waitress made up for the problems we experienced earlier and went out of her way to patiently explain the menu and recommend her favorite dishes. When we told her we wanted brunch, her demeanor changed a bit. Although there were only about eight items on the menu -- from a waffle with strawberries to Spanish-style eggs Benedict -- she couldn't make any suggestions. Our food -- French toast and a poached egg dish -- came out quickly. The thick French toast, served with stewed apples, had just enough cinnamon and the eggs weren't too runny. But the presentation lacked, and the brunch menu didn't reflect the Spanish culture displayed on the regular menu. -- Lolly Bowean
Sunday; reservations for groups of 6 or more
Cost: $6-10.50 a la carte entrees
Those who order, say, eggs Benedict or French toast every time they go out for breakfast may find themselves dipping into new territory at Cafe Selmarie, where the menu is so inventive that the usual stuff sounds boring. The menu on a recent visit leaned toward the savory side, with a Mexican egg casserole, eggs combined with smoked fish or corned beef, and a rustic onion tart. Sweet Potato and Smoked Trout Hash was a mixture of sauteed sweet potatoes, smoked trout, shiitake mushrooms and red onions, topped with two fried eggs. Chilaquiles casserole was a Mexican-inspired egg casserole, in which eggs, corn tortillas, pulled chicken breast and cheese were baked in a tangy chile sauce and topped with avocado, sour cream and cilantro. This was the hit of the day at our table. Lovely house-made breads are the foundation of several dishes, including the brioche French toast, which is topped with macerated blueberries and blackberries and a generous dollop of honey-mascarpone cream. The ambience is casual, with a cheery bistro feel. Large windows open the small dining room to the Lincoln Square neighborhood. -- Tracy Van Moorlehem
Saturday and Sunday; reservations accepted for 6 or more
Cost: $5.75-$12.75 a la carte entrees
Cafe 28 lures you into a relaxed state with its festive colors and music, its high-quality food and friendly service. A photographer's colorful portraits of doors hang on the walls alongside several fun abstract art pieces. An upbeat Caribbean beat plays over speakers in this Cuban- and Mexican-style restaurant, and a couple musicians were strumming guitars in the bar as we entered the front door -- but we couldn't hear them from our seats in the second of two dining rooms. Take your time, order several entrees and whatever you do, don't forget to get a side order of platanos maduros, or bananas cooked brown to perfection. There's a nice variety of egg dishes, pancakes and French toast as well as Cuban and Mexican specialties, including a Cuban sandwich and a Mexican torta. The delicious southwestern eggs Benedict had just the right amount of chorizo, chopped tomatoes and a light spicy hollandaise sauce over an English muffin. The eggs were cooked just right; not too hard or runny. Unless I run a marathon, I don't think I could eat the stuffed French toast with bananas, cream cheese, brown sugar and raspberry syrup without feeling guilty. The coffee is as smooth as the service. -- Mary Ann Fergus
Sunday; no reservations
Cost: $7-$13 a la carte entrees
This casually elegant dining room, with small French chandeliers for extra charm, feels classic yet warm; perfect for a brunch marking a special occasion. A long chalkboard carries the day's menu, but you get menus too. Clearly the rules of Sunday brunch are being rewritten on the menu at Chalkboard. Take the corned beef hash. Now, no one expects a riff on a can of Mary Kitchen, but there should be something hash-like about it. A pool of mashed potatoes and melted smoked Gouda topped with narrow slices of excellent corned beef and two perfectly poached eggs just ain't it for me -- even at $8. (Ironically, while most restaurants are serving up hash browns the size of steak fries, Chalkboard's are the classic, tiny dice and will cost you $4. All the extras are extra here.) Crab cake Benedict is the most expensive brunch dish. It needed spark to match the price tag. The cake was shaped from mashed-up crab wadded together with breading that tasted chewy 'round the edges. I wanted looser texture and large lumps of crabmeat. Atop the crab cake was some arugula, one poached egg (the other lay next to the crab cake) and more of that melted Gouda. Serviceable but nothing exciting. Eggs Florentine always evokes poached eggs on a bed of spinach for me, so receiving a spinach-filled omelet was surprising. Pleasant, yes, but surprising. Disappointing were the home-made sausage patties, a half-dozen mealy discs the size of a quarter for $5. Ouch. Other dishes on the brunch menu include whole-grain blueberry pancakes, brioche French toast with marmalade, smoked salmon and whitefish with lemon cream and johnny cakes and steak and eggs. Whet your whistle with coffee, tea, juices, bloody marys, mimosas and Bellinis. Our server was very friendly and efficient. Too bad she dribbled coffee from her pitcher across the tablecloth. -- Bill Daley
The ultimate brunch guide
The lowdown on brunches around the city, from big hotel buffets to tiny cafes
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