Brunches That Feed Body and Soul

TIMES STAFF WRITER

During the week, most of us are lucky if we can negotiate a third-rate cup of coffee and a stick shift on the way to the office. But weekends are made for breaking the rules of routine, and the staid Sunday brunch is no exception. Though ice sculptures and lily sprays are predictably lovely, these few musical options can jump-start your Sunday.

For anyone who's caught one too many late-night acts at the Whisky, walking down a deserted Sunset Strip on a Sunday morning is a surreal experience in and of itself. Perhaps more disorienting is stepping into the dimly lighted main concert hall of the House of Blues in broad daylight for its gospel brunch.

Banquettes and buffet stations have replaced the previous evening's leather and attitude, and a cheerful host escorts each party to its designated seating, stopping along the way to point out the create-your-own omelet station, hand-carved roast beef or turkey and a shrimp platter.

Music starts an hour after the doors open, so there's plenty of time to investigate your options, which range from fried chicken and catfish to jambalaya to eggs and waffles.

A dessert table offers cookies, fresh fruit and a somewhat dubious bread pudding, but when the main act begins, it quickly becomes obvious that the crowd comes more for the music than for the munchies.

The curtain rises to L.A.'s Gentlemen for Christ, an energetic gospel choir in sorbet-colored costumes whose infectious enthusiasm gets most of the diners out of their seats in no time. And during several numbers, the lead singer circulates through the crowd, inviting audience members to sing the blues.

Though I find audience participation a particularly daunting proposal, as does my sister, whom I have to beg to keep from escaping out the backdoor, my peers seem to be enjoying themselves, and a reluctant B-soap opera star tucked away at a secluded table is cajoled into taking a turn at the mike.

In Anaheim, at the House of Blues' newest location, the routine is much the same. But here the wait for the opening of the doors is made a little more bearable by a pleasant outdoor terrace where, for a charge, drinks can be ordered from the bar. I am particularly impressed by the bartender's accommodating a request for extra horseradish in a Bloody Mary.

The smaller venue provides a more intimate experience than its Hollywood counterpart's, and everyone has a better view of the stage. Depending on your penchant for volume, however, the Anaheim experience is somewhat diminished by the often overwhelming loudness of the performance. Each location features a rotating lineup of local performers, with occasional cameos by such artists as Aaron Neville and the Rev. Al Green.

When the Music Starts, Long Lines Forgotten

Surprisingly, one of the least commercial restaurant gospel brunches is found at Universal CityWalk, inside B.B. King's Blues Club.

As I'm shown to my seat in this three-tiered venue, I notice that many of the diners seem to have met before, and they greet one another in passing as they find their tables.

An inquiry to a woman in front of me at the seafood station reveals that the Anointed Seven--the morning's featured act--boasts a large local following; today is no exception. The place is packed. Which is perhaps why the wait for the buffet is impossibly long, exacerbated by the discovery that offerings differ slightly from floor to floor (I send a reluctant friend down two flights to fetch some carved roast beef while I man my position at the omelet bar).

Mercifully the mimosas are free-flowing and the buffet selection extends beyond the fruit platter and requisite egg dishes to include Southern grits, biscuits and gravy and Cajun meatloaf.

But when the music starts, I soon forget the irritation of the cattle line at the buffet and am even able to overlook the fact that my eggs benedict is completely cold. My friend Joe points to one of the singers, who has real tears streaming down his face.

Folks at the table next to ours are singing their hearts out along with the band, and, indeed, all the diners on the first floor have risen to swing and sing with the music. This might be the next best thing to a trip to the West Angeles Church.

New at the Knitting Factory is its brunch alongside musicians playing klezmer, Jewish folk music. It is offered most Sundays and is one of the more reasonable deals around. The buffet is minimal but workable: bagels with cream cheese and lox, tasty little latkes (potato pancakes), scrambled eggs, fruit salad and freshly squeezed juices.

Additional beverages, including coffee, are available for a charge. Food is put on plastic plates, but nobody much minds, because the $5 food charge (in addition to the $10 admission to hear the band) hardly warrants complaint--particularly on Hollywood Boulevard. The audience ranges wildly from a handful of fans of the music to families that seem to have come for the religious angle, which makes this brunch series particularly intriguing as a kind of hip community outreach at a venue that caters mainly to night crawlers.

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