Break your fast with brilliant brunches

March 27, 1997

In yesterday's Dining Out guide, the chef at La Tesso Tana was misidentified. Ed Rogers is the restaurant's chef.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Sunday brunch. The very words suggest the leisurely enjoyment of comforting foods in good company. Never mind that some buffet brunches involve more standing in line and more choices than are strictly relaxing. Never mind that we often overindulge when faced with those myriad of choices and regret it afterward. We still love our brunches.

And speaking of choices. What a range of places there are around here to have Sunday -- and occasionally Saturday -- brunch. Whether you're looking for an extravagant all-you-can-eat spread or a modest a la carte menu of egg dishes and French toast, you'll find just the right spot reviewed on the following pages.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The critics are Janice Baker (JB), Mary Corey (MC), John Dorsey (JD), Michael and Sheila Dresser (M&SD), Kathryn Higham (KH), Peter Jensen (PJ), Elizabeth Large (EL), Suzanne Loudermilk (SL) and Laura Rottenberg (LR).

Stars are a rough guide to quality: **** (the best Maryland has to offer), *** (good), ** (fair or uneven), * (poor).

Dollar signs suggest cost: $ inexpensive, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive, $$$$ very expensive.

Bertha's, 734 S. Broadway, 410-327-5795. *1/2 $$

No, we didn't order mussels. They seemed too unbrunchlike. In the lower right-hand corner of Bertha's regular menu is a small selection of dishes available only for Sunday brunch. From this we selected our repast.

The Sunday-morning meal seems a bit of an afterthought for the kitchen. Our dishes came accompanied not by home fries, bacon or toast, but with lettuce and rounds of tomato. That would have been OK for a burger, but with eggs Benedict and French toast it was downright odd. The Benedict itself was pleasant -- two toasted muffins topped with softly poached eggs, Canadian bacon and a drizzle of subtle hollandaise -- but the French toast was a disappointment. It was overcooked, with a thick crust too liberally sprinkled with cinnamon.

Bertha's mimosas are festive, served in a champagne flute, and house Bloody Marys run boozy. For dessert, chocolate chip pie is gooey and rich, as is the parfaitlike trifle. -- LR

Cacao Lane, 8066 Main St., Ellicott City, 410-461-1378. **1/2 $$

Don't make a special trip, but if you happen to be window-shopping in historic Ellicott City, Cacao Lane is a pleasant spot for a casual brunch. Here, brunch items are on a menu that changes every Sunday.

Besides omelets, the only eggs offered when we visited were baked with kielbasa under a heavy coating of jack and Cheddar. This rich, old-fashioned casserole was definitely not for the aerobically challenged. The quiche, filled with grilled chicken, wild mushrooms and cheese, tasted deceptively light, however, with its delicate custard and flaky crust. Banana hazelnut cinnamon pancakes were a brilliant idea, poorly executed. Chock-full of nuts, the pancakes tasted great along the edges, but the centers were essentially uncooked batter.

If the meal wasn't perfect, it was helped by lusciously creamy chocolate mousse and cheesecake, and by the coziness of Cacao Lane's stone walls, brick and wainscoting. -- KH

Cafe Hon, 1002 W. 36th St., 410-243-1230. **1/2 $$

Even in its new digs, with the renovation of its fancified country store just completed, Cafe Hon has an old "Bawlamer" feel. It may be smack-dab in the middle of the hip part of Hampden, but it still has a kind of timeless charm involving tall cakes under glass, friendly service and lots of mayonnaise.

Weekend brunch (Saturday and Sunday) is my favorite meal at the Hon. I start with a Hon Bun (a gooey cinnamon roll on steroids) and a plenty-hot Bloody Mary. Omelets are fluffy and filled with good stuff like bits of smoked salmon and soft cheese, but the pancakes are tough to pass up. The Hon offers fancy chocolate-chip pancakes sometimes, served with raspberry syrup (more subtle than it sounds), and thick, plain pancakes that are the perfect medium for maple syrup. My only brunch disappointment is the house-made sausage patties -- a little dry and bland.

Be sure to get a refill on your coffee along with a big piece of yellow layer cake with old-fashioned chocolate buttercream icing. -- LR

Cafe Pangea, 4007 Falls Road, 410-662-0500. ** $$

With its quaint Victorian facade and urban chic decor, Cafe Pangea is a charming spot for a Sunday-morning meal. Although the place bills itself as Baltimore's first cybercafe, it's warm and inviting. Things were quiet on the computer front when we visited. Diners were reading newspapers, and Thelonious Monk was playing on the sound system.

What the restaurant does, it does well. But be forewarned: The menu is limited. While we were craving something sweet, we had to settle for a blueberry scone and Vaccaro's cannoli cake for dessert.

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