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Grazing: Not brunch

Let's do breakfast ... or lunch

We love our friends for the way they tolerate our idiosyncrasies and reinforce our delusions, don't we? For example, my friend Tom knows I despise brunch on principle and, therefore, always refers to a Sunday noon meal with me as "lunch."

I know. In the hierarchy of demands I make upon friends, this is probably a minor concession. But it is important to me that, seated amid the bleary-eyed post-coital consumers of food in search of temporal identity, I know I'm eating breakfast or lunch, dammit.

My objection to brunch is its usual subordination of good food to bourgeois pretensions of classiness and leisure. Brunch has always had that aura. The Oxford English Dictionary makes that clear with its first entry of the word, from the Aug. 1, 1896, issue of Punch magazine: "To be fashionable nowadays we must 'brunch'. Truly an excellent portmanteau word, introduced, by the way, last year by Mr. Guy Beringer, in the now defunct Hunter's Weekly, and indicating a combined breakfast and lunch." Had only Mr. Beringer known that the "fashionable" fetish for brunch in America 25 years ago would spawn the portmanteau Egg McMuffin and a variety of other horrors.

Brunch at Babette's is the alliterative declamation of the Sunday menu Tom and I encountered last week. Babette's (471 N. Highland Ave., 404-523-9121), a longtime favorite of the Inman Park set, is one of our city's most comfortable neighborhood-style restaurants. All wood, brick and earthy touches, Babette's redeems itself from the precious with a menu of straightforward Euro-style dishes. The restaurant is moving to new digs eventually — a house is being renovated — and I pray it will not be swallowed by the Martha Stewart Monster.

The brunch menu is not especially unique, and we can be grateful for that, yes? You can have egg dishes, salads or sandwiches. Tom ordered a very good omelet made with mushroom, sausage and cheese ($7.75). He has a sensitive stomach, so he was very satisfied with the "mild" taste of his omelet. You can also order an omelet made with herbs ($6) or fresh asparagus with goat cheese and tomatoes ($8).

I decided to try one of those weird dishes that are neither breakfast nor lunch — a true brunch item. So, I ordered the "savory asparagus and cheese bread pudding" ($6.75). I give the restaurant credit for using good asparagus, but, honestly, the dish reminded me of a biscuit that had been tortured into a new form. On the other hand my cheese grits ($2.50), into which I crumbled a side order of bacon ($2), were killer.

The menu here also includes a heart-stopping "Babette's Benedict," a take on the classic egg dish made with brioche and beef tenderloin, as well as poached eggs ($11). The hollandaise is spiked with sun-dried tomatoes. Pass! The fashionably anorectic and those wishing to avoid heart attack can pick at salads made with romaine and arugula or Bibb lettuce with beets. There's French toast and berry pancakes, too, plus a few sandwiches.

Honestly, if you must brunch, go ahead and visit Babette's, but I recommend dinner instead.

Of course, one of the very capitals of intown brunching is the Flying Biscuit in Candler Park. People lounge on the sidewalk forever awaiting a taste of the restaurant's mainly good breakfast fare. But here's a secret: Avoid the wait and walk across the street to Gato Bizco Café (1660 McLendon Ave., 404-371-0889).

This little café was opened by the operator of the defunct Mean Bean in Little Five Points. Happily, the word "brunch" does not appear on the menu here, but you can get some excellent breakfast food. In fact, they serve breakfast and lunch fare until 3 p.m. every day except Tuesday.

Egg dishes are excellent. In fact, my huevos rancheros ($6.25), a bit oddly topped with black beans, featured really fresh, tangy green and red salsas. There is also an egg burrito made with potatoes and something called "Seor Sparky," featuring six eggs scrambled with cheese and jalapeos.

Some dishes don't fully cut the mustard. Sweet potato pancakes ($4.95) have the color of yams and the taste of your own mouth. They are made with a sweet potato flour, apparently, and not fresh potatoes. Skip 'em. Grits are creamy and 95 cents buys a huge serving. But adding cheese is a waste of an extra 50 cents. You don't make good cheese grits by just melting a bit of cheese on top. Bacon and skillet potatoes are well done.

The menu here, befitting the Earth-shod crowd that gentrified Candler Park, has plenty of vegan alternatives, including the grimly named "soysage," vegetarian chili and scrambled tofu.

I was impressed enough with Gato Bizco that I returned for dinner a week later with Wayne. I am very sorry to say it did not come close to my breakfast experience. Wayne's Thai beef ($9.95) was one of the most unpleasant dishes I have encountered in memory. Thin slices of gray, old-tasting beef — allegedly marinated in "spicy Thai herbs" — were served over sticky Ramen-esque noodles.

My own entrée, Southwestern chicken, was one of those dishes that looks and tastes as if it's been served one step ahead of its legitimate destination: a blender. It included chunks of (very dry) chicken in masa flour served over onions, green peppers, chilies, diced red pimientos, jalapeos and black beans ($10.95). There was also cilantro, sour cream, jack cheese, tortilla strips and a corn-cheese sauce. If the blender image doesn't work, imagine deconstructed nachos. You know, dude, if, like, I got real messed up, man, I might like this! Peace!

So my advice here is the opposite of Babette's. Skip dinner and do brunch.

Contact Cliff Bostock at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504, or at grazer@mindspring.com.



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