In this morally complicated, topsy-turvy world, where little is clear and shades of gray color most decisions, I take my absolutes where I can get them. Hence, I have never been a fan of brunch.
Not quite breakfast, not quite lunch, brunch definitely needs to get its act together and pick a side. Normally, I would shrug off such indecision and not give it the time of day (which in the case of brunch is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.), but after some convincing I decided to give this misbegotten meal a chance.
At the insistence of my wife and a friend, I agreed to check out brunch at Chato Brasserie on the North Shore. The restaurant, located at 200 Manufacturers Road and part of the One North Shore condo development across from Greenlife Grocery, features upscale New American cuisine in a casual atmosphere.
Where: Chato Brasserie, 200 Manufacturers Road.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $6 for traditional eggs Benedict to $18 for shrimp stew with grit pancakes.
The menu offers plenty of choices, including six options alone for eggs Benedict. The classic breakfast dish of poached eggs served on an English muffin may be ordered in the traditional style for $6 or with a caviar hollandaise sauce for $12. Other varieties include the Creole, which comes with andouille sausage and a crawfish hollandaise sauce for $8; the Sardou, which throws in artichoke hearts and creamed spinach for $9; the $7 Portuguese, which switches out the muffin for a puff pastry with tomato sauce; and the House-Cured Sockeye Salmon, which tops your eggs with a cream cheese chive hollandaise for $9.
Under "Our Favorites," the menu lists six dishes, including the Big Island, which is a burger patty with shrimp fried rice, a fried egg and shiitake gravy for $11; the Charleston, griddle grit pancakes and an andouille and shrimp stew for $18; the house-cured salmon bagel stack, which comes with cream cheese, capers, red onion, chives and lemon for $11; the Scottsdale, a Southwestern quiche with corn, poblano peppers, ricotta and cilantro; and the Chato Burger, which is served with pimento cheese, caramelized onions and fries for $10.
A good selection of brunch cocktails is also available, including mimosas and Bloody Marys, with some of them having the New American cuisine spin (beet juice Bloody Mary, anyone?).
The order (for three): We decided to go with the Austin ($11), which is described in the menu as huevos rancheros, corn tortilla, avocado and black forest ham; the Chicago, a deep-dish breakfast pizza ($10); and Smoked Pickett Farm Trout Salad ($12) for the egg hater in our group.
The traditional huevos rancheros recipe of fried eggs with refried beans and salsa gets New American cuisined into a fried egg and ham between two fried tortillas on a bed of black beans with salsa on the side and avocado as garnish. The change works. The beans are spiced just right, and the fried tortillas have a nice middle-ground consistency between limp tortilla and hard tostada.
The breakfast pizza looks like a slice of deep-dish pie with a fried egg on top. The pizza filling is red, green and yellow peppers, onion, chorizo and sausage, all joined together by melted cheese. The shell is a pastry crust that holds everything together and provides a nice crunch to balance the rest of the textures.
The only objection to the trout salad is that the different components -- blueberry croutons, trout, bleu cheese and the vinaigrette -- are all laid out separately on the plate and had to be mixed. Otherwise, the salad was deemed tasty, and the hard blueberries as croutons was an interesting touch.
For dessert, we shared a Coke float and the waffle trio. The trio comes with one small waffle dipped in chocolate, one with fresh berries and another with lemon mascarpone. The waffles could have been crispier, but overall it was delicious, with the mascarpone being particularly good.
The Coke float looks great served in a skinny soda fountain glass, but something is off in the flavor of the bourbon pecan ice cream that doesn't mesh well with the cola taste.
Our waiter was friendly, took our drink order while we waited for the last of our party to arrive and was knowledgeable about menu items. The pace of the meal was relaxed, and other than asking for a knife to use on the waffles, we never had to actively look for our server.
The interior of the restaurant is casually elegant, with a good distribution of tables and a fully stocked bar. We took advantage of the great weather and ate outside, where wooden tables and chairs make for a great al fresco dining experience with a view of Renaissance Park.
Brunch at Chato Brasserie is a lot less expensive than having dinner at the upscale restaurant, when it would be easy to spend $60 on a meal without much effort, but it is still a once-in-a-while, special-occasion kind of place for most of us. The good news is that it's worth it. So if you have friends in town and want to go out for a leisurely Sunday or you want to treat yourself after a hard week, Chato Brasserie is a good place to spend your money.