I’ve gotten new views of Downtown from the Bellevue hillside, seen Riverside Drive at a slower pace, and walked off eggs Benedict in several of the city’s nicest parks. (Though I don’t kid myself that a leisurely 30-minute walk is enough to counteract more than a bite of poached egg, ham and Hollandaise.)
Here are my favorites. I limited myself, as I often do for these lists, to independent restaurants. Most of them, it turns out, are in the central neighborhoods of Greater Cincinnati. (Brunch does not seem to be big in the suburbs.)
It’s hard to engineer a good brunch. In order to charge prices that make it worthwhile for the restaurant and to give a feeling of value, a lot of restaurants pile on bacon and sausage and cheese. But Via Vite takes a different, and very successful, approach by offering some rich choices and others lighter and healthier. That gives you the feeling of leisure and your money’s worth. We had such a pleasant experience here, especially because we sat outside on the balcony.
My first course was the best fruit salad I’ve ever had, with berries and melons, and, says chef/owner Cristian Pietoso, nothing else but a bit of lemon and sugar. Melon and prosciutto was similarly light to start. Polenta with a single egg and spicy sausage was a sort of an Italian version of grits; the fritatta was full of fresh spinach.
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
20 Vine St., Downtown, 513-721-8483.
Eggs Benedicto could be my favorite variation on Eggs Benedict, with crab, avocado, hollandaise and just a sprinkling of fresh salsa. (You can get it with goetta, too, instead of crab.) Pork for breakfast is usually ham or bacon; here it’s perfectly braised carnitas, falling apart on a sweet corn tamal with a fried egg. Boca fries, an artifact of the original Northside restaurant, are deep-fried, rough-edged redskin potatoes and, in a word, awesome. The drinks, like a blood orange sparkler, are kind of irresistible.
When: 10:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
600 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-721-6232.
This is the only buffet I tried, and it takes the prize for brunch variety and deliciousness. I nearly hurt myself trying everything. I suggest you approach the loaded buffet as an opportunity to choose your favorite things rather than an invitation to cover every inch of your plate.
The tables are epically bountiful. Though you should certainly make a stop at the smoked and cured fish table for some peppered mackerel and smoked salmon, I would actually recommend concentrating on the “unch” part of brunch here - duck breast, fried chicken, perfectly roasted prime rib, roasted vegetables, crispy sauteed potatoes, and the creamiest grits I’ve ever had. The salads, like a seafood salad or balsamic strawberries, are a great place to start, and it's hard to choose which of the desserts to end with. It’s all delicious and elegant, the best buffet you’re ever likely to come across, and well worth the price.
When: 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m Sunday
35 W. Fifth St., Downtown, 513-421-9100.
We parked by St. Rose’s and walked along Riverside Drive on a windy morning to get to BrewRiver, noticing all kinds of things in this old neighborhood you don’t see when driving past.
The delicious eggs Sardou with an unusual beer hollandaise sauce is a variation on Benedict with fresh spinach and an artichoke bottom. It’s a classic of New Orleans courtyards, home of the best brunches in the world. The impression was strengthened when the versatile piano player threw in some Professor Longhair. The delicious, crisp-topped plate of biscuits with blackberry jam ($5) on the side could have been brunch in themselves. Barbecued shrimp on grits ($16), though, weren’t as good as the eggs. The grits were stiff and the sauce was too dark.
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
2062 Riverside Drive, East End, 513-861-2484.
This friendly, popular MainStrasse cafe is a great place to come out of your morning-after slump. Bright chairs, bright walls, lots of people and windows letting the sun in (or an outside table in the summer) will cheer you up and bring you back into the world. Their Benedict is unusual, served on a flatbread with smoked salmon and a dill hollandaise that tastes pretty good though it isn’t quite the real, classic thing. French toast is stuffed with cream cheese and strawberries, like eating cheesecake for breakfast.
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
521 Main St., Covington, 859-491-6678
This Main Street bar looks different in the light of day than it does at night, full of Main Street hipsters. Eating out in the courtyard makes it seem that Over-the-Rhine really is Cincinnati’s French Quarter. The menu here skews Mexican, vegetarian and cheap. Order at the bar and they’ll bring it to you. We had meatless migas tacos, made with tofu, and meaty biscuits and chorizo gravy topped with an egg. Good, hearty stuff. There are rotating specials as well, so there’s always something new to try. And lots of choices for vegetarians.
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-6687.
The Palace serves a brunch menu every day for breakfast. This isn’t a brunch you roll out of bed and slouch into. You’ll want to be at least a little groomed before you take a seat at the beautifully set tables and tuck into the best hollandaise sauce in town. Other chefs should come here to be schooled in how it’s done: rich, a perfectly smooth emulsion, tangy and bright with lemon juice, rich with butter. The Eggs Blackstone also includes a liberal helping of thick bacon.
When: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
601 Vine St., Downtown, 513-381-3000
Written by Polly Campbell, Food & Dining writer at Cincinnati Enquirer.