Brunch without Benedict 

Morning menus get a wake-up call in Richmond.

click to enlarge Fried chicken cutlets on a sweet potato waffle drizzled with chipotle syrup make brunch at Pescados China Street something out of the ordinary. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Fried chicken cutlets on a sweet potato waffle drizzled with chipotle syrup make brunch at Pescados China Street something out of the ordinary.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to state the obvious. As a recent transplant put it: “What’s the big deal with brunch here? In Chicago nobody bothered, but in Richmond everyone goes out for brunch.”

It’s true that Richmonders are devoted to brunch — and with good reason. It’s a relatively inexpensive meal to eat out. It offers a way to check out a new restaurant. And it’s a great way to see what a chef can do with a relatively predictable menu. Because the fact is, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a brunch menu that doesn’t include some form of eggs Benedict.

But stepping away from the tried and true, Richmond restaurants have some interesting options worthy of giving the old standby a run for its money.

Pescados China Street does a piquant take on a soul-food favorite with its chicken and waffles. Caribbean-fried chicken cutlets on a sweet-potato waffle get extra kick from chipotle syrup ($11). The dish’s flavor owes a lot to the Belgian-style waffle, delicately spiced like fresh pumpkin bread and a worthy complement to the spicy chicken. It’s a hearty dish that servers refer to as “the big boy,” because they can’t recall anyone finishing it.

Another way to get a sweet and salty brunch fix is at Stronghill Dining Co. Pair a crock of fragrant monkey bread ($4) with an order of house-made sausage ($3) for a brunch that feels like eating breakfast at somebody’s home. The warm monkey bread looks like knots of coffee cake with an irresistible butter and cinnamon streusel topping. The sausage is hot, a savory blend of sage, rosemary and peppers that’s best enjoyed alternately with the bread.

A throwback dish that used to be standard fare at Army mess halls to diners gets a gourmet treatment at the Hermitage Grill with its creamed chipped beef on biscuits ($9). Two good-sized biscuits support peppery white gravy with thick hunks of dried beef which in no way resemble the paper-thin slices usually seen in the frozen variety. Fair warning: This retro treat will leave you craving a nap.

A brunch entree that is as filling as it is elegant is Amour Wine Bistro’s savory crab crepe ($10). So generously sized that it all but covers the plate, it’s a rustic buckwheat flour crepe full of lump crab in béchamel sauce. Complement its savoriness with a glass of French sparkling cider for a traditional pairing. Finish with la tartine ($6) — a toasted baguette loaded with butter and seasonal jam — and it’s easy to forget you’re breaking bread on this side of the Atlantic.

What about brunchers looking for gluten-free options? The Empress has gluten-free walnut griddle cakes served with a pumpkin-maple sauce ($12) that would satisfy even the gluten tolerant. The same goes for its thick slices of gluten-free French toast. And for those diners intent on having eggs Benedict, there’s a flourless version.

A well made eggs Benedict will always have its place on a brunch menu, but in the words of a server at a popular local brunch spot: “People will wait an hour to be seated and then order eggs and a biscuit. They could make that at home. Why not get something unique?” S

Pescados China Street
626 China St.
Brunch Sunday 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Stronghill Dining Co.
1200 N. Boulevard
Brunch Sunday 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Hermitage Grill
6010 Hermitage Road
Brunch Sunday 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

Amour Wine Bistro
3129 Cary St.
Brunch Sunday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

The Empress
2043 W. Broad St.
Brunch Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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