A Great Bet for a Sunday Brunch
By Jacob Pucci
Brunch. It’s the meal people love to hate and hate to admit they love.
I’ve never understood the hatred for the hybrid meal — when else is it acceptable to drink alcohol while eating pancakes? — and apparently neither has Char Steak & Lounge, where the Grand Buffet Brunch has been served each Sunday since February.
The restaurant, located in the lobby of the chic Strathallan Hotel, was about half-full when we arrived around 12:30 p.m. on a recent Sunday afternoon. For a restaurant in a hotel lobby with no one true entrance, the interior was surprisingly cozy, thanks in part to the metal beaded curtains dividing the space into comfortable sections.
Bottomless mimosas, garnished with fresh fruit, and bloody marys, garnished with a celery stick and a skewer of olive and cheese, come with the price of admission. The bar is also open, if you’re looking for a beer or something a little bit harder.
As the name implies, the buffet runs the gamut of breakfast pastries, omelets and meats, to carved roasts, smoked fish and desserts.
Brunch is $34 for adults, whether you load up on Belgian waffles and home fries or smoked trout, scallops and prime rib. The waffles come served with real maple syrup, berry compote, almonds and whipped cream and are indeed very tasty, but when there’s wood-grilled salmon, leg of lamb, prime rib and Bourbon-glazed smoked pork loin, there’s no room for waffles.
Along with the smoked scallops and trout, the seafood platter included two types of smoked salmon and mussels, as well as capers, finely chopped red onion, chopped egg and other traditional accompaniments. All were great, but the scallops were on another level, with an ethereal smokiness that fades to sweetness on the back of the tongue.
The lamb and prime rib were cooked closer to medium than rare, but both were very tender, save for a few bits of gristle in the lamb. The tomato and mint jam served alongside provided freshness and enough acidity to cut through the fatty meat.
After a couple plates of caprese salad, cheese, charcuterie, antipasti, bacon, vegetables and a really delicious ravioli with prosciutto, peas and mushrooms, I thought I had room for a bit more smoked seafood.
That is, until I saw the desserts. Cheesecake topped with fruit or caramel, spice cake with cream cheese frosting, individual crème brûlée that held their crisp sugar tops, despite being on the buffet table.
The chocolate mousse, served in elegant champagne coupes, pushes the boundary on how much chocolate one can pack in to such an airy dessert. Unlike the mousse, which at least gives off the impression of lightness, the flourless chocolate cake makes no qualms about its all-out chocolate assault. Whatever you do — whether you fill up on roasted lamb and smoked scallops or the mac and cheese and chicken fingers for the kids — save room for the chocolate cake.
We sat, ate, ordered another bloody mary and mimosa and had a blast until the restaurant closed, about two hours after we sat down. Without the long lanes and rushed service in order to quickly turnover tables, we were free to have a drink, chat and relax.
Looking for the breakfast classics in a sophisticated setting? The eggs benedict and omelets, both cooked to order, will certainly please. Do you detest the idea of brunch and just want to eat copious amounts of meat? They’ll be just as happy to see you on your fourth trip to the carving station as they were on your first.
So leave all your preconceived notions about brunch at the door and sample a great rendition of the much-maligned meal. All the servers, chefs and managers walked the floor with smiles and a pep in their step. They looked happy to be there, and so will you.
Char Steak & Lounge
Address: 550 East Ave.,
Rochester, N.Y., 14607
Breakfast: 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., daily.
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon to Sat.
Dinner: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Mon to Thurs.
5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Fri and Sat.
4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sun.
Brunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sun.