Spiralling inflation has made a family night out more and more expensive. But there are alternatives to paying a stiff tab or staying home. Sunday brunch is one of those alternatives -- a relaxed meal offered for a fixed price by many good restaurants that charge more in the evening.
The Maryland Inn in Annapolis is a good example. Every Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the inn turns its Treaty of Paris restaurant and King of France Tavern into The Hunt Board, a real granddaddy of a brunch that is sumptuous to look at, good to eat and affordable as well.
On Saturday night the kitchen produces good fare at prices that would exclude many families, but on Sunday morning, the same kitchen produces a groaning board of possibilities for $7.50 per adult and $3.75 per child under 12. The inn's brunch board offers breakfast, lunch or dinner items -- if you have the stamina to keep eating.
After we were seated at a comfortable table with fresh flowers and white linen, the hostess brought coffee and invited us to walk back to a separate room where the Hunt Board is displayed. She suggested we go to the buffet table for separate courses, beginning with appetizers. When we had finished with those, she explained, our dirty plates would be cleared and we could return to the buffet for the main courses we wanted, and so on, through dessert.
It was good advice. I would only add that you should probably take a couple turns around the huge table without choosing anything, because as soon as you pick up one item, you're bound to see another that looks even more appealing.
The kids loved being able to survey a cornucopia of goodies, with the added advantage of being able to choose only what they wanted -- mostly fruits and sweets, which was after all, understandable. Sthey had a choice of honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, Concord grapes and freshly cut fruit salad; and Danish pastries, cinnamon rolls, scones, small croissants and sticky buns -- to say nothing of the pies and cakes meant to end the meal.
My husband and I enjoyed most the breakfast items offered: scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, juicy sausages and crisp bacon, and eggs Benedict put together with a succulent ham carved at a seperate table. There was also a choice of juices, served in large glasses, and sliced apples, both stewed and crisp.
If your idea of breakfast more closely approximates a cup of coffee, the waiter will keep your cup filled while you choose lunch and dinner items. The Maryland Inn turns out a pretty good veal marengo and rockfish creole, along with fairly ordinary fried chicken amid an array of hot vegetables like ratatouille and cold salads. There are heaping bowls of the expected, like tossed greens and potato salad, which we bypassed for a very good artichoke and hearts of palm melange, marinated cucumbers and herring in sour cream.
Halfway through these samples, we thought we might never be able to move again, but the kids were just warning up in anticipation of dessert. No wonder. The front of the Hunt Board is laden with luscious looking sweets: beautifully decorated carrot cake, lemon meringue pie, black forest cake, lemon and chocolate mousse, and the inn's own confections. After such a large meal, we found the mousse both light and delicious. Black forest cake was also quite good, although the carrot cake was a bit dry.
Aside from the tempting dishes, the cozy, antique ambiance of the inn's restaurants was a pleasure and the hospitality and service a delight, all of which made the hour's drive on a balmy Sunday morning well worth it. The bill? For five of us, a pleasing $30.40, tax and tip not included. We will surely go again. Atmosphere: Comfortable and authentically appointed colonial. The inn is 210 years old, and fully restored. Hours: Brunch served every Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Price range: $7.50 per adult, $3.95 per child 12 and under. Reservations: None taken for brunch, unless the party is unusually large. Credit cards: American Express, Master-Card and Visa. Special facilities: Street parking only; not accessible to handicapped; boosters and high chairs available.