Hours: Dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Reservations suggested.Cards: American Express, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.
One of the best parts of eating Sunday brunch in a restaurant is thinking about the money you're saving. After all, in terms of volume of food per dollar, a good brunch usually beats a good dinner hands down. It's enough to make you forget the worst part of brunch: that you inevitably end up overeating and too sluggish for anything more than watching football on TV. (Hey, that's not so bad.)
One of the best brunch bargains these days can be found at the Peppermill in Bethesda's Holiday Inn, where $11.95 buys you a first-class buffet plus unlimited champagne. You eat all of this in very civilized surroundings: a quiet dining room with widely spaced tables, comfortable chairs, thick carpets and snowy linens, and with efficient, solicitous service. A special bonus: The horrible "elevator music" everywhere else in the hotel is replaced in the restaurant by classical recordings.
Even a big eater will have to pace himself carefully here so as not to run out of steam before everything is sampled. Begin with the raw bar -- fresh oysters and clams on the half shell, beautifully displayed on chipped ice. Then proceed to the cold fish platters -- a big, beautiful salmon with the most delicate of flavors, smoked trout that's free of excessive saltiness, slabs of good smoked sturgeon. If your taste for smoked fish runs to the more prosaic, head for the mounds of bagels and lox.
But don't fill up. Save your appetite for the hot table, with its mountains of bacon and sausage, and its remarkably good poached eggs, the yolks just right, the whites tender and fluffy, cooked with a bit of spinach for flavor and color contrast -- a real triumph for a steam-table serving, and good enough to compensate for the disappointment of not having that old brunch standby, eggs Benedict. Remarkably good banana fritters, too, very lightly fried. But not everything can survive the rigors of sitting on a steam table. The Chinese-style vegetables were hopelessly limp, and the apple cobbler had a soggy crust that seemed to just float around in the tray.
Go easy, though. There's pasta to come, fettuccine and tortellini that's cooked to order in a skillet. A fine idea, with delightful results: admirably chewy pasta, and a variety of sauce options that range from bacon and mushrooms to snow peas and sweet red peppers.
Still have room? Look for the custom-made omelettes, light, and with a variety of fillings Or the waffles, thick and light, crisp outside, chewy within. Don't be restricted by the fruit preserve toppings -- carry your waffle over to the bacon and egg section and improvise. There are crepes, too, but though they look tempting they're actually a big flop, made in advance and refrigerated before being heated.
If you can squeeze in dessert, look especially for the dense, old-fashioned cheesecake, the excellent carrot cake, and the buttery fruit tarts. And just in case you're still hungry, you can go back for the salads, cheeses, fruits, cold cuts and deviled eggs.
Brunch, incidentally, isn't the only bargain at the Peppermill. There's a $9.95 full-course dinner with a decent if unexceptional steak or prime rib, plus good vegetables, salad and dessert.