Chefs' brunch faves

Sunday midday meal doesn't have to be swanky to be special

Posted: June 21, 2007

BRUNCH - THAT lazy, decadent meal that allows for sleeping in late and languishing over a table for hours - is still an ideal way to start a Sunday. For chefs, whose one day off a week tends to be Sunday, brunch is a great way to recharge, spend time with the family, and eat somebody else's good food for a change.

Although there are grand brunches in town, at places such as XIX Nineteen Cafe, Lacroix, and the Four Seasons, the following spots are more relaxed, the kind of places where dressing up is simply not done and flip-flops work in the footwear department. And on a lazy summer Sunday, that's a beautiful thing.

Royal Tavern

937 E. Passyunk Ave.

215-389-6694

www.royaltavern.com

This Bella Vista gastro-pub has plenty of fans at any time of day or night. Owned by Stephen Simon, who opened Cantina Los Caballitos last year, Royal Tavern showcases chef Mark McKinney's inventive take on comfort food, whether it's grilled cheese with smoked Gouda, provolone and goat cheese on rustic bread ($6) or a Good Morning burger ($10) gussied up with a fried egg along with the usual lettuce, tomato and grilled onion.

Chef Dan Stern takes a break from the action at Rae (which also serves a mean brunch) and Gayle to take a stroll in his 'hood to Royal, where he and his wife, Jen, love to kick back on a Sunday.

"The food is very good - and the service is great. Everyone is so friendly, something I'm very sensitive to since I'm in the business. I'm sure they don't know I'm a chef - they treat everybody the same way. We go a few times a month, either after work at Gayle on the later side, or on Sunday."

Stern is partial to the chef's chorizo tacos and eggs, or when he's not as hungry, granola and fruit. More good news: You can get a bloody Mary or mimosa for $5 - and the jukebox is one of the best in town.

Morning Glory

735 S. 10th St.

215-413-3999

www.morningglorydiner.com

It's not unusual to have to wait for a table on the weekends at this Queen Village fave, which serves brunch Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Put your name on the list, read the paper and bide your time - the wait is well worth it.

Although highlights of the menu are many, everybody, including Rx owner Greg Salisbury and Lacroix chef Matt Levin, adores the homemade biscuits, just like Mama used to make - if she was a killer Southern cook. The grilled rib-eye and eggs ($10) is heaven for morning carnivores, or try one of the house special frittatas, brimming with fillings such as roasted red peppers, wild greens and smoked salmon. ($7.50-$8.50).

If you need more than one biscuit, order your first with eggs, and then have one for dessert, topped with berries and real whipped cream ($6). Fruit is good for you.

Sabrina's Café

910 Christian St.

215-574-1599

http://www.sabrinascafe.com/

This Italian market charmer is another place that draws a crowd. "I hate the wait, but the food is great," proclaimed Andy Brown, executive chef at the White Dog Café.

Sabrina's chef, Lance Silverman, a graduate of the White Dog kitchen, offers specialties such as caramelized challah French toast ($8.25) stuffed thick with farmer cheese and bananas, along with options that go easy on the waistline, including an egg-white turkey bacon frittata ($7.95). One of Brown's favorites is the vegetarian Philly cheesesteak with long hot peppers and provolone, made with seitan instead of beef ($6.95).

"I'm a big carnivore, but this feels like I'm eating a cheesesteak without the guilt." He also recommends the egg salad, served patty-melt style with gooey Swiss. "My wife, Cassandra, works at the White Dog, too, so we're both usually off on Sunday. We make an afternoon of it, have brunch at Sabrina's, then walk down to the market, and grab a piece of fish or something for dinner. It's a great day."

Fitzwater Café

728 S. 7th St.

215-629-0428

Bella Vista's prettiest cafe does all the baking and pasta-making for its sister restaurant, the upscale Saloon. But no need to dress to impress here, where kids are welcome and the vibe is chill. Mantra chef/owner Al Paris loves this spot, just two blocks from home. "It's nice and bright and airy, and the food is always fresh."

When he's not using his own kitchen - "I make eggs with vinegar peppers on Sarcone's bread when I'm cooking at home" - Paris asks for a dish he first remembers eating at Shank & Evelyn's. "When Shank was alive, he'd make me a chicken cutlet with over-easy eggs [$10]. I ask for that, and they make it perfect every time."

On the sweeter side, the kitchen turns out some of the best chocolate-chip pancakes you'll ever eat anywhere ($10).

Lakeside Chinese Deli

207 N. 9th St.

215-925-3288

Michael Solomonov is working on a record. The executive chef at Marigold Kitchen has bet his sous chef that he can eat 23 crispy taro rolls ($1.85) in an hour at his favorite Chinatown joint, Lakeside Chinese Deli. Although he hasn't made it yet, he's close.

"I've been going there as long as I've lived in Philly," said Solomonov. "It's one of those low-key spots that doesn't look like much, but it's some of the best dim sum in the city." Dim sum is served all the time, not just on the weekends, and made to order, since the place is too small for the usual rolling carts.

Lakeside has other chef admirers, including Kiong Banh from Twenty Manning and Marc Vetri from Vetri. "It's incredibly inexpensive and the quality is very consistent," said Solomonov. He recommends the spicy eggplant and wide rice noodle vegetable soup with dumplings. Dim sum runs from $1.85 to $6.50. There's also congee, an Asian rice porridge spiked with seafood, bean curd, pork or chicken.

If you haven't tried chef/owner Brenda Leung's cooking, not to worry. The place has been around for 18 years; it's not going anywhere.

Five more to try

* Tangerine chef Todd Fuller loves Standard Tap in Northern Liberties (2nd and Poplar, 215-238-0630, www.standardtap.-com).

* Tangerine chef Todd Fuller loves in Northern Liberties (2nd and Poplar, 215-238-0630, ).

* Gigi chef Luis Melendez is fondest of the Cuban and Colombian restaurant Tierra Colombiana (4535-39 Fifth St., 215-324-6086).

* Sansom Street Oyster House chef and proprietor Cary Neff appreciates the Western kitsch of Prospectors Grill (Route 38 and Ark Road, Mount Laurel, N.J., 856-235-1121, www.prospectors restaurant.com).

* Fork chef Thien Ngo slurps his favorite Asian comfort noodles in beef broth at Pho 75 (1122 Washington Ave., 215-271-5866).

* Kildare executive chef Stephanie Goldberg recommends homey Hank's Place. (Routes 1 and 100, Chadds Ford, 610-388-7061). *

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