It’s been a cold, gray winter here in St. Louis. But we recently ate brunch sitting in wicker chairs under palm trees. Waikiki? San Diego? Nope. Washington Avenue. The Capri restaurant at the Renaissance Grand, to be precise. Despite the palm trees, this is a very casual spot. Weekend hotel guests aren’t interested in dressing up, and neither are folks having a bite before going to a function across the street at America’s Center or the Jones Dome.
On Sunday, however, a buffet brunch joins the regular a la carte breakfast menu, though we were disappointed that the restaurant has eliminated its heavenly lemon souffle pancakes. Darn it. The buffet is in a side room, invisible from the host’s station, and the seating is in two large areas, along with several, slightly more private niches off to one side or another.
The price of $16.95 for an adult brunch includes all non-alcoholic beverages. Large thermal carafes of reasonably good coffee are on each table of coffee drinkers, and the half-and-half is in a small pitcher, rather than little plastic cups, an extremely pleasant and civilized touch. The buffet fare is relatively straightforward, no chafing dishes whose contents make diners ask, "What is that?" upon lifting the lid. Nevertheless, every dish is labeled, just in case. Yes, the scrambled eggs are unremarkable, but the fat link sausages remain moist, and the bacon–oh, goodness, the bacon! Thick slices of high-quality meat are cooked to crisp, greaseless perfection. And somehow they stay crisp in the covered chafing dish. Quartered red potatoes, described as "breakfast potatoes," look unexciting, but are buttery-onionesque-peppery.
Yes, there’s an omelet station, with plenty of potential combinations. But less expected is a crepe station, with light, paper-thin crepes cooked to order and served with either sweet or savory fillings. We tried one filled with lemon curd and topped with fresh strawberries. (In an orgy of self-control, we skipped the whipped cream.) In contrast to pancakes, crepes should be slightly chewy, and that contrast to the creamy lemon curd was just the thing. An eminently satisfactory dish for lemon lovers. Yes, there are pancakes, too, just fine despite their stay in a chafing dish, except for a few abrasions from the serving tongs. Great idea: Syrup in a warming urn.
All this, plus fresh fruit, is along a single serving line. Across the room, a set of cabinets hold more, like refrigerators with single servings of beverages and yogurts. Grits on a buffet line? Not common, but here they are. And real oatmeal, not the instant stuff, with lots of toppings, including dried blueberries.
For those who have suffered through weekends of stale pastry, there’s extremely good news. The small Danish pastries, cinnamon rolls and a streusel-topped coffee cake all are so fresh they must have been made the same morning we ate them. Hard to avoid making a meal solely of them.
Not quite an amuse-bouche but reminiscent of one, about 15 minutes after we sat down, our waiter came by with small glasses of an orange-mango smoothie that he was offering all the tables. That’s a lovely touch.
All in all, a good spot for the basics, lots of room for larger groups, and care taken with details.
Renaissance Grand Suites & Hotel
800 Washington Ave.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Good
Brunch buffet: $16.95