"It’s not a brunch. It’s a breakfast buffet."
That’s Bob Menendez, veteran St. Louis restaurateur and long-time owner of Sunset 44, but whose roots go back to the Circus Tent (Hampton Avenue? Fried chicken? Old-timers know.), talking about Sunday mornings at his place. And sure enough, there’s mostly morning food in the chafing dishes set out in the bar area. We think that’s a fine philosophy; we prefer the breakfast-esque to the lunch-y when it’s late on a weekend morning.
Sunset 44 is a refuge from the raucous. Lots of multi-generational groups catch up on things, the occasional birthday present crosses a table, a young diner is introduced to the pleasures of chocolate mousse. Excellent coffee is offered constantly, and plates are removed with alacrity.
The food is fairly simple. Scrambled eggs, with cheese and a little green onion, or plain, kicked things off. Fat link sausages pleased, the thick-cut bacon was of high quality, the ham sweet and tender, the potatoes adequate if not distinguished. Good sausage gravy steamed happily as it waited for first-rate homemade biscuits. Belgian waffles can be topped with strawberries or other fruit, fresh or dried, and whipped cream sat like a temptress at the end of the line. The waffles, by the way, were a better choice than the French toast. Eggs benedict were seated on triangles of toasted white bread, a variation we haven’t seen before. But it certainly beats some of the English muffins we’ve come across; the toast stayed tender and easy to cut and eat.
A few lunch-type choices also were available, like some well-seasoned meatballs, moist and tender; Buffalo-style chicken wings with a moderate kick of heat, baked and soft rather than fried and crisp; and the ubiquitous pasta.
Most of the bar top was devoted to sweets, but also held a spinach-and-bacon quiche, and a pasta salad. A minor quibble accompanied the quiche, which we thought would have tasted better if it had been warm.
Carbophiles and those with a sweet tooth need to show up hungry. The kitchen makes all its own desserts, and the result is a pleasure. For example, this is the first brunch in ages where we’ve seen gooey butter cake (enthusiastic cheers from a visiting former St. Louisan at our table), cut in small squares, as are many of the choices. The sizes are an excellent idea, making it possible to sample a half-dozen or so different pastries or cookies that combine into a serving not much larger than the slice of coffee cake or mammoth sweet roll served these days at many coffee houses. And if one stands out, it’s a cinch to return to the bar and pick up more.
We also were more than happy with the Boston cream pie, an old American dessert that seems to be making something of a comeback around the country. A layer of sponge cake is split, filled with vanilla custard and topped with a thin layer of chocolate icing. Sunset 44's is real Mom-food, soft and tender and comforting, and fresh-fresh-fresh. In fact, fresh is the uniting theme for all the desserts we tried. Little individual pastries, several kinds of yeast-based coffee cakes, the gooey butter cake, custard in neat cups, all tasted as if they’d been prepared in the wee hours of that morning. Our single quibble with the desserts was that the chocolate items like the mousse and the icing atop the Boston cream pie were more of milk-chocolate strength than the darker stuff we happen to prefer. If you need some help rationalizing all these goodies, Menendez reports that he uses only organic flour. If more rationalization is needed, there’s a selection of fresh fruit, too.
Not a giant buffet, but an excellent value, and the brun – oops, make that breakfast buffet – includes coffee. Hours are 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
144 W. Adams Ave., Kirkwood
Breakfast Sun, Lunch Tues-Fri., Dinner nightly
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Good
Entrees: $15 (breakfast buffet)
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