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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE
| Sunday Brunch

A Family Buffet That Is All You Can Want

September 17, 2000|KEITH THURSBY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

I never really appreciated the value of a buffet until I had kids.

Those all-you-can-eat menus always reminded me of a bad weekend in Vegas or a 1970s night with the relatives at a suburban smorgasbord. Half the items were unappealing, unrecognizable or both.

But buffets are made for kids. Our two can pick what they want (as long as they eat it) and come and go when they want. As long as you're not bothered by strange food combinations, it's as close to a morning off as parents can get.

We tested this theory on a recent sunny Sunday morning at the Back Bay Cafe, part of the Newport Dunes Resort in Newport Beach.

This is not a restaurant you stumble upon--you have to meander through the Dunes' gated parking lot, past boats and motor homes, to reach it.

Despite that somewhat secretive locale, the cafe was bulging with customers. The first line of the day was beginning to form even before most restaurants had started their brunches.

It's not hard to figure out why. Sitting on the patio gives patrons a close view of the comings and goings of crafts big and small. This is not New York Harbor. Even at its busiest, a Sunday on the waterfront is still a quiet pleasure.

The restaurant is a perfect spot for campers at the Dunes who want a morning off camp cooking or boaters needing breakfast before setting off to explore. For us, Newport Dunes feels like a lot of Orange County used to feel--quiet, a little hard to reach, a little off the main road. A secret just the locals know about and appreciate.

The restaurant has a full breakfast menu, but our party kept to the buffet set up inside. There are a few tables inside too, in case you're tired of the view or if the heat of the day is a bit much.

The buffet is a standard mix of salads, fruits, breads and potatoes with some healthier touches. An omelet and eggs cooked-to-order station has just been added.

A separate bowl of marinated artichokes helped spice up an otherwise run-of-the mill pasta salad, and both my sons enjoyed what seemed to me larger than life-sized muffins. By nature a more conservative eater, I stayed with plain croissants, which were fresher than I expected. And not so large that their mere presence on my plate would attract attention.

The choices are plentiful, if on the unimaginative side, and given the price ($9.95 for adults, $6.95 for children), the food is perfectly reasonable. When we visited, there were certainly enough choices on the buffet for most folks.

Next time, at least one in our party will order from the regular menu and try the eggs Benedict. Mouth-watering plates kept passing by.

My wife could have stayed quite a while, just with a crunchy bowl of granola and cup of coffee, watching the water traffic come and go.

Which brings up another benefit of this buffet: no need to wait for everyone to finish.

We can't seem to get that right at most meals. The adults might be done at the same time, but our two kids are often eating on different time zones.

This day, it was our 7-year-old's turn to stop first. But for once, that didn't set the rest of the family on a sprint to catch up with him before some parenting nightmare occurred.

He simply walked a few steps below patio level to a waterfront walkway to get a closer view of the boat traffic.

He was fascinated, perfectly safe and completely in our view. And that last sip of coffee tasted great.

* Back Bay Cafe, 1131 Backbay Drive, Newport Beach. (949) 729-1144. Sunday breakfast served 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Buffet served from 7 a.m. to noon. $9.95 for adults; $6.95 for children.

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