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January 8, 2014

Napa River Grill’s Sunday brunch is eggs-actly delicious

Today, let us consider the incredible egg: a gift of nature that’s supremely edible when we handle it right, but when it’s raw or overcooked, not so much.

You see, eggs coagulate, a process the American Egg Board explains as “the denaturation of protein, which is when proteins lose their native, water-soluble structure and become insoluble. ... The change of state — from liquid to solid or semi-solid, known as coagulation or gelation — results when the egg protein structure is altered from its native form by whipping or heating, or both.”

Yeah, right, OK, so what? Well, as it happens, this process can be both a blessing and a curse for those who love eggs and the chefs who cook them.

Before our eggs are coagulated via scrambling, frying, poaching, hard- or soft-boiling, baking into a cake or whatever, your basic henfruit is a nasty, unappetizing thing, a viscous yolk ball floating in a slippery-slimy white. Remember the famous scene in the first “Rocky” movie, when Rocky Balboa started a tough day of training by gulping down a dozen raw Grade A’s? Almost 38 years later, I can still vividly remember the sounds of gagging that spread through the theater.

No, make mine cooked, please. Or coagulated.

On the other hand, egg coagulation at the far end of the process isn’t appetizing, either, and that poses a real challenge in the quest for breakfast perfection. How many times have you gone pillaging down the line at a brunch buffet, happily loading your plate with bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy and all manner of brunchy goodness, only to haul up short at a mass of cold, stiff scrambled eggs that have, well, congealed? This is not a pretty sight.

Even with this concern, scrambled eggs, or boring hard-boiled, are perhaps the only form that can hold up to buffet service at all, and they require constant attention. Sure, many finer buffets will assign a chef to stand on the line and make omelets to order, which is fancy but labor-intensive.

But now I’m smitten by the innovative egg idea that launched a couple months ago with the indulgent new brunch buffet at Napa River Grill.

You pay your money — $17.95 for adults for as many trips as you care to take down the buffet line with its shiny silver chafer pans — and then you make your choice — ordering from a half-dozen options on the Egg Menu, which will be fashioned to your order in the kitchen for no additional charge.

It’s a great compromise, one that General Manager Ned Anderson says he borrowed from the old, lamented Azalea, allowing you to chow down on buffet-line goodies while you wait for your eggs to come out, piping hot and au point. You’ve got a choice of eggs Benedict with bacon or country ham; eggs poached, fried or scrambled; or a build-your-own omelet with your choice among a dozen fillings, sort of like choosing toppings for a pizza. A tender omelet stuffed with herbed goat cheese and a perfectly fashioned poached egg were both fine.

The buffet is thoughtfully set up, uses Kentucky Proud meats and produce when available, and, with very few exceptions (a limp pancake failed to satisfy), is well-curated, pans kept fresh and hot. From coarse-grained, creamy grits and crisp-crusted, flaky biscuits right on through fresh fruit and healthy veggies, salads, ham, bacon, sausage and an array of desserts, just about everything hit the spot, and I didn’t hear anyone complaining about having your choice of bloody marys, mimosas and more throughout the brunch period.

With fresh, strong coffee and hot tea from a classy selection of tea leaves, our lavish brunch for two came to $44.16; and attentive, courteous service earned a 20 percent tip.

 

NIBBLES

What do you most hope for in local dining in ’14? Go!

After offering a few opinions of my own about food trends for the New Year in last week’s column, I thought it might be fun to invite my foodie pals to check in with their hopes and dreams for the local food scene. Here are some of the top replies from the LouisvilleHotBytes forum and my Facebook friends.

• Nashville-style hot fried chicken, as in the iconic Hattie B’s

• Authentic Puerto Rican food. Bring the Mofongo!

• New Asian treats from our growing Burmese and Bhutanese communities

• A good street-food falafel joint, and maybe a halal meat cart, too, like the Halal Guys at 53rd and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan

• And speaking of Gotham, how about a great noodle/ramen place like Momofuku Noodle?

• More local indies in J-town and Fern Creek. More local indies in the far East End. And keep that Germantown boom going.

• Real New York City bagels! Real Greek food! A top-flight cheese shop and charcuterie, a cheap Japanese noodle and rice bowl shop, a HurryCurry food truck and the return of Maido!

• Even more great breakfast options, and some 24-hour diners

• More creative veggie side dishes like the guys at Club Grotto used to do

• A solid, year-round local downtown greenmarket (Hey, didn’t we just tear down the historic Haymarket?).