SARATOGA SPRINGS — Gorgeous summer weather, the beautiful park-like setting of Saratoga Spa State Park and an abundance of enticing food make Sunday brunch at Putnam’s Restaurant at the Gideon Putnam Hotel a very agreeable affair.
Enter through the elegant main lobby and head left to Putnam’s Restaurant and Bar, a swank but casual venue suitable for such a graceful, historic resort hotel. It’s light-filled and roomy, with original 1930s-era hand-painted murals and windows overlooking the brick patio and well-tended grounds. In good weather, you can continue outdoors and dine surrounded by colorful containers and beds of flowers.
Some folks were in expensive-looking, sleek exercise clothing. Most were well-dressed, and my Coach handbag was having a serious inferiority complex. We dressed up a bit; you may want to as well.
The metal chairs are capacious and comfortable, and scoot easily up to the round tables shaded by striped market umbrellas. The patio was about half full that Sunday, with steady business. A server took coffee and tea orders and gave directions to the buffet. It’s $27.95 per person, for all you can eat. Help yourself — and prepare to be overwhelmed.
Brunch is staged in an intermediate porch between indoors and out. Polished chafing dishes and stainless vessels gleam on spotless white linen tablecloths wherever you look. Grab a white plate. Put simply, breakfast is to the right, lunch to the left, with salads and cold foods in between and a smiling, toque-wearing chef standing at attention, ready to make eggs to order. Then, the hard part: choosing.
I made several loops around the place, opening each covered dish while husband Eric headed right for the eggs Benedict and croissants. I started with scrambled eggs cooked dry, and bacon and sausage, and scooped up some rainbow-colored roasted potatoes, then sampled cold meats, some roasted beef and soon my plate was full. We headed to our table, where Eric’s hot coffee and my tea in a dribbly pot awaited.
The bacon is excellent, smoky and crisp, the sausage soft and lightly seasoned. Their gorgeous fruit salad has berries, something I’ve seen disappear from other hotel buffets. My favorite was the black-peppered thick-sliced roasted beef, impossibly tender and lightly sauced. Eric said the croissant was “not flaky, but a treat,” and he loved the perfectly poached egg and fresh Hollandaise sauce, and a small piece of poached salmon in cream sauce with dill.
We passed on pancakes, crepes, French toast, roasted curried pork, lovely cold salads, Asian noodle dishes and loads more. You can just eat so much.
We went there hungry, but slowed down for the second round. Putnam’s gets points for great bagels and a toaster that actually works. I picked up a flaky cheese danish and half an asiago bagel that I toasted, then smeared thickly with butter that came in cute little balls.
When it was time to add dessert, I headed to a large display shelf holding pumpkin, apple and cherry pies, carrot cake and chocolate cake, tiny cheesecakes in paper wrappers, cream puffs and lovely hand-crafted chocolates. I took a bit of cherry pie, a mini cheesecake and a few chocolates.
One downside of buffets is other people, and the chocolate cream-filled cake was cut to pieces and collapsed. The pies, with their thick flaky crusts, had crumbled apart, so I just scooped out some cherry filling and crust with the pie server. It was all I needed to learn that both were delicious. The graham cracker crust for the small cheesecake fell to dust, and its fruit-flavored cake lacked density. Eric swooned over the cream puffs and relieved me of my chocolates.
Putnam’s Sunday brunch gets two thumbs up from us. We’ve paid more for less generous hotel buffets, and theirs gets credit for tidiness and constant topping off. It’s organized and spotless, with plenty of nice, well-trained staff.
We recommend it, and also a long walk after. You’ll need it.
Putnam’s Restaurant and Bar
WHERE: Gideon Putnam Hotel, 24 Gideon Putnam Road in the Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, 226-4719, gideonputnam.com
WHEN: 7 to 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, brunch until 2 p.m.; late-night menu during summer season
HOW MUCH: $59.81 for two for brunch, before tip
MORE INFO: ADA-compliant. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Reservations accepted. Large parking lot. Buffet half price for children.