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[Photographs: Chelsea Ross]

Brunch is innately decadent, so eating it in a buffet format is basically hurling gasoline on a bonfire. But oh the irresistible pleasures of a belt-shattering brunch buffet. When it comes to brunch buffets, there's a fine line between dignified and hungover-in-Vegas—a line that Howells & Hood tactfully toes. The unlimited Sunday brunch buffet ($29 per person) feels less like a tacky cruise ship spread and more like a thoughtfully curated brunch menu that just so happens to be strewn before you in eye-bulging amounts.

As with most buffets, the array at Howells & Hood is overwhelming and slightly disorienting. Walking in hungry is about as dangerous as yodeling in avalanche territory. A chef is posted at an omelette station, trained with ninja-like precision to execute perfectly cooked omelettes on a whim, working with enough ingredients to supply the kitchen on Chopped. A pulled pork-artichoke-cheddar omelette works particularly well, like an entire picnic folded between eggs. Most items are not cooked à la minute, though.

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Peruse the various chafing dishes for everything from eggs and bacon to more surprising brunch options such as lamb stew and pasta. For items like fried chicken and eggs Benedict, buffets are usually integrity-sucking Purgatory, but the versions here fare surprisingly well. Fried chicken is as crackly and crisp as if fresh out of the deep-fryer. Though the adjoining waffles are a tad gummy, it's nothing a ladle full of warm maple syrup can't fix. Lobster eggs Benedict is another standout, stacked with plump morsels of briny lobster juxtaposed against earthy arugula. The truffle hollandaise gets absorbed into the egg and English muffin as it sits, losing its lustrous charm, but the flavor is still robust.

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The prettiest spread at Howells & Hood is the dessert display, elegantly arranged as if for a bridal tasting. Fortunately for me, I didn't have a wedding dress to squeeze into, so I was free to binge at will. Items are pretty commonplace, but the restaurant throws in a twist here and there, such as filling eclairs with spicy chai pastry cream, glazing macaroons with key lime curd, and infusing cheesecake with port wine reduction. Some of the most aesthetic selections are the dainty lemon meringue and berry custard parfaits. Finishing on such a sweet, aristocratic note makes you forget about the debilitating food spree that preceded it.

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It's not every day I crave a buffet, mostly because I want to continue living. But when I do, it helps to have a place like Howells & Hood gussying up the ritual.

Howells & Hood

435 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago IL 60611 (map)
312-262-5310
howellsandhood.com

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