Hangover Helper: Family Meal offers its usual, plus sophisticated takes on brunch staples

When we recently popped in to Bryan Voltaggio's Family Meal for a Sunday afternoon brunch, we were happily surprised to find it not teeming with tourists, but pleasantly busy with what appeared to be a mix of locals and visitors—with enough seats still open for us to choose from.

We opted for seats at the bar—the centerpiece of the restaurant. We were initially tempted by the Dark and Stormy boozy milkshake ($6.99) that passed by with its torched whipped cream topping, but in light of the 100-degree weather, we opted for drinks on the lighter side. Bubbly brunch cocktails like mimosas and a creative creamsicle cocktail run only $5. We went with a traditional bellini with peach nectar, prosecco, and strawberry ginger fizz, a balanced not-too-sweet combination of strawberry juice and ginger with sparkling wine.

The brunch menu includes most of the items from the regular menu that we already enjoyed on previous dinnertime visits, such as deviled eggs that sport a super-creamy yolk topped with smoked bacon and creative chicken pot pie fritters that are crunchy on the outside and creamy within. There are, however, additions of breakfast-y options as well.

Of the two omelets, we were intrigued by the one featuring the seasonal ramp pesto and mushrooms ($12.99). Pillowy eggs were wrapped around earthy sauteed mushrooms and a generous portion of bright green ramp pesto. Made with garlic, sunflower seeds, red chili flakes, lemon zest, parma, ramps, and extra-virgin olive oil, the pesto brought not only a well-rounded salty and garlic flavor to the omelet, but also a textural component that complemented the smoothness of the eggs and the softness of the mushrooms. The accompanying potatoes were served in large chunks that had been first roasted, then fried, resulting in a perfectly even dark brown crunchy exterior.

Granola hotcakes ($10.99) were buttery, soft, and thin, yet fluffy. Fruit in the rhubarb berry jam was diced into small pieces, allowing the jam to add both sweet flavor as well as some texture to the dish, in addition to that of the crunchy granola. Creme fraiche added a touch of creaminess to the stack of cakes, as well.

Anytime there's an opportunity to indulge in a bowl of cheesy grits, we're on it, and Chef Keith's version is one of the best we'’ve had in Baltimore. The extremely generous portion of the stone ground grits ($4.99) is enough to make it a shareable side. Creamy cheddar is the star of the show, but the grits themselves are more than just a vehicle for the cheese. Because of the manner in which they are milled, then pressure-cooked, each piece splits open, resulting in what looks like very tiny pieces of popcorn. This adds a slight crunch to the grits which would otherwise be purely soft from their absorption of the cheese and and other cooking ingredients. For us, this was the star of the brunch (with that ramp pesto omelet taking a close second).

Any visit to Family Meal that we've made thus far has not been complete without an order of Voltaggio's three-piece fried chicken ($12.99), and brunch was no different. Having been brined for over 12 hours, the chicken is moist on the inside and sports a crispy cornmeal-based breading. Served with a vinegary hot sauce for dipping, this is one of our favorite dishes on the Family Meal menu. Our only wish is that there was a little heavier hand with the salt in the breading. The accompanying biscuit is also cooked to perfection in a fluffier style than some of the drier versions we’ve gotten elsewhere.

With an accessible menu that range from simple classics to elevated omelets and sophisticated takes on pancakes and grits, Family Meal is putting out a brunch that was as suitable for curing a hangover as it would be for dining with visiting family, in an atmosphere that manages to be stylish yet comfortable at the same time.

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