People who love brunch complain that Palo Alto doesn't have it. The one shining light is St. Michael's Alley, proudly serving hearty and sophisticated California favorites on Saturdays and Sundays since 1993.
On regular weekends, reservations aren't accepted. You show up and wait -- up to an hour on Sundays, which has prompted some regulars to switch their allegiance to Saturday.
But for the annual brunch-oriented holidays, diners can -- and must -- make reservations. As we all know, the mother of all brunch holidays is May 11.
Easter and Mother's Day feature fixed-priced menus with mimosas, as well as seating in both the five-year-old restaurant on Homer Avenue and the 55-year-old cafe, former bakery and waiting room on Emerson Street.
Jenny Youll and Mike Sabina bought the restaurant from founder Vernon Gates 21 years ago. They bring degrees in economics, psychology and mechanical engineering to the table -- and all have proved essential.
"With three degrees, we have the basics for running a restaurant," Sabina said.
It was the usual story: Easterners come west to Palo Alto to attend Stanford University and never turn back. Buying was supposed to be a short-term project, meant to feed Youll's love of baking. Now they have two children and 37 employees, mostly long-term. The average length of service is a dozen years.
Family brunch has long been central to St. Mike's mission, starting with Youll's pancakes and evolving into lunch fare and later hours. When they expanded into the two converted condos on Homer Avenue, the plan was to add brunch when time and energy allowed. So far, they haven't. Brunch is still a weekends-only thing, served at "The Annex" on Emerson Street, with the exception of Easter and Mother's Day, when brunch is served at the Homer Avenue location, as well.
As diners will hear, children are welcome. Tables are topped with wire baskets containing condiments and crayons, as well as white butcher paper -- the better for drawing. Walls are brightened with large, food-oriented nature photographs featuring shallots, potatoes and perhaps a friendly cow. Remnants of olden days include the bar, where four people can sit, and the grandmother-evoking chandeliers.
Pastries rotate between multiple varieties of scones, morning-glory muffins, cinnamon rolls and other heavy-duty favorites from the early '70s bakery.
Generous champagne flutes ($6.75) contain soothing mimosas and Cape Codders (cranberry juice and champagne). Brunch being a convivial meal, these beverages also come in carafes ($32). The same goes for fresh orange and grapefruit juices ($3.75 a glass; $15 a carafe).
Many restaurants put out pancakes and waffles, or a fussy little menu, and call it brunch. And then they charge extra for real maple syrup. Not St. Michael's.
Enjoy that syrup on French toast made with soft bread, Belgian waffles, or four varieties of buttermilk pancakes. All run $11.
There's an egg dish to please every taste, from two eggs any style ($13 with pancakes, bacon and potatoes) to a ham-and-grilled-pineapple omelet ($16) to smoked salmon eggs Benedict ($18).
Accompanying herbed Yukon gold potato wedges are perfection: crunchy on all sides, creamy and buttery inside.
The St. Mike's omelet ($15) maintains the correct ratio of egg to insides: With each bite you get some egg (not too puffy), crispy bacon, sautéed mushrooms, melted cheddar and cream cheese. The omelet comes with a small square baking-powder biscuit.
Chilaquiles ($16) especially pleased my spice-averse companion. Strips of fresh corn tortillas were draped in scrambled eggs and ham, enlivened but not overcome by green chilies, feta cheese and tomatoes. Accompaniments come in the form of creamy avocado slices, black beans, salsa, sour cream and those great potatoes.
Brunch is a challenge for vegans, but vegetarians can run wild and gluten-free items are highlighted.
The Annex seats 50 people inside, 10 or so outside. At non-brunch times it is used a lot for private parties, from company events to 70th birthday celebrations. Mike Sabina sums it up: "Most of our customers are regulars."
The Annex at St. Michael's Alley
Lunch & Dinner: 140 Homer Ave.
Saturday & Sunday Brunch: 806 Emerson St.
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday: 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Brunch: Saturday-Sunday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: beer and wine
Outdoor dining: yes
Party and banquet facilities: yes
Noise level: medium-high
Restroom cleanliness: good