Dinner guest Ai Lingxi test drives the bistro that took the “P” out of Pancho’s

Originally appeared in Hey! Hey! Buffet! 7, Fall 1996

My first Ancho’s brunch was during this year’s Summer Songwriter Series at the Omni Hotel. I sampled Ancho’s overpriced, yet abbreviated, Saturday morning fare. The most memorable part was the loud squeal the sausage patty made when I cut it in half. Well, actually, that was me squealing as I saw that the patty’s insides were still flesh-colored. When I showed the waiter, he assured me that my eyes were deceiving me.

On that same occasion, I ordered a ginger ale. An hour and a half later, when I had been to the bank and returned to my table where some companions were still seated, the ginger ale had never materialized.

With that as prequel, I experienced some angst as I sat down to Ancho’s Sunday brunch. However, I had come equipped with a large syringe of Salmonella antitoxin (to be injected straight into the heart, as with Nick Cage in The Rock) and, inspired by the courage of the Buffet Stuntman, I sat down to be buffeted.

Ancho’s Sunday best is a much better value than Saturday’s grub. For $9.95, one can choose from ample spreads at four separate tables. The gourmet bargain came at the cost of skimping on some important details, however.

Good coffee is essential for a brunch buffet, but I've had better joe at Circle K. The orange juice (included in the prix fixe) was a sour, low-grade concentrate brand. I would have preferred a single glass of fresh juice (and a choice of juices, while you’re at it) rather than a bottomless glass of the commercial stuff. In other words, Ancho’s was found guilty in the o.j. trial.

Service remains spotty at Ancho’s. The coffee was late in coming — I had already consumed a plate of food by the time it arrived and I twice declined juice but was served it anyway. Another couple was allowed to take the table my hostess had shown me to until I pointed out I no longer had a place to sit. I also felt rushed out of the restaurant despite plenty of empty tables. Handsomely mulleted staff were all too eager to bus away my plate before I finished eating.

This is somewhat ameliorated by the arias (such as “O Sole Mìo”) delivered by Ancho’s singing waitstaff, who circulate among the tables serenading the hung over brunch crowd. Nice, but it would go down better with good Italian espresso.

Ancho’s variety is impressive. One table offers eggs benedict and blintzes along with bacon and (still too rare) sausage. The syringe stayed handy. At the facing table, a friendly chef prepares omelets, pancakes, and waffles that are the high point of the Ancho’s experience.

Around the corner is a pair of tables, one offering soup and salads (and more eggs), the other with a bounty of fruit and hors d’oeuvres. Salad items were fresh and crisp and there was no skimping on the fruit. The mango halves were excellent.

Yet again, little details indicated that this was cut-rate gourmet fare. The eggs in eggs benedict were a little overcooked, the English muffins underdone. The shrimp perched atop artichoke hearts in the hors d’oeuvre tray was, well, what you expect when you’re 200 miles from the Gulf, and the artichokes seemed canned (even though they are in season).

I’d suggest to Ancho’s that they provide menus for proper food identification. I overheard an endless stream of Bubbas ask, "What’s that?" over the blintzes and eggs benedict, and I myself was unable to identify the exact cut of beef being served. My waiter thought it might be London broil, and promised to find out for sure. Of course he never did. An air of bustling, blooming confusion pervaded the restaurant.

Ancho’s offers reasonable value and variety for under $10. Compared to alternatives like Trudy’s North Star, however, Ancho’s misses the mark on panache.

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