The steaks at Hendel’s may wake you up to a new brunch favorite

Across the street from Sacred Heart church in Old Town Florissant stands Hendel’s Market Café and Wine Bar. Rich in history and firmly rooted in the neighborhood, it was originally a grocery store that dated to 1873 (a friend of mine remembers going to Hendel’s after school to buy candy). It opened as a restaurant in 1994.

A perennial favorite, Hendel’s serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Sundays starting at 9 a.m., with a selection of salads and sandwiches after 10:30 a.m. A brick walkway leads to the historic building, where you’ll find a cozy bar, a courteous staff and a pleasant atmosphere. A screened dining porch stretches along one side.

My first visit was on a cold December afternoon, but it was instantly warmed by the welcoming staff. The dining room was bright and inviting with sage-colored walls, large windows, hardwood floors and white-clothed tables and booths. Light jazz played soothingly in the background.

So I was anxious to return in the spring to enjoy brunch in the courtyard, an enclave tucked behind the brick building that, with its ivy-covered trees, gurgling fountain, wrought-iron gates and lampposts, feels a little like New Orleans.

While the brunch menu isn’t extensive, it covers the bases. Omelets are made with three large farm-fresh eggs, but the combinations are limited: ham, sausage or bacon with cheese, or the Southwest. I opted for the Southwest ($6.25), which featured chicken, veggies, sour cream and salsa. It was a large omelet, fluffy and folded in half. The flavor of the eggs came through, but I was disappointed with the veggies. The onion and red pepper were fresh and the grilled chicken was tasty, but the tomatoes tasted canned.

The eggs Benedict ($6.50) was fine. While the yolk of the poached egg was too hard (I like the yolks runny ? if I were worried about salmonella, I would order something else!), the English muffins were grilled and the extremely yellow hollandaise was house-made. Hash browns – actually roasted potatoes – were served on the side, but were a bit cold on one visit.

Biscuits and gravy ($5.50) were the best I’ve had in a while. Served very hot, the biscuits were golden brown and light in the middle, and the mild gravy – not too much sage or pepper – had bits of onion and chunks of sausage. It totally hit the spot. For french toast fans, Hendel’s serves a substantial six slices topped with pecans, raisins and powdered sugar ($5.75).

I’ve never understood the allure of steak and eggs. The thought of a slab of beef in the morning isn’t one that appeals to me. Besides, the steak I’ve seen offered at countless establishments often looks dry and tough. Add to that what seems to be an odd pairing with eggs, and I’m befuddled. But Hendel’s is renowned for its steaks; all its beef is U.S. Department of Agriculture choice and aged at least 21 days. When my friend ordered it, I took a bite (for the sake of this column), and then another with the eggs. It was a revelation. The 6-ounce, char-grilled sirloin was juicy and tender, and the mellow flavor of the scrambled eggs (I asked for them over-easy on my next visit, when I ordered my own steak and eggs) stood out against the well-seasoned sirloin. It’s served with perfectly toasted wheat, sourdough or rye (four slices, skewered on a toothpick) and hash browns for $7.50. Needless to say, I now understand steak and eggs.

Although I didn’t order wine with brunch, the mimosas are a deal for $2.25. The orange juice isn’t fresh-squeezed, but I wouldn’t expect that for the price. Kaldi’s coffee is served along with some espresso drinks and a selection of teas.

The friendly service is laid-back but polished and professional, although on one visit, the outside staff wasn’t as attentive, leaving our water and coffee unfilled.

If you’re already a believer in steak and eggs, or if you need to be convinced, Hendel’s is the place to do it.