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Brunch in the Alps

Take a ride out to Richmond and discover the wonders of old-fashioned Swiss cooking

Karl Camenzind, the kindly chef and owner of Karl's at the Riverbend, presided over his extensive Sunday brunch buffet from a spot between the chafing dishes and the made-to-order omelette and waffle station. On the wall just behind him were three framed prints of snowy white Alps. The hokey artwork reminds you that Karl, resplendent in his snowy white chef's jacket and white hair, is from Switzerland.

And that's how Chef Karl gets away with serving dated European food. Like his blast-from-the-past salmon Florentine with spinach and white sauce and his déjà vu strawberries with Bavarian pastry cream, the white-haired chef is an old-world relic.

"It tastes old-fashioned, but I like it," a picky dining companion said after our first trip through the buffet line. We started with the salads, which were lined up in homey mismatched bowls. The standouts were the slightly crunchy asparagus spears with a tart vinaigrette, the cucumber and dill in sour cream, the pickled mushrooms and the chunky potato-and-venison salad, with tiny pieces of meat.

When it comes to wild game cooking, Karl 
Camenzind's place really shines.
Troy Fields
When it comes to wild game cooking, Karl Camenzind's place really shines.

Location Info

Map

Karl's at the Riverbend

5011 FM 723
Richmond, TX 77469

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Richmond/Rosenberg

Details

Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

Sunday brunch: $15.95
Wild game mixed grill: $27.95
Prime rib: $28.95
Quail and shrimp: $18.95
Salmon Florentine: $22.95

5011 FM 723, Richmond, Texas 281-238-9300.

On my second trip through the line, I got one egg Benedict with excellent freshly made hollandaise and a ladle full of venison stew, which I spooned over some large slices of home-fried potatoes. It was one of the best venison stews I've eaten lately, full of tender meat chunks in a shiny, viscous wine reduction sauce studded with small peppercorns.

A sign outside Karl's declares it an American and Continental restaurant. "Continental cuisine" is an American term coined at mid-century to describe faux European food. It recalls elaborate conglomerations like veal Oscar, lobster Newburg and cherries jubilee. Upscale Houston restaurants such as Tony's only recently stopped using the term to describe their menus, so it seems a little early for a retro movement. But that's not really what's on the menu here anyway.

What Karl is serving might be called The Sound of Music cuisine -- cozy comfort foods like warm apple strudel and schnitzel with noodles, and all the rest of the gravy-covered mitteleuropäische grub that Germanic Texans crave in cold weather. Sure, the brunch buffet line is sprinkled here and there with such Gulf Coast classics as crawfish étouffée and bread pudding, but for the most part the food reflects Karl's Swiss sensibilities. And you can tell by the red flag with the white cross flying outside that Karl is fond of his fatherland.

That might also explain why the restaurant looks like it was decorated by Heidi's grandmother. With three working fireplaces, lots of dark wood furniture and floral print wallpaper, the place oozes a gooey gemütlichkeit. The glass-fronted display cabinet in the main entryway is stuffed with a collection of ornate beer steins and ceramic birds. Hanging wall clocks, paintings of peasants in the vineyards and every other bit of Alpine kitsch you can imagine adorns one niche or another. It makes you want to throw back your head and yodel.

On my third trip through the buffet line, I sampled a thin slice of rare roast beef. Karl carves off a piece of the enormous inside round roast only when it's requested, so each piece remains juicy, and it can be as rare or as well done as you want it. I also helped myself to a little bit of crawfish étouffée, which was way too rich considering all the other food I had just eaten.

I took a short break after that third course and ordered some coffee, which I drank while reading the Sunday paper and looking out the window at the blue sky and leafless trees of a sunny January afternoon. Our table on the glassed-in patio had a view of a horse farm on the other side of a drainage ditch. I realized that the ditch must be the "river bend."

"It's actually called Jones Creek," the waitress told me.

Having recovered my appetite, I made a fourth trip through the line to try some desserts. My top choice was a boozy English trifle, which is pudding with cake, strawberries, whipped cream and some kind of brandy mixed up in it. I also sampled three kinds of mousse: amaretto, white chocolate and dark chocolate; I liked the dark chocolate best. Adding the apple strudel was really just an excuse to spoon a lot of Bavarian cream on my plate, but the strudel, with lots of raisins and nuts, was better than expected. The bread pudding was just average. But as one of my companions observed, bread pudding always tastes like French toast that didn't get cooked through anyway.

We were all delighted with what turned out to be a splendid, old-fashioned Sunday brunch. And the ambience was quite amusing in an Alpine theme park sort of way. The price tag was also a pleasant shock. Sixteen dollars is a bargain for this spread. And if you want to limit yourself to salads only, or two entrées, two vegetables and dessert, the price drops to $11.

Karl and Susie Camenzind put their restaurant here in the sparsely populated grasslands of Richmond for "romantic dining in the country," according to their Web site (www.karlsrb.com). And their ploy worked marvelously for me, since it was one of those perfect days for a drive. I only wish I had a big shiny motorcycle, like so many of the other Sunday drivers we saw out on the road.

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