There's something so civilized about brunch. There's none of that up-with-the-sunrise frenzy or McAnything in the carpool lane, just a group of friends, a leisurely morning and some really wonderful food -- eggs benedict, flaky biscuits and decadent French toast.

Here's a trio of brunch spots that do it right. Deliciously so.

Aunt Mary's Cafe

Address: 4307 Telegraph Ave., Oakland.

Contact: 510-601-9227; www.auntmaryscafe.com

Brunch Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.

Brunch Tab: $42.50 for two.

This Temescal eatery is named after co-owner Jack Stewart's Aunt Mary, a Southern cook with a vivacious spirit. After brunching here on several occasions before braving the nearby farmers market, we are certain that Aunt Mary not only had a way with sweet potato hash and pain perdu, she was beyond hospitable.

I've met families at Aunt Mary's Cafe who have finished their meals and paid their bills but linger in the waiting area, where complimentary coffee flows and toys and books keep their toddlers busy.

The Pain Perdue ($13), a Food Network favorite, is baked to order and devilishly delicious. The Cajun-style French toast is made with baguettes soaked in a whiskey-laced custard and topped with a compote made of white wine and dried fruit. Is there anything left to say? Oh, it takes 20 minutes to prepare, so be patient. It's worth the wait.


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My favorite dish on our most recent visit was the Fall Sweet Potato Hash with Braised Pork Belly and two eggs any style ($14). It's a bit more than I like to spend on a morning dish, but, it's not every day someone gets up early to braise pork belly in molasses for me and serve it on a bed of roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, fennel, mushrooms and leeks. It's filling without being overindulgent.

I wanted to love the Fried Grits with Frizzled Ham, Red Eye Gravy and two eggs any style ($13). It's such a gorgeous dish, but the juice from the sauteed Swiss chard made every bite of the layered dish taste bitter, even the sweet, thinly sliced ham and savory fried cheddar grits cakes. Ironically, the Swiss chard tasted only mildly bitter and only on the finish. The accompanying salad of roasted beets, carrots, and Brussels sprouts was really satisfying and delightfully crunchy.

Aunt Mary's usually features six brunch specials, and the breakfast menu is full of Southern-style eggs, griddled waffle specialties and buttermilk biscuits. The restaurant use Giusto's organic flour and cornmeal and Clover cage-free eggs and milk products. We're sure you'll make it a regular spot.

-- J. Yadegaran

The Duck Club

Address: 3287 Mt. Diablo Blvd. at the Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa in Lafayette

Contact: 877-283-8787, www.lafayetteparkhotel.com/restaurants

Brunch Hours: 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sundays

Brunch tab: $62.79 for two

The Duck Club's Sunday brunch is a meal made for special occasions.

The signature restaurant at the Lafayette Park Hotel bills itself as being "reminiscent of an 18th-century European hunting club," but the traditional space with contemporary details is more tony than taxidermy. (And most hunting clubs in the 1700s didn't offer valet parking.)

Champagne? Check. Expert service? Check. Modern plating? Check. Top-quality, seasonal ingredients? Check. The tab? See the check.

For $29 a person ($15 a child), diners get coffee or orange juice, Champagne, a choice of one of about a dozen entrees, and unlimited walks -- by the end of the meal, waddles -- to buffet tables filled with antipasto, fresh fruit, a seafood appetizer and an impressive array of specialty cheeses. Take care not to stuff yourself before the entree arrives.

The main course choices change each week. The list often includes such brunch staples as California Eggs Benedict and huevos rancheros, and on a recent visit featured grilled swordfish with coconut jasmine rice, collard and Swiss chard and lobster glacé. Yes, some of the delectable mouthfuls are a mouthful.

For dessert, guests are invited to head back to the buffet tables once, twice or as many times as stomachs allow for sweet and sugary confections that might include individually wrapped cheesecakes and fruit-topped pastries.

Though traditional on the floor, things have been changing in the kitchen. Executive chef Adam Carpenter took over about three months ago, bringing with him a focus on local, sustainable ingredients and recipes that reflect them, including a brunch standout: pork belly with scallion potato hash, maple port jus and frisee salad with poached egg.

With this being the holiday season, keep the Duck Club in mind for your special occasions -- like when you need a stellar start to a Sunday and a big brunch done right.

-- T. O'Rourke

Nonni's Bistro

Address: 425 Main St., Pleasanton

Contact: 925-600-0411, www.nonnisbistro.net

Brunch Hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends

Brunch Tab: $39.20

Icelandic chef Jon Magnusson's cozy little spot on Pleasanton's main drag has wooed a delighted dinner crowd ever since it opened in 2010, thanks in part to his signature ice-smoked salmon, made in a smoker behind the restaurant every night. (The smoke travels through layers of ice before it reaches the succulent fish, hence the "ice-smoked" description. Think of it as the most luxurious gravlax you've ever tasted.)

So when we spotted it on the brunch menu, as part of a new wave Scandinavian Eggs Benedict ($13.95), we had to have it. Poached eggs nestle on a bed of braised spinach and onions and slices of salmon atop thick bakery crumpets. The whole affair is topped with lighter-than-air lemony Hollandaise for a dish that tastes practically ethereal, despite what you know must be beaucoup calories.

They do more traditional Benedicts, too, a classic Canadian bacon and a vegetarian version with veggies from the farmers market ($13.95), but I can't imagine straying from something as divine as that salmon.

Nonni's offers a nice array of other brunch dishes, from cheese blintzes ($12.95) to omelets, pancakes, Huevos Rancheros with eggs and chorizo ($14.95) and a vegetarian Huevos Ranchera ($13.95). We were wildly curious about the charbroiled eggs ($10.95) -- our server said you can actually see the grill marks across the eggs -- but after spotting French toast ($7.95 and up) on another diner's plate, who could resist the Beleza Tropical ($11.95)?

Mangoes are a powerful enticement anytime, but especially when it's blustery outside. Here, thick slices of French toast were topped with tropical fruit and drizzles of golden mango and ruby-hued raspberry sauces. It wasn't enough to actually transport us to Belize or Brazil -- and I prefer my French toast moister and more custardy in the middle -- but it was delicious nevertheless.

We'll be back for sure -- to try those strange eggs, dabble in the huevos and enjoy seconds on the salmon.

-- J. Burrell