Pulling up to J. Liu - nee Jason's of Worthington Restaurant and Bar - you view an impressively large, two-story brick building crowned by a giant white pineapple. Stepping inside, the family-friendly place's bubbly personality rises up as its all-white antechamber expresses itself in cutout effervescing forms.
Beyond this entryway, J. Liu's spread-out modern space is fun and roomy, decorated with taste, panache and whimsy. Playing against plush velvety orange drapes are deep banquette booths, shiny black-tiled columns interspersed with tinted squares, and a handsome wooden floor with rhythmically varying dark and lighter planks.
Throughout, riffs on circular shapes also bubble up, such as large hanging globular paper lanterns; amoeba-like platforms suspended from the ceiling; substantial cylindrical lamps; and a dramatic round bar in a swooping barroom overlooking a sun-exposed patio.
J. Liu's whimsical mood becomes distilled along one long wall wholly devoted to an eye-catching illustration of a sort of dreamy and surreal aquarium scene. There, floating painted hands interact with fanciful critters often drifting past in little bubbles.
This is the playful and comfortably upscale setting for a Sunday brunch that also fizzes with plenty of brash and salty flavors; and best of all, the prices are basically on par with annoyingly overcrowded and personality bereft corporate haunts like, for example, Bob Evans (I like you Bob, but still).
J. Liu's Corned Beef and Hash ($8) was a loose amalgam of salty corned beef crumbles and diced, dark-cooked and rosemary inflected redskin potatoes punched up with sauteed garlic and onions. This enhanced down-homer was covered with two fried eggs and, like most brunch items here, it came with a microdish of fresh fruit and a buttered English muffin.
The Eggs Benedict ($8) were also reasonably well-executed, with seared Canadian bacon and a smooth lemony hollandaise. Like most non-hash items, that duo also came with J. Liu's winning breakfast spuds - stacks of big and meaty redskin coins lavished with chunks of garlic.
The unusual hybrid of the Bridge St. Crepe Omelette ($8) wrapped a very thin, mildly sweet and floury crepe around a fluffy, golden omelet stuffed with diced avocado and smoked deli turkey, plus cheese, tomato and onion. It was served with unnecessary commercial salsa.
The most expensive and intriguing brunch dish at J. Liu was "Espresso" (not my quotes) Steak and Eggs ($13). While it wasn't made with a particularly tender slab of beef, it tasted pretty great and was rather locally unique.
About a quarter pound of lean and juicy sirloin came crusted with herbs and just enough finely ground coffee beans to lend a deep, roasty edge, but not enough to make you think some jittery jerk had spilled his morning joe onto your breakfast meat. It was served with those garlicky potatoes and two (I chose) properly over-easy fried eggs whose pierced yolks blended with the steak's juice and its fragrant crust to form zesty and rich flavors I'll definitely return for.
Also worth a repeat visit was the nifty French Toast Crunch ($8). Three hefty slices of eggily sauteed buttery brioche arrived with a coarse and crunchy oaty granola with brown sugar topping that got lightly dusted with powdered sugar, hit with cinnamon and garnished with fresh strawberries. The restrained sweetness (you apply your own warm Vermont maple syrup) and lively textural contrasts made for a very pleasing morning munch.
And that's what you can expect at J. Liu's Sunday brunch - a solid dish at a soft price in a fun and uplifting setting. That bubbly combination is pretty hard to beat.