The Waterwheel
Charming character and a staff offering genuine friendliness enhance the copious and excellent brunch offerings at this Bucks County institution
by Brian Freedman

First, a confession: I don’t get all that excited about brunch buffets. No matter how phenomenal that list of selections sounds, I’ve had too many bad experiences in the past to get all hot and bothered at the prospect of standing in line behind either: a.) a group of 20-somethings hoping that copious amounts of bacon grease and pitchers of weak Bloody Mary will attenuate the more evil aftereffects of their previous night’s revelry; or b.) a slow-shuffling extended family getting together for a Sunday-morning ritual of overcooked omelets and stale pastries. I’ve just spent too much time in hotels, and too many Sunday afternoons downing prophylactic shots of Pepto-Bismol.

But here’s the thing: The brunch at Waterwheel, in its charming, centuries-old home in Doylestown, defies all of those stereotypes. Put bluntly, nearly everything about this institution is a delicious embodiment of all that can go right with a meal that’s often so fraught with the potential for disappointment.

The smell hits you as soon as you walk in, as evocative of Sunday morning as anything you’ll ever smell: warm butter, sautéing omelet vegetables, a whiff of slow-cooked beef, pastry fillings somewhere in the background. And then you come to it: a spread that stretches on to somewhere towards the far reaches of the horizon, everywhere you look a platter of hot or cold dishes constantly being replaced and refreshed.

An example of the embarrassment of riches here: smoked salmon, with its green dill feathering and thick, meaty slices begging for a bagel and cream cheese to relax upon; German-style potato croquettes with their nutty, shatteringly crisp shell revealing a filling, comforting interior, perfect to snack on alongside a Bellini; thin yet fluffy waffles made to order, topped with fresh berries or maple syrup, and cooked up either plain or with chocolate chips; crepes of every variety and permutation, each cooked to order by the chef at the omelet station.

Speaking of those omelets, all buffets should take a lesson from the Waterwheel. They’re delicate and detailed, the eggs themselves cooked through beautifully yet not dry, and filled with an array of vegetables and meats that are treated with far more respect than they usually are at a buffet. My peppers, onions and mushrooms, for example, were sautéed first before being added to the egg, lending the finished product a depth and expressiveness that’s just all too rare.

The carving station, too, is notable. Roast beef was toothsome and tender, and didn’t even really need the horseradish sour cream it’s offered with. (Though, of course, that sauce was a lovely addition.) Roasted goose legs and thighs were also on offer when I visited, and, aside from needing a bit more seasoning, they were stellar. The fat of the skin had melted throughout the meat, lending each bite a richness and moistness that was little short of amazing. Unfortunately, they’re only offered around the holidays, and by the time this issue goes to press, you’ll have to choose from roast beef or roast pork. Not exactly trading down, but the point remains.

Of course, not everything was without fault. The deviled eggs were a bit too sweet with pickle relish for my taste. The apple crisp seemed overwhelmed by clove instead of being more appropriately perfumed by it. Sausage would have been better if each link had been browned in a pan first. Home-fried potatoes also could have used a bit more crunch. The coffee was forgettable.

But those were minor offenses in an otherwise wonderful brunch. Even the Waterwheel’s sweet-sausage version of cream chipped beef, the “County Line Gravy,” was stunning, and despite how much I’d already eaten, I was powerless to fight the pull of a second trip to that particular tray of creamy, palate-coating goodness. (If you overeat like I did, you can at least atone for a fraction of your brunch-time sins by enjoying a plateful of one of the excellent, regularly rotated cold salads.)

All of this—and much, much more—is enjoyed in a charming space (the original part of the building dates back to 1714) hosted by a staff of genuine friendliness, a high-energy group quick with a friendly word and a smile, which is exactly what we all could use more of during those tender Sunday-morning hours.

If only more brunch buffets were as accomplished and successful as this one. Lucky for us, we have a great one with the Waterwheel, and right in our collective backyard.

The Waterwheel
4424 Old Easton Road, Doylestown
215-345-9544 |

Photograph by Rob Hall