Breakfast in Columbia, EC
You can definitely escape the chain restaurants.
My first suggestion would be Eggspectation on Rte 108 near Snowden River in Columbia. It gets a little loud. The prices are a little higher than a diner. But it's a friendly place. They never rushed us, and I'm happy with coffee, bacon and eggs so imaginative brunches can be lost on me.
I haven't tried as many places as I'd like because my wife works weekends, but this is the list that I have assembled from suggestions:
For something a little more unusual or upscale, check out Victoria Gastro Pub at the Snowden / Rte 108 intersection. Victoria definitely gets hot-and-cold reviews, but I really enjoy the burgers.
For crepes and a French brunch, check out Cafe de Paris on Centre Park Drive. That is just off Rte 108 near the Giant, Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro and Bangkok Delight.
For a large buffet, try Kelsey's in the Normany Shopping Center in Ellicott City or the Sheraton downtown in Columbia. Kelsey's got talked up for live jazz during the buffet.
For French pastries and coffee (and I think other brunch food), check out Bonaparte Bread in the Savage Mill. That is just off U.S. 1 south of Rte 32.