The Westerly

An old friend visiting is the perfect excuse to try somewhere new for brunch. Last weekend my friend Caitlin paid a visit to Toronto. Friday night was spent drinking cocktails at Montauk and Saturday morning was spent at The Westerly eating brunch.

The Westerly is located in Roncesvalles. It is a spacious restaurant, with exposed brick walls, a wall of subway tiles and beautiful hardwood floors. And the best part about it: they take reservations for brunch! Add it to the ist of restaurants to frequent with large groups of people on Sunday mornings. GC and I shared a pot of French-press coffee and moved on to food.

I ordered the Créme Brulee French Toast.

IMG_0481 IMG_0482Créme Brulee French Toast.with vanilla bean custard soaked fresh bread baked golden and finished with brulee, fresh cream, and fruit compote.

This was literally like eating créme brulee for breakfast. It was sweet, creamy and rich. The top of the French toast was my favourite part. It was thick, and fruity; it tasted as if it was topped with apples. My only complaint was that the portion was small and should have been accompanied with something else, either salad or home fries.

GC ordered the Monte Cristo.

IMG_0480The Monte Cristo with fresh bread layered with delicate, smoked ham and gruyere, free run egg dipped and perfectly pan fried. Complimented with brunch potatoes.

Caitlin ordered the Frittata.IMG_0479Frittata with sauteed fresh spinach, grape tomatoes, fresh basil pesto, Woolwich Dairy goat’s cheese, pan fried potatoes, and toast.

As soon as Caitlin’s frittata came, I was jealous. The smell of basil was intoxicating. The aroma was strong, like stepping into an Italian garden. It was fresh, fragrant and the perfect glimpse of summer. I plan to make my own version of this with the haul we are going to pull from our own garden.

The Westerly is a casual and relaxing place to enjoy brunch. It was not my favourite of the brunch places we have been to but it is definitely a good option when trying to plan a brunch around a large group of people or specifically in Roncesvalles.

Happy munching!

Spring at La Carnita

We went to La Carnita a few weeks ago for a much needed date night and sampled new menu items.

We tried two new cocktails: I ordered the Jungle Bird (bottom) and GC ordered the Astroturf (top).

IMG_0172The Jungle Bird with Appletons VX, Campari, pineapple juice, lime juice and simple syrup. I need to acknowledge that I don’t love Campari and therefore cocktails with Campari are not my favourite. I liked this, but I didn’t love it. This was sweet, tart and fruity. It screams of the fruity flavours and bite that summer cocktails are known for. It tastes like a summer Negroni.

The Astroturf with Dillon’s gin, Cointreau, lime juice, Bittermen’s celery shrub, agave and soda. This was delicious. GC definitely made the better choice that evening. His drink was light, cool and refreshing. It also highlighted Dillon’s, my new favourite Canadian gin. I love the combination of gin and cucumber. The two ingredients highlight the refreshing qualities both have. Yums.

We ordered our usual selection of tacos and tried to the Tuesday special: The Squid the Kid.

IMG_0176Squid the Kid with crispy calamari, pickled green cabbage, fresh chilies and mango hot sauce.

Obviously this is amazing. The squid wa light, crispy and tender. The cabbage was tangy and crunchy. The chillies and mango hot sauce gave the taco a hot kick that makes this more than your average seafood taco. This taco is a great way to spend a Tuesday evening.

I love La Carnita – you all know that. If you haven’t been, you should go. You have no excuse – they are opening a new location in the Beaches soon! So you should go. And bring me. Happy munching!

Lady Marmalade

On Tuesday morning we enjoyed brunch at Lady Marmalade. We decided to hit up this popular East-end brunch spot during the week to avoid the notorious crowds. We arrived a little before 10 am and the restaurant was about half full. By the time we left, the restaurant was full – even on a Tuesday morning!

The restaurant has a mix-match of tables and chairs, all looking like they are from the 1960s or your Nonna’s basement. We sat at a large, round table with an enamel flower pattern on top. Each table had a different set of salt and pepper shakers adding to the vintage, Nonna’s basement vibe. The coffee cups were Pyrex mugs with floral patterns. This restaurant is cute, vintage and cozy.

GC ordered the B.A.B. Baguette with the soup of the day.

IMG_0393The B.A.B. Baguette with brie, avocado and bacon topped with spinach, red onion and mango salsa.

The soup of the day: tomato fennel.

GC loved the flavours of this sandwich. It was sweet, salty and creamy. His only complaint was that avocado and mango are both slippery so his toppings were all over the place on his sandwich.

The soup was delicious. The tomatoes were roasted and and sweet. The fennel was bitter, with a licorice taste that worked nicely with the tomato. It was a traditional, Italian combination of flavours and it was tasty in soup form.

I ordered the Huevos Migas.

IMG_0396 IMG_0398The Huevos Migas with 3 soft-scrambled eggs with cheese, sausage, tomatoes and scallions served with brown rice, smashed beans, sour cream, pico de gallo salsa and organic tortilla chips.

Any time I can have Mexican for breakfast I am down. This was an incredibly filling and delicious breakfast. The rice and beans were nutty and slightly sweet. The soft-scrambled eggs were an amazing way to serve the eggs. They were creamy and were folded with cheese, sausage, tomatoes and scallions. The addition of these ingredients took this from being your regular huevos rancheros to being a full-fledged breakfast. This bowl was great eating with a fork or eating with the still-warm tortilla chips.

We both enjoyed our brunches and were filled for an afternoon of hiking around waterfalls in Hamilton. We checked out Devil’s Punchbowl and Albion Falls.

IMG_0402IMG_0404 IMG_0406Would I recommend this place? Yes. Would I wait in stereotypical weekend lineups for over an hour? Probably not. Lady Marmalade is delicious and has a huge variety of breakfast foods. It’s definitely worth checking out but avoid weekend lineups – they easily ruin a brunch experience. If we had had to wait for our brunch I probably wouldn’t have liked my breakfast as much. Week day brunch staycations are the way to go.

Happy munching!

La Cubana

On Sunday we found ourselves enjoying a beautiful day in Ronscevalles and a lovely brunch at La Cubana. When you enter the restaurant, they take your name and number and text when your table is ready. You are then able to leave the restaurant and explore the Roncey strip while you wait. This is perfect. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to not have to wait inside and within earshot of the restaurant. Once in the restaurant, it was nice to not have future brunch goers eying us down while they wait hungrily.

This restaurant has a cute, retro, 1950’s vibe to it which I imagine all of Cuba to have. The walls are tiled with a pale green tile, there is a long bar with stools and the floor tiles have a Spanish vibe to them. We were seated at the bar with a great view of the open kitchen.

IMG_0358We started off with some cocktails since we were having a late brunch at 12 o’clock. GC ordered a Cuba libre and I ordered a mojito.

IMG_0360A mojito is the perfect accompaniment to brunch. It is light, fresh with a hint of time.

GC ordered the Breakfast Sandwich.

IMG_0362 IMG_0363The Breakfast Sandwich with tomato, avocado, queso fresco, and a sunny side up egg with sides of rice, beans, tostones, and slaw.

This sandwich was recommended to us by our server. GC was debating between this sandwich and the Cubano and the server said that he had to go with the breakfast sandwich. This sandwich was ah-mazing. The highlight was the the huge, thick, slab-like piece of queso fresco in the middle of this sandwich. It was creamy, soft and milky. The egg was runny and oozed smoothly over the rest of the sandwich with every bite.

I ordered the Pork Belly.

IMG_0364 IMG_0365 IMG_0367Pork belly with pineapple glaze and sunny side up eggs with sides of rice, beans, tostones, and slaw.

This is one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. I would like every breakfast to come with pork belly rather than bacon. The pork belly was fatty, juicy, pull-apart deliciousness. The pineapple glaze had a sweetness to it, with big chunks of pineapple dotting the pork belly.

The eggs were a thing of beauty. I loved how rich in colour the yolks were: they were a marigold, yellow/orange colour and tasted sweet and creamy. They were done over-medium, the right balance of oozy goodness and thicker, creamy cooked yolk. The yolk oozed over the rice and beans.

The rice and beans were tasty. They had a nutty, slightly spicy flavour to them. The slaw was tangy and crunchy. The tostones were the only thing I wasn’t crazy about. The breading was crunchy and not greasy but I am not one for plantains. I topped my entire plate in a healthy amount of house made hot sauce. It was so tasty. Sweet, spicy, with a little bit of tang and bite. They should sell this so I can buy it.

We finished off our brunch with a dessert of two cafe con leches and donuts.

IMG_0368This was a great cup of coffee. It was light, creamy and sweet. The donuts were warm, and covered in a combination of cinnamon and sugar. How can that not be good? It was the perfect way to finish our meal.

This restaurant is everything I love about food in Toronto: different flavours and cuisines that you would never think of trying in neighbourhoods you don’t necessarily visit often but should. I would highly recommend a brunch here and I plan to return with various people and sample more of the menu. And the best part: they have a patio. I will be spending many summer days and nights at this spot.

Happy munching!

The Bristol Yard

On Saturday we went for brunch at The Bristol Yard. The Bristol Yard is a small restaurant (it literally only seats 22 people) on Christie just north of Bloor that serves British style comfort food. I know what you are thinking – British food? But British food is comforting and not how the stereotypes portray it. Chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have changed this stereotype on an international level and in Toronto, The Bristol Yard is doing its part too.

This is a very cozy, very British restaurant. The walls are lined with portraits of famous Brits from footballs players, to actors and of course, the obligatory royal portrait.

IMG_0340The next very British thing was the menu: not just the items on the menu but how the menu was written. It was so dry and hilarious, the perfect way to start your brunch experience.IMG_0330GC ordered The Glasgow.

IMG_0332IMG_0333The Glasgow with two freshly baked tatti potato scones, housemade savoury lorne sausage, one poached egg, melted smoked Scottish applewood cheddar and smothered with sausage gravy.

Obviously, this was ridiculous. The potato scones were light and airy, they tasted slightly like a pita. The sausage was thick, beef and seasoned to perfection. The poached egg was slightly tangy with vinegar, and oozy over everything. The cheddar wasn’t overly apparent because it was overwhelmed by the rest of the flavours. The gravy was on its own level. I am not a fan of gravy but this was amazing. It was sweet, peppery and filled with chunks of sausage. I would pour it over anything.

I ordered the Full Monty.

IMG_0334IMG_0338Two poached eggs, two rashers or thick cut, rind-on smoked bacon from their secret bacon supplier, one plump house-made pork sausagee, one piece of black pudding, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomato, baked beans, home fries and toast.

This breakfast was and is the  perfect way to start a Saturday morning. It is huge and covers all the breakfast basis: fat, carbs and a bit of fruit to justify the rest. My favourite part was the sausage. It was thick, juicy and seasoned with pepper and fennel. Yums. If you are a breakfast sausage lover, you need to try these. These are easily the best sausages I have ever had.

The rashers of bacon are officially my new favourite way to enjoy bacon. My issue with bacon is it is typically fatty without flavour and needs to be super crispy to be enjoyed. These rashers tasted like slices of ham made into bacon. The fact that they come from a secret bacon supplier makes them even better.

Like GC’s poached egg, mine were perfect. Hints of vinegar, and oozy, sweet yolk made these the perfect toppers for my toast. It seems silly to say but this was the best toast I have ever had. It was toasted perfectly: crispy, buttery, with a little crumble but could hold the substantialness of this breakfast.

This breakfast also marked my first taste of blood pudding and honestly, I was underwhelmed. They serve their blood pudding well-done and to be honest, I didn’t know you could serve it any other way. It was salty and very crispy, a nice bit of crunch but not a lot of flavour.

The beans, mushrooms and tomato were all tasty and a nice way to add a bit of lightness, colour and freshness to this heavy, greasy in a good way, plate.

We loved The Bristol Yard and definitely plan to revisit this place when it reopens under it’s new name at Queen and Dovercourt. We preferred the ambiance of The Queen and Beaver but simply love, love, loved the food at The Bristol Yard. Hopefully the new location will have a more cozy, British-pub vibe to it. If you are British, have memories of Britain or can’t afford to go to Britain, The Bristol Yard should be your next brunch visit.

Happy munching!

Small Town Food Co.

Last week we enjoyed a date night with Al and Jamie at Small Town Food Co., a new snack bar in Parkdale. The restaurant is small and narrow, with a very modern, minimal vibe to it. We were seated at a table near the back close to the bar – a great spot to watch the bartenders create their cocktails.

We each enjoyed a few cocktails. I ordered the Basil Smash and the Vintage ’84. The Basil Smash had Dillon’s Rose Gin, basil, and lemon. This drink was fresh, light and a taste of summer. The basil was pounded to a pulp, releasing all it’s juices and aroma. I am planning on growing basil this summer and will be looking for cocktails featuring it all summer long. It featured Dillon’s gin which is distilled in the Niagara area, a new find which I have tried in two cocktails this spring and can’t wait to try more of. I plan to visit the distillery soon – who’s in?

The Vintage ’84 had Tanqueray gin, cucumber, mint, sugar, and fresh lime. This was very similar to a cocktail I made the other day however, I prefered mine. As the only liquid in the cocktail is the gin, the cocktail was very creamy and thick, instead of fresh and light like I had hoped.

We ordered snacks to share. The server advised that you should order 2-3 plates per person and share, tapas style. The plates are too small to share between a group of four and feel full and satisfied and the bill will quickly add up.

We ordered four items off the meat section of the menu: the Duck Pogo, the Scotch Egg, Tartare of Deer and the Honey BBQ Pork Ribs. The Duck Pogo had minced duck, and honey dijon. The breading was crispy, and light. The duck was nothing special, it didn’t have the distinct, heavy duck taste to it. The honey dijon sauce was delicious but how could it not be – it was sweet, and spicy and the perfect compliment to deep fried duck.

The Scotch Egg with pork rillettes, a soft egg, and hot sauce.

Scotch EggPhoto credit: Toronto Life

If you have never had a Scotch egg I suggest you try one. Traditionally it is a hard boiled egg that is deep fried. The Scotch egg at Small Town Food Co. is a soft boiled egg encrusted with a salty, fatty casing and then dipped in a slightly sweet, but spicy hot sauce. I would like to enjoy one of these each morning with a cup of tea. This was the perfect first introduction to the Scotch egg and I will definitely be enjoying more in the future.

The Tartare of Deer had hand-cut tenderloin, a quail yolk, and was served with crustini. I love tartare and will almost always order it if I am in a legit restaurant, with a talented kitchen where I know I won’t die from poor quality meat. The fact that I have never had deer was an added bonus. This tartare was good but missed the zing from the capers and had none of the gamey-quality associated with deer. It was ok, but not a hit.

The Honey BBQ Pork Ribs came with potato salad, and double smoked bacon. In retrospect, it was foolish to order ribs with the intention of sharing them. It was a half rack of ribs that we attempted to share between 4 people. We were not given a proper knife to cut the ribs but luckily they were fall off the bone. They were sweet with a bit of tang and were juicy. The potato salad was good and the double smoked bacon was a welcomed addition to your traditional mayo-based salad. I would recommend these ribs but not for sharing and definitely not for the price: $21 for a half rack of ribs? No, thank you.

We ordered three items from the seafood section of the menu: the Oysters Rockefeller, the Scallop Ceviche and the Fish and Chips. The Oysters Rockefeller had grano padano, and spinach. If you love seafood but hate how slimey it can be, then oysters Rockefeller should become your new best friend. As an oyster lover myself, I was excited to try these as I’ve only enjoyed oysters raw. These are everything you want your seafood to be. The oysters are fishy but fresh, with a saltiness that reminds you of the ocean. The cheese and spinach work together to create a cheesy, wilted, salty topping that slides down perfectly with the oyster. You are transported back in time when eating these. You feel like you are in the 1960’s, enjoying martinis at lunch with Don Draper. This is a feeling I love and would want to feel again and again.

The Scallop Ceviche had charred lime and crispy shallots. Scallops are easily and with out a doubt my favourite seafood. Ceviche is the seafood form of tartare (loosely obviously) so of course I was down to try something that combined two of my favourite foods. The scallops were thinly sliced but you could still feel that fleshy texture with each bite. The scallops stood in contrast to the scallops, being a crispy and salty texture that was necessary to round out the dish. The lime gave the entire dish the necessary element to make it a ceviche and offered a citrus, refreshing flavour. Yum.

The Fish and Chips was panko crusted rare albacore tuna, edamame pureé, and tartar sauce. Fish and ChipsThis is obviously the most creative and interesting form of fish and chips any of us had ever had. The tuna was crusted and lightly seared, leaving the center fleshy and pink. The edamame pureé and tartar sauce were a combination of sweet and salty and were a great compliment to the tuna.

We finished off the evening with an order of Bread Pudding topped with bananas. This was not the best bread pudding I have ever had. The chunks of bread were a little tough instead of being moist and soft. The bananas however, were amazing. They were caramelized and sweet and should top everything.

We liked this place, but we didn’t love it. It is overpriced and unsubstantial. I understand the entire basis of this restaurant is bringing farm-fresh local ingredients to the city but at what price tag? Nothing we ordered was seasonal or from a specific local farm, a trend that has become a standard in Toronto restaurants. The prospect of an interesting, successful restaurant is there but under the wrong guise. This is more of an overpriced snack bar rather than a tapas-style sharing restaurant. I would suggest going for one drink and one plate. Out of everything we tried I would suggest the fish and chips and the ceviche.

Happy munching!

 

Chickpea and Roasted Tomato Soup with Fried Rosemary

Finally! The soup from the cover of my favourite cookbook!!

I absolutely love this soup! The combination of spices evoke dreams of Morroco – cinnamon, troche cumin, cialis and paprika. The chick peas and tomatoes reinforce the Middle Eastern vibe of the soup and give the soup substance and depth. I puréed the soup a little too much because I used the blender rather than the immersion blender. This makes it a little more difficult to gage how much you have puréed but the soup is still good!

It is perfect on a cold, stormy day but also great on a warm, sunny day. I plan to enjoy this soup all summer longer, enjoying the flavours of the Mediterranean before we head there in the fall for the honeymoon!

Recipe is below the cut – happy munching!

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