A Year in Review: 2014

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Photo Credit: GC – Praia de Luz, Portugal

2014 is over! This has been one of the craziest, busiest, most amazing year of all time. Between the wedding, honeymoon and everything in between, I don’t even know where to begin with a look-back on the year. Below are the resolutions that I set out for myself for 2014 and how I did with them.

Life resolutions.

  1. Knit more. I literally did not knit anything this year but did acquire some lovely homemade knitted pieces from my uber talented sister Liz. This counts right? It obviously doesn’t but I swear, I will knit in 2015.
  2. Exercise more. I did this! I ran a 5K in September and was doing a series of exercises at home. This was working up until the wedding and then two weeks of eating rich, decadent food in Spain and Portugal threw all this by the wayside. Unfortunately, all progress and evidence of fitness has disappeared. New year, new goals, new exercise.
  3. Read more. My reading has picked up but has been mostly limited to biographies by IWs and food-related things. I am currently working through The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and The Trouble with Brunch. The 2015 reading list is shaping up. Any and all suggestions on reading materials are welcome.
  4. Write more. I was writing more but then of course I didn’t write from July until November. Eek. Next year I plan to be more up-to-date on my writings so when you read about a restaurant it hasn’t closed.

Food resolutions.

  1. Bake more. I did not do this. My Christmas baking was limited to 3 types of cookies instead of the traditional 5 (at least!). Given that I am trying to be slightly healthier in 2015, I will likely be refraining from excessive baking.
  2. Use cookbooks more. Pinterest is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Instead of referencing the dozens of cookbooks I have, I refer to Pinterest. I am placing a moratorium on the cookbook-buying so please, gift me cookbooks. Or suggest pins from Pinterest.
  3. Host more. We hosted our own rehearsal dinner (horrible idea, I would not recommend this to anyone), our first annual-Christmas party and 2 Christmas brunches. 2015 promises more cocktail parties, craft beer nights and brunches.
  4. Try more. I ate urchin this year. That’s as weird as it gets unfortunately.
  5. Read more. In keeping with food-related reading, a new list I will be working off is the James Beard award-winners list for Best Book: Food and Literature.
  6. Master more. I have made ice cream but haven’t mastered it, I did not make jam and I haven’t made a mint julep. I have however, mastered the homemade brunch, macaroni and cheese and your 15-minute weeknight dinner. Going forward, I have deemed 2015 the year of the cocktail. I recently fell in absolute envy with a bartender at 416 Snack Bar who was able to make any drink on demand with elegance and simplicity. My goal is to master the gimlet, the Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned and the martini in 2015.

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and all the best food, drink and celebrations for 2015!

Mitzi’s Cafe

In October we headed down to Mitzi’s Cafe. Mitzi’s is located in the residential neighbourhood near Roncesvalles. It is surrounded by homes and parks which means tons of young parents and children. The more brunches I have, the more I realize that this is a young family pursuit that is trying to ruin my leisurely start to the weekend. I like children, I swear, but I do not like screaming, strollers and having Cheerios thrown at me.

It is a cute cafe/art gallery that is homey and quaint. I was immediately taken in by the chalkboard filled with the daily specials. A restaurant focusing on specials means fresh ingredients and creative dishes. We both decided to order daily specials.

GC ordered the omelet special of the day.

IMG_2270The daily omelet: a fluffy omelet stuffed with sausage, roasted peppers and topped with a caramelized onion aioli.

This was a hearty omelet. The peppers brought out the natural sweetness of the sausage. The omelet with filled with all these amazing, fresh ingredients. The caramelized onion aioli was sweet and salty.

I ordered the scrambled special of the day.

IMG_2271 IMG_2273The daily scramble: fluffy scrambled eggs with slow oven roasted cherry tomatoes and spinach topped with fresh oregano infused whipped feta cheese.

Holy healthy deliciousness. I love, love, loved this scramble. It was light, flavourful and filling. The eggs were fluffy, airy and light. The combination of vegetables was very reminiscent of warmer months and back gardens. The highlight of this scramble was definitely the oregano infused whipped feta cheese. I didn’t even consider whipping feta cheese let alone infusing it with herbs. The cheese became sauce-like as it smothered my eggs. This sauce should be on everything.

I really loved Mitzi’s. It was homey, simple and had delicious comfort food. It is worth a visit but keep in mind that as it is full of young families you should show up early!

Happy munching!

Universal Grill

As 2014 winds down, the BlogTO Top 50 is slowing being crossed off and whittled down. I have 6 more restaurants to go and 8 more to write about – not bad for a list that was released in August 2013. The yet-to-visit list consists of East-end spots and one vegan restaurant – no surprise there that I haven’t eaten a vegan brunch yet.

A few weeks ago we visited Universal Grill. We pass this spot constantly as we drive along Dupont and its brightly coloured exterior has always appealed to me. The inside is your typical retro diner, with stools at the bar and lots of booths. When we arrived on a Saturday morning the restaurant was full but not packed. Given this, I was disappointed that we were shoved in the corner. The spot was tight and awkward. GC and I are not obese or huge, but we are also not small people. This was not a nice fit for us.

Maybe it was because we were hidden in a corner, but we waited too long to be served. Tables that arrived and were seated after us were served before us. When we did finally order, it took FOREVER to get our food. I’m not speaking in hyperbole here: we waited at least 45 minutes to get our order. Ok. I guess this would fall under hyperbole but still a ridiculous amount of time to wait. This is a ridiculous amount of time to wait for any meal let alone brunch which heavily features eggs which take hardly any time to cook.

GC ordered The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich. IMG_2516

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich with spinach, bacon, farmer’s Swiss, cheddar, goat cheese and tomato on challah with spuds.

GC was apprehensive at first that the combination of cheese would be too much and would create too much contrast. Instead, the various cheeses added depth of flavour and texture that worked in harmony together. It was oozy and gooey. Despite all the cheese, it wasn’t overly salty. The spinach and tomato added the perfect amount fresh, crispness to cut the richness of all the cheese.

I ordered the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_2518The Huevos Rancheros with grilled tortilla, spicy red beans, fried egg, cheddar, guacamole and sour cream.

This was a tasty huevos. The crispy tortilla spears were a great garnish, giving a balance of tortilla crunch through the dish rather than just supporting it. Often the tortilla supporting the whole tower will become crispy and soggy, this ensured you would still enjoy a crunch with every bite. The beans were the right amount of spy. The egg was a little too fried for my liking: there was no oozy, running egg all over my rancheros. The guacamole was too thick and I prefer mine without tomatoes. It allows the guac to be smooth and creamy with the occasional chunk.

This place is cute and is obviously a neighbourhood hot spot. If I lived down the street, and this was my local brunch spot, I might be able to tolerate the service since the food was fairly decent. Since I have to trek out this way, I won’t become a regular.

Happy munching!

The First Married Brunch – La Cubana

After 2 beautiful weeks in Spain and Portugal for our honeymoon, eating delicious foods and drinking wine, you would think my appetite would be satiated for a long time. And for certain foods, it still is. I have not craved oysters since the ones I ate at Mercado de San Miguel and I won’t be eating foie gras any time soon. However, one thing was missing from this trip food-wise: brunch.

Europeans do not do brunch or breakfast. The only legitimate breakfast we ate while on our honeymoon was in Lagos, which is a haven for British tourists. There, we were able to enjoy a traditional English breakfast. So of course, when we arrived home, one of the first things we did was go for brunch. We decided for our first brunch as husband and wife we would go to one of our favourites, La Cubana.

IMG_2201Since we hadn’t had brunch in over two weeks (yes, I acknowledge that all my problems are #firstworldproblems) we decided to go big. We started with the corn frituras.

IMG_2198All meals, including brunch, should have appetizers. GC liked these more than me. I’m not super into corn flavours; for example, I don’t like corn bread. But how can you say no to anything deep fried? These were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. They were a combination of sweet and savoury with hints of fresh herbs dotting the fritura. The dipping sauce was great. It was creamy and the perfect amount of heat.

GC ordered the Steak and Eggs. IMG_2199

The Steak and Eggs with chimichurri steak and sunny side up eggs.

I am not in to chumichurri. This is the second occasion I have had it (the first being at Big Crow) and it does nothing for me. It tastes like slightly-off spinach. I wish it was more spicy, citrusy or fresh.

The steak was also way over done. GC likes his steak medium to medium-well but this was a little charred. You should never have to saw through a steak, especially one that is ordered out at a restaurant. Unless you’re into that.

I ordered the Cuban Breakfast. IMG_2200

The Cuban Breakfast with slow roast pork and poached eggs.

The first time we went, I ordered the pork belly and it was delicious. This is essentially the same dish without pineapple, with poached eggs instead of sunny side up and more expensive. This was tasty, but I would say go with the pork belly. The combination of pork and pineapple bumps this dish up to the next level and has a more dynamic combination of flavours. Although adding poached eggs to anything makes life better.

During our first visit to La Cubana, we made better choices but this visit does not disparage us against this restaurant. Any menu that so heavily features pork is delicious in my books. Happy munching!

Lisa Marie

What is the only way to make my favourite meal better? Add some of my favourite people. A few weeks ago we went for brunch to Lisa Marie with Le Faz and Jamie.

Before we arrived, I was already in love. We had stumbled across another brunch place that takes reservations. Squeezing in two people for brunch is no problem but four can get tricky. When it comes to brunch, I like rules, regulations and order. Abiding by these things ensures that I get tasty food quickly. When we arrived, we learned we didn’t need reservations, the restaurant didn’t fill up until we were leaving. Oh well.

The restaurant is hip and simple. The walls are painted with various Elvis murals and of course, there is an Elvis bust behind the bar. The seating is a combination of bar seating, high tables and regular tables with benches. Overall, the restaurant is sleek and modern with the right hint of hipster pretension.

GC ordered the Bacon Explosion Benedict.

IMG_2562Two smoked and grilled bacon explosion patties topped with 2 poached eggs, jalapeño hollandaise sauce and served on brioche bread with a side of Dijon and duck fat home fries.

Obviously someone at the table had to order something that had two types of bacon weaved together into a thick, heart-stopping patty. GC wolfed this down so I did not get a taste but I will take that as a good indication of it’s deliciousness and quality. The only criticism was that the bun was significantly larger than the pork patties but this is probably a good thing. We don’t want GC dying prematurely before 30.

Le Faz ordered the Double Pancake Pork Burger.

IMG_2564Double stacked 4oz pork burgers with pancake buns, lettuce, American cheese and secret sauce with a side of maple syrup.

Jamie and I ordered the Fried Cornish Hen and Corn Bread Waffles.

IMG_2563 IMG_2565Old school battered and fried hen with corn bread jalapeño waffle. Comes with maple syrup and hot sauce. Top with a side of Dijon and duck fat fries, below with a side of pad Thai fries.

Holy yums. Chicken and waffles has become my new favourite brunch item. When I go for brunch I like to order things I won’t make at home and this dish perfectly fits that description.

I loved that instead of the traditional chicken, it was switched up with Cornish hen. It is the perfect size and lends itself so well to being deep fried because it is so tiny and doesn’t take long to crisp up. It was salty, juicy and tender. With a smaller bird, comes more bones which are a slight irritation that can be overlooked when deep fried and smothered in syrup.

The waffle was appropriately sized and didn’t dwarf the already tiny bird. I was happy with the amount of waffle that was included, anything else would have looked ridiculous on the plate and I wouldn’t have been able to finish. This is the best flavoured waffle I have had. The corn bread made the waffle dense and substantial and paired naturally with the jalapeño. The jalapeño added the right amount of spice and flavour without overpowering the waffle and the hen.

This was a delicious brunch and I want to go back for more! Happy munching!

Hey! Restaurant

At the end of July (oh.my.god) I went to Hey! Restaurant with Theresa and GC. Hey! is a cozy, rustic restaurant in Ronscevalles with a farmhouse kitchen vibe to it. It has that annoying trait that Hey! Meatball also has where you order at the counter and then you sit. I’m not into that. I am not at McDonald’s or a high school cafeteria, please take my order at my table. We sat at the back of the restaurant overlooking the kitchen which in the July heat was a terrible idea but I love watching other people cook.

I ordered the Peter Peameal with peameal, lettuce, tomato jam and a fried egg with balsamic mustard on bread.

GC ordered the Sammy Sausage.

IMG_1078The Sammy Sausage with scrambled eggs, sausage, onion and aioli on a bun.

The sandwiches were good but not my favourite. The buns were slightly too firm making it difficult to bite into and get a proper mouthful of sandwich. There was not enough inside the sandwich for how much bread there was. The condiments were good which is not surprising. When you walk into the restaurant there are shelves upon shelves of pickled things which make tasty sandwich toppings.

The sides were underwhelming and in limited quantity.

Theresa ordered the pancakes.

IMG_1081The pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup and fruit compote.

Theresa said these pancakes were good. They did not fall victim to the misfortune that most big pancakes fall to of being undercooked in the middle. They were fluffy and cooked throughout. The fruit compote was the perfect balance of sweet and tart, the perfect pancake topping.

Hey! specializes in sandwiches and I was less than impressed with their offerings. As The Ace and Cafe Polonez are close to this restuarant I don’t think I will be eating there again any time soon.

Happy munching!

Gilead Café

As Christmas approaches weekends and evenings fill with dinner parties, festive cocktails and baking. It’s hard to maintain any sense of normalcy and schedule which for me means GC and brunch. Last weekend GC and I reconnected over brunch at Gilead Café.

Gilead Café is sleek and modern with a touch of rustic charm. It beautifully combines materials and styles. There is a coffee bar, a blackboard wall with daily specials and walls of preserves. It is modern and simple without being cold and sterile. It is my dream kitchen. We were seated at a small wooden table near the window with views of the alleyway and row houses.

I ordered the Poached Eggs Benedict with House-made Ham.

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YUMS. This was simple and understated but absolutely perfect. The hollandaise was zippy and silky. It was lemony and tart without being too citrus. It was drowning perfectly poached eggs.They were runny and rich. The ham was sweet and flaky. The English muffin was absolutely amazing. We all know how I constantly site my Gordon Ramsay English muffin as the best English muffin I have ever had but it looks like we might have a contender. It was airy, buttery and light. A fluffy, little pillow to put your delicate head on. I would like to eat this again and again.

The low point of this dish: the lentils. Why am I eating lentils in general let alone accompanying my delicious brunch? Fine, insist that I try to be a bit more healthy but these were mealy and boring. I would rather have salad with my brunch than lentils. Ick.

GC ordered the Poutine with Braised Beef & Aged Cheddar.

IMG_2683How come GC gets to eat poutine for breakfast and I had lentils on my plate? And why are all my life problems the epitome of first world? But because GC loves me he shared and I was able to enjoy this amazingness. The fries were crispy and fresh. The braised beef was tender, rich and delicate, flaking gently over the the fries. The cheese melted and the dollop of sour cream was decadent and amazing.

This brunch was fantastic. It was simple but sophisticated and delicious. After our brunch we headed to the Distillery District to wander the Christmas Market and then to the Gardiner Museum to check out the 12 Trees of Christmas. This year the theme was Toronto and the trees represented the various neighbourhoods of the city. Below are a few of my favourites:

IMG_2693 IMG_2697 IMG_2699 IMG_2703 Happy munching!

Uncle Betty’s

Is there anything better than discovering a delicious brunch spot? Yes! Discovering a delicious brunch spot near your house! I love our little house, for sale but it is hard to find a decent brunch spot north of Eglinton (if this comment is offensive, please suggest away). When a friend suggested we check out Uncle Betty’s we jumped at the opportunity. Brunch, less than 10 minutes away from our house and it’s good?! Yes, please!

Uncle Betty’s is a cute diner-style restaurant, with bright walls and lots of windows. There are mustaches painted on the walls and it is very family-friendly. If you aren’t into small children screaming, crying and jostling you while you eat your brunch, don’t come here. Since I can tolerate near-anything if I am eating good food, this isn’t a problem for me.

I ordered The Ultimate Grilled Cheese.

IMG_1643 IMG_1644 IMG_1645White bread with melted white and classic Cheddar cheese, a slab of homemade Mac ‘n Cheese, topped with pulled pork and drizzled with roasted garlic aioli.

This was delicious and ridiculous. Do you need to eat this? Probably not. Should you? Probably yes. It was cheesy, rich and messy. For some reason, messy food always tastes better. I loved the combination of textures from the mac ‘n cheese, slightly spongy, contrasted with the shredded pork and the oozy silkiness of the cheese.

GC ordered The Breakfast in a Bowl.

IMG_1642A breakfast-style poutine with home fries topped with sausage or bacon, two eggs, gravy and Cheddar cheese.

Overall we enjoyed our brunch at Uncle Betty’s. The food was a good solid take on your typical brunch menu. There were a few over-the-top menu items but they were not too ambitious that the execution failed. The rest of the menu was solid, hearty brunch that was at a decent quality for the price. The service was ok, not great, but everyone else seems to enjoy brunch at a bit more of a leisurely pace then I do.

Since we had a good experience when we went to Uncle Betty’s back in October, we decided to go again, especially to try the Dreesen’s donuts. GC ordered The Breakfast in a Bowl, a good indication that it was good and I decided to be decadent and order the Betty’s Benedict.

Betty’s Benedict

2 poached eggs served on a Dreesen’s Donut with a slice of peameal. Topped with a lemon hollandaise and served with home fries.

IMG_2360 IMG_2362I was disappointed. I expected each egg to be on its own donut. I know this is decadent and ridiculous but you are putting my eggs Benedict on a donut, I think it’s a fair assumption that this should be ridiculous. The donut was dry and had no flavour. It didn’t have sourness or sweetness of a plain donut. The Benedict as a whole was also fairly plain and flavourless. There was no zestiness or zip to the hollandaise sauce but my eggs were oozy.

This time the service was much slower as the staff was preparing for a big group. I understand large groups need to be accommodated but do not do this at the expense of your other customers.

We bought a half-dozen donuts to take home even though the donut in my benny wasn’t fantastic. The donuts were delicious. They were fresh, airy and light. My favourite was easily the cinnamon-sugar donut.

Uncle Betty’s isn’t my favourite choice for brunch but if I am looking for something local, it makes the cut. Happy munching!