Brunch is my favourite meal to eat out. I like arriving before the crowds and enjoying a nice, leisurely meal and good conversation. I like ordering something ridiculous and massive off the menu and feeling satisfied until dinner. I like getting my caffeine fix for the week in the matter of an hour or two as I down four or five cups of coffee. I like restaurants that have a comfortable and homey décor and feel to them but with an interesting menu. I don’t want to eat a “big breakfast” with eggs, toast and three types of breakfast meat. I want something I can’t make at home or something that I can’t be bothered to make at home because it will dirty about 27 different dishes. I want a restaurant that is in an interesting neighbourhood, somewhere I want to wander in and out of shops for the rest of the afternoon looking at furniture, records and prints.
On this list you won’t find anything east of Yonge Street. The west is my Toronto. I know that is terrible and very limiting but its brunch. I don’t want to waste an hour or more of my time trying to get to the East End to have brunch at Lady Marmalade only to wait another hour or more in line. I will acknowledge that Lady Marmalade is delicious, unique and cozy. But it’s not my favourite. If I ever move east of Yonge Street this list will dramatically change but for now, west is best.
Ok, I lied. Smith is east of Yonge. I have only been to Smith once for brunch but I was completely enamoured by it when we visited. It was a quiet fall afternoon, just a few weeks before our wedding and we were seated on one of the most romantic and cozy patios in the city. The patio has taken over a back alley and looks out onto a side street just off Church Street. We were alone on the patio which allowed us to take in everything: the exposed brick walls, the various textures and patterns on the cushions, the lights strung up in a zigzag pattern over head, the single piece of lavender in a antique porcelain cabinet knob turned vase on the rustic wooden table. The whole atmosphere was so simple but so well thought out and put together. This attention to detail and capturing of comfort in décor would translate into the capturing of comfort and warmth into the food.
The Eggs Benedict manages to turn an already adult breakfast item into an even more sophisticated and decadent meal. Instead of traditional hollandaise sauce, the Benedict is drenched in a parmesan leek fondue. Any restaurant that is going to allow me to justify eating fondue at 10 am on a weekend morning is a place that warrants another visit.
I also consider this restaurant worthy of a top-ten spot because Smith is one of the preferred brunch spots of Al and I trust her opinion on most everything.
It seems unfair to have Patois on this list as they are no longer doing brunch (the website states that brunch will return “next season” whatever time that refers to) and you are not able to enjoy it but a visit to Patois is a must for dinner. Side note: if anyone would like to share the Whole Shebang, I would be down.
Patois is the perfect setting for a hangover brunch – it is dark, cozy and features cocktails. The food is a fusion of Jamaican and Asian cuisine, creating a unique blend of flavours and textures unlike anything else you will find in the city. This is a unique brunch, taking traditional brunch items and recreating them with that unique blend of flavours. You have the opportunity to try eggs Benedict but instead of using an English muffin, your pillowy eggs sit on top of a Jamaican patty. And instead of peameal bacon, jerk bacon is used. The result is a spicy depth of flavour from the first bite of the egg down into the patty its all resting on. The brunch is given that kick that is often missing from brunch, making rich sauces feel lighter as the spices used offset the creamy, thickness.
They also had a version of my favourite brunch item, chicken and waffles but instead of your typical Belgian waffle, a Hong Kong-style waffle is used, more eggy and without pockets but instead, bubbles of light doughiness. The chicken has more of a breaded crunch to it, not a battered crunch, making the chicken light like the waffle is accompanies. The fried chicken is featured on their dinner menu and can still be enjoyed.
8. The Federal
Although The Federal is one of my favourites, I always forget about it. I have only been twice but each time I have loved it and I am definitely going to add it into the regular rotation. It is a tucked away restaurant on Dundas West, past the hubbub of brunch that is Ossington and Dundas. And even better, it is open during the week. I have a vacation day coming up in the first week of July and The Federal very may well host my weekday brunch.
The restaurant has a 1970s vibe to it, like walking into your grandmother’s basement with it’s stained glass pendant lights and assortment of creepy crawling plants on the window sills. There are two perfect seats in each of the bank windows, which make for a cozy and secluded place to enjoy a brunch date.
The menu is both concise and daunting at the same time as everything is so perfectly put together and on point. The two highlights of the menu are definitely the eggs federal and the cubano sandwich. The eggs federal is a take on a traditional eggs Benedict but has a beautiful mushroom tarragon sauce instead of a hollandaise sauce and YOU DON’T MISS THE HOLLANDAISE SAUCE. This sauce is rich, woody and nutty from the mushrooms. It should be poured on everything.
If you’ve poked around my blog you know I love the cubano sandwich. It showcases pork (my favourite meat) and offsets the fatty richness with pickled vegetables. This version of the cubano is rich from both the pork and the avocado and tangy from the pickles and red onion. It is a great way to start the day.
You can’t live in Toronto and love brunch and not love Aunties and Uncles. Aunties and Uncles is everything brunch is: regardless of how early you arrive, there are somehow people more eager and organized than you that have managed to get out of bed at some ungodly hour to be at the front of the brunch line. After waiting years (obviously an exaggeration but that line is easily an hour long sometimes) you are seated in a kitschy restaurant with various chotskies on the shelves to make the restaurant appear more homey.
My ideal breakfast at Aunties and Uncles is arriving during the week, while other people are at work and you somehow have the day off, sitting at a picnic table shaded by trees but still with a good view of College Street for the obligatory brunch activity of people watching and munching on their breakfast tacos. The tacos are slightly spicy but the main draw is the super fluffy and creamy scrambled eggs. I am a bit of a snob when it comes to scrambled eggs, believing mine are the best (a statement that is confirmed by Giancarlo) but these definitely challenge my own. Although there are only two tacos, these are more than filling as they are piled with beans, cheese and eggs. That is enough protein to get anyone going in the morning.
I will be honest: I have a love-hate relationship with Stockyards. While the food is delicious, the space is absolutely horrible and makes me not want to visit this restaurant. The restaurant is entirely all seating on stools and has room for maybe 15 people. There is a long, open concept kitchen which has bar seating in front of it and while it is cool to watch people cook, I will take more seating and at proper tables any day. There are a large number of take-out orders however, the restaurant is not positioned to accommodate people making and picking-up take-out orders.
Despite these things, the food from Stockyards can still be enjoyed. I would recommend either visiting right when the restaurant opens or ordering take-out and enjoying your food at Wychwood Barns around the corner. And what should you order: the fried chicken and waffles. It is both delicious and available for take-out, unlike the Stockyards breakfast sandwich pictured above.
The fried chicken at Stockyards is some of my favourite in the city. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk, making it juicy and moist. The batter is evenly distributed and extremely crispy on the outside. The pieces are generous and huge. You can opt for either 2 pieces or 4 pieces which is a nice option to have depending on how starved you are from the night. The chili maple molasses citrus glaze brings out the sweetness in the chicken’s coating and the hints of citrus even out the strong flavours of chili and maple. It, like the mushroom tarragon sauce from The Federal, should be poured over everything.
There is a misconception that Italian breakfast is an espresso and a cigarette however, restaurants in Toronto are challenging this idea. Brunch at Bar Buca, while delicious, should be reserved for donuts and coffees as high-top tables are not ideal for a leisurely and comfortable brunches. Gusto 101 has an amazing atmosphere for brunch, especially when enjoyed on the upstairs patio, but the brunch items are not substantial enough to satiate you and will leave you longing for the mushroom pasta.
When it comes to Italian brunch, my choice is Fabbrica. Fabbrica is in North York so you don’t have to worry about giant queues of eager hipsters trying to have brunch. The restaurant is expansive and modern, featuring clean lines, bold colours and patterns and natural materials like marble and wood.
The menu is massive, highlighting items like eggs Benedict with fontina crumpets, lemon ricotta pancakes, pizzas and Nonna McEwan’s ravioli. The experience truly is like going to Nonna’s for brunch – you will be given foods from the breakfast, lunch and even dinner menu, in such quantities that you will feel stuffed and satisfied from the food and the love.
My favourite brunch menu is the shortrib hash. It features braised meat that flakes apart at the poke of a fork and is oozing in its own juices. The tenderness of the beef creates a base for roasted vegetables, that have been slightly caramelized and mimic the rich, roasted flavours found in the meat. The eggs, when punctured, ooze out over the hash, creating trickling waterfalls of yolk that bind the hash together. It can be easily scooped with a fork and enjoyed atop of crunchy piece of ciabatta. The dish is like a Sunday roast dinner at Nonna’s house but first thing in the morning with an espresso.
4. The Bristol
British brunch should be a category onto itself. There are so many great British-style brunches and pubs in the city (The Queen and Beaver, The Oxley and The Saint to name a few that are delicious) but my favourite would have to be The Bristol.
The original location of The Bristol (Yard) was near Christie Pitts and was this tiny restaurant that could seat maybe 20-25 people. The walls were adorned with photographs of your favourite Brits, ranging from royalty (Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria), to football stars (Steven Gerrard) to actors (Idris Elba and Sean Connery).
The restaurant was not fancy and had no pretension about it, just a spot to enjoy good food in a cozy little restaurant.
The Bristol then moved to a larger location on Queen West near Ossington. This location was much more in keeping with the quality of the food. The restaurant’s frontage looked like an old British pub: there are expansive windows, surrounded by black wood like an old Victorian building and an English flag appears on the sign. The interior of the restaurant had a classic pub feel: black and white tile floors, Union Jack bunting above the bar, old leather club chairs that look like they have been sat in for hundreds of years and fire places to give the restaurant a very warm feeling.
When you brunch at The Bristol there is only one logical menu choice: the Full Monty. This is your full British breakfast with eggs, rashers of bacon, sausage, black pudding, mushrooms, beans, tomato, home fries and toast. You will not leave hungry after devouring this whole plate.
3. La Cubana
I like La Cubana so much that it was our first brunch after our honeymoon as a married couple. After being in Europe for two weeks and not having proper breakfast, I needed to have brunch. Yes, apparently to me, the food in Spain and Portugal does not compare to La Cubana’s brunch.
I like this brunch so much because it is so different from anything else you will find in Toronto. There are no traditional bacon and eggs but rather chorizo and slow roasted pork with eggs. There are no home fries but rather accompaniments of rice and beans, tostones and slaw. These plates truly feel like a combination between breakfast and lunch, giving you the best parts of each of those meals in a decadent heap on your plate.
I prefer the La Cubana location in Roncesvalles to Ossington. The Ossington location is much more casual snack bar than restaurant, with offerings of pressed sandwiches and plates but no real brunch options. It is worth the visit if you are craving a cubano sandwich but if its eggs and heaps of pork you are after, head to Roncy.
Old School has become my go-to brunch spot in recent months. The restaurant has a vintage, 1950s-diner feel to it with the black and white floor tiles, booths and unique sodas. There is a massive wall that features an amazing mural to look like a chalkboard wall similar to the art found at SCHOOL. The wall has sketches of meat charts, diner fare like pie and burgers, da Vinci drawings and Warhol-esque drawings of Campbell soup cans.
The menu features your standard brunch items but takes them to the next level. You won’t find French toast on the menu, instead it is served cheesy and with butcher’s crack, a sweet crispy bacon made in house. If I am looking for a meat heavy breakfast it can be found here. Most items are served with meat which makes you feel less guilty then when you have to order various sides of meat to accompany your pancakes or waffles. My favourite items include the General Chicken & Waffles, the Hogtown B.B.Q. Benny and of course, the Real McCoy.
Before Old School there was SCHOOL in Liberty Village. This was my first introduction to the people behind these two restaurants. It is a cozy restaurant with all the stereotypical decorations of a classroom: clocks, books, chalkboards and apples.
The two menu items that keep me coming back to Liberty Village are the Huevos Rancheros and the Fried Chicken and Waffles.
And my number one brunch spot in the city is, of course:
1. Farmhouse Tavern
This is my favourite brunch spot in the city. I absolutely love everything about this restaurant. Not only can you make reservations for brunch, an unheard of concept in this city, but you can make reservations by text. When you arrive at the restaurant you immediately smell smoky, charcoal fragrances from the tractor turned smoker on the patio. This rustic smell leads you into the restaurant and you feel as though you have entered into a modern version of a farmhouse. There is farm equipment and prints on the walls and seating can include tractor seats and cow hides. The dishes and flatware are mismatched like someone’s home dishes would be; a collection of things collected over the years from travels and other people’s homes.
The menu is different each weekend, written on a chalkboard and cooked with the freshest, in-season ingredients. The chalkboard only features the menu item names, no ingredients or descriptions, forcing you to interact with your server and your server to prove that they are in fact knowledgeable about the menu and the ingredients that go into that food.
My favourite menu item is the Mother and Child Reunion. This tongue-in-cheek name refers to the two deep fried duck eggs served with thinly sliced duck prosciutto on a board. The duck eggs are soft and richer than regular chicken eggs. The prosciutto is smoky and slightly leaner than regular prosciutto. Both are served on a board with hunks of fresh, substantial bread that has been oiled and grilled. It is a simple, yet unique take on bacon and eggs. And the best part: you can add foie gras to anything on the menu.
Farmhouse Tavern successfully takes decadent, rich food and makes it seem like accessible comfort food.
It was incredibly difficult to narrow my brunch choices to just ten and there are so many more that I love: Big Crow, Starving Artist, Portland Variety, Lady Marmalade (I guess I have to say that right?) and Mata’s. But the ten above are my go-to restaurants, places I will return to again and again, that feel like home, that feel comforting and comfortable to eat at.