Niagara-on-the-Lake 2016

A few weeks ago we had a belated one-year anniversary brunch with my parents in Niagara. The reason we were about 6 months behind was because in the fall JDL had his knee replaced and then who wants to go to Niagara in the winter?

The day started with a visit to Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first bio-dynamic winery. We tasted a flight of four different wines, two whites and two reds, each highlighting the unique growing conditions and techniques at Southbrook. Our server was incredibly knowledgeable, having studied cuisine and wine at Niagara College. He was well spoken on the interplay between wine and food, something I completely lack and admire in other people.

After a few tastes of wine, we headed over to Trius Winery for our celebratory brunch. The brunch at Trius is a three-course tasting menu with the option to pair each course with wine as selected by the restaurant. Mom, being the classy and knowledgeable person she is, made her choices based on the wine; everyone else made their choices based on the food.

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The dining room at Trius has been recently redone, featuring bold furniture in yellows and reds. The main dining room features huge spherical light fixtures that resemble fireworks exploding in a night sky. The dining rooms open out onto a patio which overlooks the vineyards. In early April this is not quiet the focal point that it is in the summer. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which was a little more private and with a view of the courtyard and vineyards.

After we were seated, we were immediately greeted with glasses of Trius Brut Rosé – all brunches should start with pink bubbly. It should be noted that this is apparently supposed to serve as a palate cleanser between courses and should last the length of your meal, not gulped down shortly after the first course like mine was. Oops. It was just too tasty to not enjoy that quickly.

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Wallace & Co.

Oh, right! I’m supposed to write about the food I’ve been eating, not just continue to eat and cook and not tell you about it. Things have been a little hectic lately: work is all over the place, GC started a new position with new hours (yay!) and we have been crazy busy with hiking, camping and wedding planning. Because of all of these things, Taste Buddies has been ignored and you have no idea where I have been eating lately! Tragic, I know.

A few weeks ago we went to Wallace & Co. in the Junction. It wasn’t our first choice for brunch that morning (more on that failed attempt later) but we were able to grab a seat on the patio at a picnic table. The patio is open and airy with views of the street and the neighbouring houses. Be warned that some of the neighbours, while friendly, are not the most appetizing addition to your brunch. There was one house that had it’s occupants sitting outside, chain smoking and drinking at 10 o’clock in the morning. Given that these are the neighbours, it would be a smart idea to build a privacy fence along the back of the patio.

There were two servers that day: one with a lot of energy, a great attitude and who was actually interested in working and then there was our server. She was slow, inattentive, and bored with us and her job in general. We repeatedly had to ask for coffee refills. When our food was ready she didn’t bring us cutlery which we had to wait several minutes for as our food got cold.

I ordered the Breakfast Sandwich.

IMG_0820 IMG_0821The Breakfast Sandwich with a maple sausage patty, bacon, a fried egg, cheddar cheese and onion aioli.

This sandwich was tasty. It was rich, fatty and greasy, everything I like my breakfast to be. The sausage was sweet, with a rich maple taste. The bacon had beautiful, thick ribbons of fat, oozing flavour throughout the bacon and the sandwich. The cheese was thick and sharp. The egg was oozy, but not too runny, just slowly flowing over the other ingredients in the sandwich. The onion aioli added a slight spicy sweetness to the sandwich to round out the whole thing.

The homefries were too crispy and slightly burnt. This was the real low point of my dish. Overall I enjoyed my breakfast sandwich and would recommend it to anyone who loves a good sandwich to start their day.

GC order the All Day Breakfast.

IMG_0819The All Day Breakfast with two eggs, peameal bacon, potato, beans, tomato and toast.

GC was not into his breakfast. His peameal was rubbery, the potatoes were burnt, and the beans were watery. This meal left a bad taste in his mouth and he did not enjoy his experience there.

Between the alcoholic neighbours, bad service and GC’s breakfast we liked this place, didn’t love it and won’t be revisiting it. Sorry!

Happy munching!

Father’s Day

This year we celebrated Father’s Day with two barbeques: Saturday was spent with GC’s parents and Ninni in our backyard  and Sunday was spent with my family.

Saturday’s menu featured my classic burgers, potato salad and of course, a strawberry rhubarb pie. My burger recipe is simple but delicious. I use ground beef (lean), breadcrumbs, garlic powder, dried onion, oregano, and parsley. My latest change to my recipe is barbeque sauce. The barbeque sauce keeps the burgers moist without making them puff up like an egg will do but still binds the meat together so that they do not fall apart on the grill.

Prior to Father’s Day weekend, I didn’t have a go to potato salad recipe, but now I do. I tried this Yogurt and Dill Potato Salad from The Yummy Life and it is ah-mazing. The combination of mayo and yogurt is light and sweet, making you feel slightly less terrible for eating potato salad. The combination of dill, parsley (fresh from our back garden!), green onion and celery is fresh, summery and light. Make it the night before a big barbeque and enjoy!

GC’s dad’s favourite pie is rhubarb. I am lucky enough that his birthday falls in May and Father’s Day falls in June, prime rhubarb season. Every year I try a new rhubarb recipe and every year his dad loves it. This year, I tried Martha Stewart’s Rhubarb Crumble Pie. IMG_0706 IMG_0716

My crust turned out wonderfully! It was light, flaky and super buttery. The rhubarb was sweet and tart, tender and oozy. The crumble topping was delicious and could have been eaten on its own. Does it get much better then brown sugar, butter and flour? Obviously not. There was a piece left for my mom the next day and it passed her pie taste test so I think my skills as a pie maker are improving!

Sunday we had my sisters and my parents over for Barbeque Part II in the backyard to celebrate JDL. There was bocce, croquet and of course, food. I made Carolina Pulled Pork sandwiches, Yogurt and Dill Potato Salad, Southwestern Black Bean Salad, Pineapple Pink Lemonade Punch and Chocolate Cream Pie.

The Carolina Pulled Pork is one of the easiest things you will ever make! You quickly sear the pork roast on the stove and then pop it in the slow cooker for hours and then impress everyone with your Southern barbeque abilities. It is topped with a creamy, tart coleslaw that is also easy to make. You could be insane and shred all your cabbage yourself or you could just buy your bag of coleslaw mix. The cabbage is topped with a simple dressing. It is not too drenched in mayo, just the right amount. Theresa liked this sandwich so much that she said this sandwich has ruined restaurant pulled pork for her. Sorry!

The Southwestern Black Bean salad is great! It is easy because it is essentially chopping, can opening and stirring. There are so many great textures, colours and flavours to this salad. The avocado is the best part and because of the citrus dressing it doesn’t turn brown and rotten looking. This bean salad was a hit at my barbeque.

Having a large group of people over is a great opportunity to try out a new cocktail or punch. For Father’s Day I made Pineapple Pink Lemonade Party Punch. Literally pour all the ingredients into the pitcher, stir and serve over ice. Oh, and maybe add some rum. I will be keeping my fridge stocked off all these ingredients all summer long.

For dessert we had my favourite s’mores cookie bars and Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Cream Pie. I wasn’t thrilled with how the pie turned out. I omitted the gelatin because it should have firmed up on its own but it didn’t. The slices didn’t come out of the pie dish nicely and it was very messy. It was delicious because it was chocolate custard topped with whipped cream but the presentation wasn’t the greatest. I would not make this recipe again.

Overall, our Father’s Days were a hit! All the above recipes are perfect for any barbeque so you have all summer to try them out! 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!

The Saint

My ideal weekend morning contains two things: brunch and discovering a new neighbourhood. Brunch is relaxing and comforting for me.  The restaurants always seem to have ample sunlight pouring into them regardless of the season; there is a low hum of conversation and amazing smells surrounding you. Brunch brings out the best in your company, whether it is a brunch date with a boyfriend or a friend, a large group of people reconnecting or just a good book or newspaper. Brunch recharges me and gets me ready for the next week ahead.

New neighbourhoods remind me that this city is vast and is constantly changing. My neighbourhood of choice is the Annex. It contains huge sentimental value for me from the house were GC lived when we first started dating to the restaurant where I first ate sushi. Walking through the streets is literally a walk down memory lane for me. New neighbourhoods have new surprises: unseen streets, new tastes and smells and new favourite spots.

This weekend combined both of those: we had a much anticipated brunch at The Saint and wandered through the residential streets of Little Portugal. We had been looking forward to this brunch for two weeks. GC had been working midnights making the ability to go to brunch on weekend near impossible.

Reason #1 to go to The Saint for brunch: THEY TAKE RESERVATIONS. This is almost unheard of in Toronto for brunch. We made a reservation late Saturday night and showed up at 10:30 and were promptly seated. When we arrived at the restaurant there was not a lot of full people in the restaurant but it quickly filled up.

We were seated at a small bistro table. The table was cute and cozy but between our coffee cups, water glasses, cutlery, napkins and plates it was a tight squeeze. Reason #2 to go to The Saint for brunch: they serve amazing coffee. I have recently switched to coffee at brunch rather than orange juice because a) it makes me feel like an actual adult and b) because unlimited refills.If you are an avid coffee drinker and bad coffee ruins your meal when you go out for brunch, look no further.

We started with an ordered of deviled eggs.

IMG_0065Deviled Eggs with bacon, jalapeños and sour cream.

Reason #3 to go to The Saint for brunch: deviled eggs! Deviled eggs are one of those things that everyone agrees are delicious but for some reason, people rarely make them. These eggs were creamy and rich, having a flavour palate of this decade rather than the 1970s. The bacon added saltiness and the jalapeños added a very subtle heat. Yum, yum, yum!

GC ordered the Steak and Eggs.

IMG_0066 IMG_0067Steak and eggs with bone marrow baked beans, fried duck eggs, cheddar biscuits and brown sauce.

I had contemplated ordering this but I am glad I didn’t because it is ridiculously huge! I was allowed, however, to munch from GC’s plate. My favourite part of this dish was the bone marrow baked beans. Now, I typically don’t like baked beans but these beans are on a whole other level. They are sweet, salty, rich and decadent. Bone marrow should be added to anything and everything if the result is this delicious.

The only thing we weren’t crazy about was the brown sauce. Brown sauce is a traditional UK side to breakfast and it is like a sweet barbecue sauce. I don’t think I need this as part of my breakfast. Sorry.

I ordered the Croque Madame.

IMG_0068 IMG_0069The Croque Madame with ham, mornay, gruyere and greens.

Reason #4 to go to The Saint for brunch: they serve Croque monsieurs and madames. This is a menu item that I usually don’t order outside of Quebec and I absolutely love it. This version was just as good as anything I have eaten in Quebec. The bread was toasted and crispy, the cheese and sauce oozed out of the sandwich and were silky, thick and decadent. The egg on top was a duck egg and because of this dish, I have completely fallen in love with duck eggs. I would like to replace all regular eggs with duck eggs. The yolk is thicker, more luscious and has a richness to it. Yummmms.

After brunch we explored the neighbouring streets and checked out some beautiful homes and some neat graffiti. There are tons of hidden alleyways to pop in and out of. This is a neighbourhood we are slowly discovering through various restaurant visits and we will definitely be going back again and again to The Saint. I think you should go too!

Happy munching!

Milagro – Part II

Before Easter my sisters, order GC and I went for dinner at Milagro.

Milagro - IITop left, clockwise: Tacos Rosarito with sauteed shrimp, refritos, crema, aguacate and salsa rosarito.

Trio botanero: guacamole, refritos and pico de gallo.

Tacos la Perla with battered snapper, tropical slaw, and chile crema.

Panela Burrito with arroz, refritos, guacamole, chipotle-mayo, jalapeno and fresh cheese a la plancha.

As per usual, everything at Milagro was delicious. Highlights for me included the refried beans (both on their own and in tacos), the housemade tortilla chips, the shrimp in the rosarito taco, and the corn that came with the burrito.

Next time, I swear, I will order something other than fish tacos.

Happy munching!