Brunch: My Top 10 Picks for Toronto

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.

10. Smith

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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.

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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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Antler

Sunday morning was cold, snowy and dreary so it only seemed logical to brave this ridiculous April weather for some brunch. We headed down to Dufferin and Dundas to try brunch at Antler with our friends Renée and Sean.

Photo Credit: BlogTO’s review of Antler

Antler is unassuming from the street: the restaurant’s frontage is a large, simple window surrounded by what is now black painted wood and with simple yellow block letters spelling out the restaurant’s name. The large window looks immediately on to bar seating at the window, allowing passers-by on the street to be tempted by the beautiful food inside. The restaurant has that cozy, hipster restaurant vibe that has exploded all over Toronto: exposed brick walls, pew seating, simple textiles, large reflective surfaces to give the illusion of a larger restaurant and industrial lighting.

Antler’s tagline is “Inspired Canadian Cuisine. Regional Ingredients.” which was part of the reason for choosing it. I’m always intrigued by restaurants that are trying to help create a national cuisine by using local and seasonal ingredients. The menu features ingredients like boar, bison, foraged mushrooms and foraged black walnuts. These ingredients are hearty, abundant and reflective of the country they are made in. They can also be used in a variety of different ways, highlighting their versatility and range of flavours and textures.

Renée ordered the House Baked Granola (pictured clockwise to the right).

https://www.instagram.com/p/BDMi7ZEilXO/?hl=en

Note: I have started following chocojanna on Instagram because everything is beautiful, Toronto and food which are my three favourite things.

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Café Neon

My first brunch of 2016 was at Café Neon, health a restaurant listed by BlogTO as one of the best new brunch places of 2015.

Café Neon is a long, case narrow restaurant on West Queen West that is essentially a coffee shop taking it up a notch and serving food beyond scones and pastries. The interior features cozy tables and tiny booths. There is a large counter located near the front of the restaurant to order various coffees and espresso-based drinks from. The restaurant has a very coffee-house vibe to it: cozy, intimate, with eclectic art and design.

There is actual tableside service which is not always the case with restaurants serving more than coffee. Our server was energetic and excited about their menu which in turn, made us very excited. We hemmed and hawed over the menu and then with prodding from the server I ordered the Eggs Benny.

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IMG_5338The Eggs Benny with two poached eggs and smoked pulled pork on a scone with béarnaise sauce, salad greens and potatoes. Continue reading

The Pressed Cubano from La Cubana

When you are in school the easiest lunch is a sandwich. It is quick, and easy and portable. But sandwiches can become routine and boring, pill topped with the same meats, generic cheeses and condiments. There is typically one type of meat, one type of cheese and maybe mayo and mustard. In elementary school it was a turkey breast or ham sandwich with Havarti and mayo. No mustard. I hate mustard. In university, it was an everything bagel, topped with herb and garlic cream cheese, spinach, tomato and sometimes ham. Now lunches consist of soup or leftovers but rarely sandwiches unless they are bought out.

A few weeks ago I was walking down Ossington Avenue with Giancarlo looking for a spot to grab a coffee. We decided to pop into the La Cubana expecting to be greeted with the brunch menu familiar to us from the Ronscevalles location. This location is very different. It is a long, narrow restaurant with a counter for ordering. The menu consists of sandwiches with some plates but no brunch. The only thing resembling brunch is the breakfast sandwiches on weekends made on weekends.

Disappointed, but still hungry, we both opted to order the Pressed Cubano.

IMG_5603The Pressed Cubano with ham, pork, gruyere, red onion, cornichon, grainy mustard and mayo.

This killed my coffee craving. The sandwich was buttery and cheesy. The pickle and mustard added complimentary tang that worked with the sweet tartness of the onion. The gruyere added a nutty taste and the ham and pork were fatty and delicious. This sandwich is the perfect snack while wandering this neighbourhood. However, if I am craving a Cubano/cubana sandwich I will be visiting San Cosme in Kengsinton Market and I am craving La Cubana I will be visiting the Ronscevalles location for brunch.

Happy munching!

Easter 2016

It is Easter Monday and seemingly everyone else is off from work except me. The subway was empty this morning; I didn’t have to do my typical wait on the train for 10 minutes in the tunnel north of St. Clair West while empty trains are sent through for more important people. The offices at work are empty and it is a slow, rainy day.

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Easter weekend was relaxing, spent outside with beautiful weather and with amazing people. On Friday we made our traditional Italian pasta appetizers, calascioni. This is something that Ninni remembers making as a young girl in Italy, when these types of expensive meats and cheese could only be bought at Easter. This tradition has been passed on to me and Giancarlo and we now share this tradition with his best friend Nick and his wife, Rachel. The day is spent rolling out homemade pasta dough, cutting out perfect circles, filling each ravioli-like pocket with the meat and cheese mixture and baking in the oven until they are golden and oozing cheese. After a few hours of hard work, we enjoyed dinner, wine and Yahtzee.

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OLD SCHOOL

Brunch used to be a weekly occurrence for me. Fridays would be spent looking for the next place to check out and Saturdays and Sundays were built around where brunch would be eaten. This all stopped in April this year. I stopped going for brunch in an attempt to be more fiscally responsible (didn’t work) and to enjoy other aspects of living in the city beyond brunch (did work). My last brunch was sometime in April or May; Instagram tells me that it was at the end of April to Bar Buca.

This past Saturday was very exciting for me. It was the first time in approximately 4 months that I went out for a proper brunch. After running a few errands downtown, GC took me for brunch at OLD SCHOOL.

I’ve wanted to try Old School for a while now. It is located where The Huntsman Tavern used to be and I was excited to see what took over from that mess. It is super close to GC’s work, it’s open 24-hours/a day and it is by the same people behind SCHOOL in Liberty Village, which is one of my favourite brunch spots in the city.

We were initially sat at the bar to wait for our table to be cleared. We were seated for all of 2 minutes which seemed unnecessary but gave me enough time to gawk over the bar and the various in-house sodas they make. We were brought through the main area of the restaurant to be seated at a small table that overlooked the large, side patio.

The set-up is your classic, old school diner vibe, but a bit classier. There is no bright red booths and vinyl seating. The table tops aren’t yellowed and chips. Everything is black and white with classy touches of neon in the signs. I know what you are thinking, “Classy neon signs?” Yes, they can exist and do exist at OLD SCHOOL.

IMG_4576You can tell I don’t go for brunch on a regular basis anymore based on the quality of my photos. This is overexposed but for some reason, I really like it.

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George St. Diner

THE F WORD

A diner in Toronto that Daniel Radcliffe has been to? Yes, case please! Ok, click I shouldn’t act like I have an undying love for Dan Rad because I don’t, drugs but I do try and consciously follow his career and support his films so he doesn’t tragically become they guy who played Harry Potter and did nothing else. And I didn’t go to the George St. Diner because it is featured in The F Word, but because it serves up great brunch.

My experience at George St. Diner was everything Ok Ok wasn’t. It was why I should go to the East end of Toronto. It is why I should go for brunch. It was why I should order huevos rancheros any time it’s on a menu.

The day we went to the George St. Diner, it wasn’t our first choice. We had tried to go to Le Petit Dejeuner but it had an insane line-up and it was January. I don’t wait in line for brunch ever, let alone when it is cold outside. We wandered over to the George St. Diner and were quickly seated at the bar on stools overlooking the open kitchen. This restaurant had a very similar vibe to Ok Ok but for some reason, it seemed more classic and less dated.

There is no menu, just ordering off the ever changing sandwich board which does feature the diner’s staples and favourites like the Irish soda bread. GC ordered the Breakfast Hash on Irish soda bread.

IMG_2998I ordered the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_2996 IMG_2997YES. Now this is what I am talking about. The eggs were scrambled fluffy and light. The cheese melted over top of the eggs nicely. The chorizo was a house made sausage and it was easily one of the best sausages I have ever eaten. It was spicy and the meat was well-ground. There were no hard or crunchy pieces of meat or fat that can completely ruin a sausage. The guacamole was smooth and had the right kick of cilantro and was not overpowered with a soapy flavour. The beans added a nutty, smoky flavour to the dish. I loved that everything was spread on the plate making it more so a platter style of huevos rancheros and you could vary each bite with the provided pita.

I loved my breakfast at George St. Diner and would definitely go back if I was in the area but I wouldn’t make the trek just for its huevos.

After our brunch, we headed over to do some axe throwing for my friend Ashley’s birthday. It was a great afternoon of beer, pulled pork and axes, followed by some homemade butter tarts for the birthday girl!

IMG_299410906137_10153093160222074_7211436091395471900_nHappy munching!

Ok Ok

My experience of brunch at Ok Ok can be summed up in three statements: Ok Ok: Why I don’t go to the East end of Toronto for anything. Ok Ok: Why I don’t go for brunch anymore. Ok Ok: Why I will only order huevos rancheros from Mexican restaurants.

As you can tell, I didn’t love my experience here. We visited this spot for brunch back when I felt shackled by completing the BlogTO Top 50 list and this was one of the restaurants that made me rethink this list. The drive was too far, the restaurant was your standard diner and the menu was anything from special. It was not worth any of the effort. But of course, we HAD to go so I could complete the list.

So we went. The restaurant is cute. It is a small, retro diner with narrow booths and stools overlooking the open kitchen. There is large windows at the front of the restaurant letting in natural light and warming the place up. The decor is slightly dated and could be updated however, this adds to the comforting, neighbourhood-feel of the place. The restaurant was filled with regulars, which is typically a good sign of the quality of the food and service.

GC ordered the California Club.

IMG_3528 IMG_3529The California Club with grilled chicken breast, bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and mayo.

GC didn’t have complaints about this sandwich. It was your standard club made fancy with the addition of some smushed avocado. The chicken was cooked properly: it was tender and moist. The bacon was crispy without being burnt. It was nothing special and certainly nothing worth going to Leslieville for.

I ordered the Huevos.

IMG_3530The Huevos with 3 eggs scrambled with mozzarella, Monterrey jack with spicy black bean and wrapped in a tortilla and lightly grilled. Topped with guacamole, sour cream, salsa and green onion.

How is this Huevos? When this appeared, my first thought was, “This is a breakfast burrito and a sad one at that.” The menu did warn me that this would be huevos wrapped in a tortilla but this isn’t how I was picturing the wrap job. I was picturing it to be more bowl-like.

When I order huevos I expect to see runny eggs, mounds of beans and salsa, pillows of guacamole and crispy tortillas. This did not meet any of my expectations. The eggs were not runny, they were scrambled dry. The cheese did not melt and becoming stringy. The black beans where folded into the eggs to such an extent that you couldn’t distinguish the flavours and textures. The placement of the condiments was bizarre since you needed to scrape them off in order to cut into the huevos.

If I lived in the neighbourhood, I might frequent this spot but as Leslieville is filled with brunch spots (Lady Marmalade and Bonjour Brioche to name two excellent spots) I think that would be a poor choice.

Happy munching!

My Relationship with Brunch

1Photo Credit: Lovely Lady Sarah Samuel

My relationship with brunch can be summed up by the following interactions with friends:

1. I ran into a friend a couple of months ago and he said “I assume you are always going to or coming from brunch.” This was at 1 o’clock in the afternoon during a workday.

2. I was at a party on Friday night and was asked “Where are you going for brunch tomorrow morning?”

3. I was sent a link to the below shirt saying, “I feel like you may need this.”

0d93ad54a8b024cad0202eb16dffe0e1I love that I am known for my love of brunch. That people ask for suggestions or want to talk about their favourite brunch restaurants in the city and if I’ve been there. But this wasn’t always the case. I used to hate brunch and breakfast foods in general.

2Photo Credit: Ann Street Studio

When I was a kid, there was exactly two breakfast foods I craved: toad in the hole-style eggs and crepes. I would make my own toad in the hole- style eggs, using different cookie cutters to allow my eggs to sit in a nest shaped like hearts or stars. My favourite part was the cutout, buttery and crispy, the perfect piece of toast for breaking into an egg. My dad’s specialty was making crepes. He would use the “Quick & Easy Breads” cookbook because it had step-by-step photos with the instructions. The pages with the crepe recipe were, of course, covered in flour and would stick together with egg because of how often these pages were used.

3Photo Credit: Life Style Asia

As I got older, my parents switched from going to church on Saturday evenings, to going on Sunday mornings at 8:30. Like any good Catholic, I was bribed to attend the early morning mass with the promise of breakfast afterwards. My parents would go to this small restaurant on Main Street called “The New Grenada.” My dad would order the egg’s Benedict (this probably explains where my love for this dish comes from) and my mom would vary her order. I would order chicken fingers and fries at 9:30 in the morning.

4Photo Credit: Martha Stewart

I didn’t start to enjoy breakfast until the summer of 2008. This was my first summer living in Toronto and my first summer dating GC. He lived in the Annex and we most weekend mornings we would go to Mel’s. Mel’s had been around forever and was a neighbourhood institution. It was your standard diner but it had this great patio that was on the side street, just slightly overlooking Bloor. Their toast wasn’t served with your standard strawberry jam, it was an in-house made rhubarb jam that was tart and sweet. It was the perfect little patio to fall in love with brunch and GC.

When I graduated university, I moved back home to live with my parents for 2 years. Every weekend I would come down to the city to spend time with GC. Unfortunately, he worked weekend shifts that were 3-11pm, restricting our time together to weekend mornings. Brunch was the obvious way to spend our mornings together. We would brunch, then discover new neighbourhoods until he had to go to work.

I moved in with GC in March 2012 and the brunch routine was a holdover from our “long-distance” days. Even once GC switched to a regular schedule and no longer worked weekends, it became an unconscious habit to wake up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and reach for my phone to scroll through a list of possible brunch suggestions. We continued to brunch most weekends.

5Photo Credit: ASC Public Relations Toronto

I’ve been brunching at least once a month for the past 5 years, or at least that is what I can remember. I have been working from various lists and because of this, somewhere along the way brunch was no longer about the meal or the company, it was about the lists. I rarely return to a brunch spot, regardless of how much I like it because of this sense of dedication and urgency to “the list.” I’ve tried so many restaurants and spent so much money on food that was good but not great and usually okay, not good because of these lists. I’ve tried a huge number of brunch restaurants in the city and I am sure I will try more, but I am done with brunch as my main focus for food and dining out. The BlogT.O. Top 50 list was too ambitious to be completely solid and despite only having 2 more restaurants left to try, I have decided that I am not going to complete this list. One is Ed Levesque which has somewhat changed since the publishing of this list and more importantly, is in the east end which is a pain to get to. The other is Hogtown Vegan which although I have no problem with vegans, brunch is for pork products and eggs.

7Photo Credit: lindszv Etsy shop

I am not done with brunch completely, just done with being confined to a list and eating at restaurants I have little to no interest in eating at. There are a number of brunches I am eager to try: Big Crow, Colette, and the Ritz Carleton to name a few but I am excited to expand my dining options to lunch and dinner and to perfect my brunch at home. I want to host more brunches and save going out for brunch when it can be a leisurely activity, not some sort of highly militarized mission that I sometimes make brunch into. I want to return to some of my favourite brunch spots in the city and order dishes I’ve had before and remember how good brunch can be. I want to return to enjoying brunch and eating brunch for brunch’s sake.