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

IMG_1447

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.

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!

Torteria San Cosme

At the start of March the chef and co-founder behind the Toronto-based Mexican restaurant Milagro opened a street-food style restaurant in Kensington Market called Torteria San Cosme. The restaurant opened the first week in March and Cynthia and I attempted to go on the Friday night and try some tortas but alas, they had sold out and were closed for the evening. Don’t worry! Cynthia and I headed around the corner to Dirty Bird.

It should be mentioned that as a general rule of thumb, I hate Kensington Market. I know, I know. As someone who loves Toronto and loves food, it should be my Mecca. But I hate it.  The majority of my exposure to Kensington is from weekends when I would go downtown with GC and then he would head to work and I would wander through the city. Kensington on the weekends, especially pedestrian Sundays is *cringe* a nightmare. There are too many people who overrun the small sidewalks that are already crowded with stalls and bins of cheap sunglasses, smelly fish and nuts. But I do have my favourites. I love Blue Banana, Kid Icarus, Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Pizzeria Via Mercanti and of course, Toronto Popcorn Company. And no, I haven’t tried Seven Lives. Yet.

IMG_5631Despite my hate for Kensington, I ventured there twice in the span of two days – shocking I know. GC and I ventured down the next afternoon to try some sandwiches. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was still closed. There was a sign on the door advising that the restaurant would be opening slightly later than advertised and there was a queue of about 20 people waiting eagerly for sandwiches. The door was opened about 5 minutes after the new time but we rushed in.

The restaurant is situated on the corner of Baldwin and Kensington and the two exterior walls facing the streets are large, airy windows. Sunlight streams in from the street and highlights the gorgeous tiles that covers the walls and floors. A large, narrow, open concept kitchen is the focal point of the restaurant with a bar giving seating overlooking this kitchen. There is not a ton of seating in the restaurant, we were perched at a chair-rail like bar in a corner behind the entrance.

I ordered the Cubana sandwich.

IMG_5637The Cubana sandwich with smoked ham, adobo pork, bacon, gouda, avocado, chipotle, mustard and tomato.

This is my favourite Cubana sandwich I have tried, and may even well be my favourite sandwich I have ever eaten. The bun (from Blackbird Baking Co. across the street – another Kensington favourite of mine) was substantial and didn’t crumble under all the beautiful meat and other toppings but also was chewy, soft and moist. I didn’t have to force the sandwich into the back of my mouth and rip with my stronger, more prehistoric-like molars.

The smoked ham was a slice of Easter dinner on a bun. It was thick, juicy and fatty. I loved that it was actually a piece of ham clearly cut from a hock rather than deli meat.The adobo pork was spicy and complimented the richness of the ham. And if two types of pork were not enough for you, there is bacon on this sandwich. The bacon is crispy and salty, making it not just a third type of pork but a third, and completely different flavor and texture profile highlighting how versatile pork is.

The condiments added a balance of tartness from the mustard and sweetness from the tomato and the avocado. The cheese melted over the meat and was smoky and cheesy yumminess.

GC ordered the Milanesa sandwich.

IMG_5634The Milanesa sandwich with breaded chicken, manchego, chipotle mayo, refritos, avocado, tomato and onion.

If there is one thing you need to know about GC it is that he loves a a good sandwich, and especially a fried chicken sandwich. While I preferred my Cubana to his Milanesa, this sandwich was exactly what he was looking for. The chicken was crispy and well battered; the batter didn’t peel off the chicken with every bite. It was spicy, crunchy and cheesy.

We thoroughly enjoyed our sandwiches and we can’t wait to go back. This summer will be filled with visits to Kensington Market, picking up take-out from San Cosme and drinking covert beers in parks. It’s going to be an amazing summer.

Happy munching!!!

Delux

At the start of June, I get the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest people of all time, Cynthia. As you know, Cynthia is great and is one of my favourite people to share food with. To celebrate this year’s birthday we went to Ossington to have dinner at Delux.

It seems unfair for me to taunt you with this deliciousness as Delux recently just closed but it really was delicious and you need to know about it. There are also talks that they are working on something new so you can look forward to that.

We started off with mojitos and decided to order two appetizers and split an entree. Our first starter was the Grilled Tiger Shrimp.

IMG_0650 IMG_0651The grilled tiger shrimp and tostones.

This was delicious. The avocado was smooth, buttery and fresh with hints of lime. The shrimp was slightly charred and smoky. It was tender and sweet. The tostones were the perfect platforms to serve all this deliciousness on. I preferred these tostones to the ones at La Cubana. They were more tender but still crispy with hints of salty, nuttiness.

Next, we had the Duck Confit Empanada.

IMG_0652The crust was flaky, buttery and tender. It carefully enveloped the soft, delicate duck. The duck was perfect – fatty, salty and tender. Raisins were dotted throughout the empanada. They were soaked, juicy and tender. They were little tidbits of sweetness sprinkled throughout the richness of the duck.

Then we had the Grilled Flat-Iron Steak.

IMG_0655 IMG_0656The grilled flat-iron steak with chimichurri and and shallots.

This was not great and the low point of the meal. We asked for the steak to be cooked medium and it came out rare. It was lightly seared on all sides and very pink, almost purple, on the inside. If the steak had been a high-quality cut of meat this wouldn’t have been a problem but it was not a good cut of meat. The meat was tough and chewy, sinews threaded throughout. Ick. The crispy shallots were the high point of the dish but the condiment should never be the high point.

And lastly, but never least, we ordered dessert. We split an order of Buttermilk Donuts.

IMG_0657

These donuts were the perfect cap to a delicious dinner. They were still warm from being fried, thickly dusted in cinnamon sugar. They were dipped in a thick cream topped with caramel.  The presentation was simple but sweet. It brought back memories of summers at The Ex eating fresh Tiny Tom Donuts. These are the best donuts I have ever eaten (sorry Tiny Tom!). I have found something I love more than churros, which I didn’t think was possible. Yummmmmms.

After dinner we headed up the street to Bellwoods Brewery to enjoy some beers and people watching – the perfect night on Ossington Avenue. Happy birthday Cynthia – it’s going to be a great year!

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!