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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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).

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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

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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Brunch at Fabbrica

It’s official: the Italians need to come up with a word for brunch. Some might say that Italians don’t actually eat breakfast, they just have an espresso and a cigarette. And this is definitely the impression that my Italian relatives who visited for our wedding gave me. But Italian restaurants in Toronto are changing this idea of what Italian breakfast can and should mean. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed brunch at Fabbrica.FullSizeRender

This is my third visit to Fabbrica and it has always consistently delivered. The interior is modern and simple with classic Italian touches like marble tabletops and a cantina with large windows so guests can view the hanging salamis and prosciuttos. When the beautiful latte pictured above arrived I know that my brunch would deliver.

I ordered the Fabbrica Benny.

IMG_3591The Fabbrica Benny with poached eggs, guanciale and fontina crumpet, prosciutto and hollandaise.

Yum, yum, yum. The hollandaise is incredibly thick. The eggs are runny and gooey. The prosciutto is tender, fatty and the right amount of salt. The crumpet is a nice touch – it is a heftier alternative to your typical light and airy English muffin. It is salty and adds a sharp, nutty undertone throughout the crumpet with the fontina. I would have liked if the portion was slightly bigger but to be fair, I will always want more Benny.

The side of tomatoes is a light and slightly citrus way to clean your palate when you are finished with the richness of the Benny. The balsamic vinegar is sweet and thick and a natural compliment to the tomatoes. This is the Italian spin on the traditional British grilled tomatoes.

GC ordered the Shortrib hash.IMG_3594The short rib hash with poached egg, caramelized onion, braised short rib and potato served with toasted ciabatta.

Oh.mi.gawd. It is an inevitability that when two people dine together, one meal is going to be better than the other. But lucky for GC, that did not happen at our Fabbrica brunch. This is the best hash I have ever eaten. The short rib is incredibly tender, the meat just delicately flakes with every slight pierce of the fork. The veg is tender but retains it’s crunchiness. The onion adds a subtle sweetness and helps cut the richness of the short rib. The egg justifies this dish as a breakfast item and acts like a glue, cementing all the aspects of the hash in each bite.

I know no one wants to go to North York – I get it. I live in North York and don’t even want to travel to Fabbrica, but you should. Everything about Fabbrica is spot on – the service, the decor, the coffee and the food. It is a meal you will not regret traveling for. I will be fantasizing about this brunch until I can it again.

Happy munching!

The Tavern by Trevor

Back when it was bitterly cold in February we went for brunch at The Tavern by Trevor.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe Tavern is a contemporary restaurant at Spadina and Queen. There is concrete floors, wooden tables with expansive bench seating and large mirrors making the restaurant seem twice the size it is. We sat near the bar, at a high table with bench seating. As it was a bitterly cold day, we were one of two tables. Apparently not everyone is crazy like me and needs to go for brunch when it is -40 with the windchill.

We ordered coffees and then I ordered the Lobster Benedict.

IMG_3191The Lobster Benedict with double smoked bacon, kale and béarnaise sauce.

This is both a fancy and comforting dish. The lobster brings your standard Benedict up a notch but the use of béarnaise rather than hollandaise gives this dish the rustic, French taste to it. The lobster is buttery and flaky, playing up the butteriness in the béarnaise sauce. The béarnaise is slightly different than hollandaise; it is filled with delicate herb flavours, that taste like a fresh spring day, rather than that hit of lemon.

The kale needed to be cooked slightly longer to give it a bit more tenderness and to remove the acrid, bitter taste. This is why spinach works better on benedicts and breakfast sandwiches: it is naturally tender, sweet and retains a slightly crunch necessary in all sandwiches.

GC ordered the BBLT.IMG_3192The BBLT with Canadian bacon, double smoked bacon, a fried egg, avocado and lemon aioli.

This sandwich is genius. Why limit a BLT to one type of bacon when you can be ridiculous and add two types? It is brunch after all. The sandwich is smoky, fatty, buttery and juicy. The two layers of bacon create a fatty base to the sandwich. The egg is buttery and creamy. The avocado, tomato and arugula add a brightness to the sandwich that on a bitter cold day make you dream of spring. The lemon aioli adds another layer of freshness and tartness.

GC ordered a side of home fries.

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The sage and thyme home fries with red pepper mayo.

The home fries are crispy, sweet and bright with herb flavours. The red pepper mayo adds a bit of spice and is the perfect dipping sauce for these buttery, salty cubes. My criticism is that sandwiches should come with sides and that I shouldn’t have to order them separately.

And of course, if people are ordering side, then I am going to order a side of chorizo.IMG_3194I have a weakness for chorizo. If I see it on a menu, on it’s own or in a dish, I am that much more likely to order it. It is the perfect side to order with any brunch menu, especially after something light like the lobster Benedict. The chorizo added a spicy punch that my brunch was missing that morning. I loved that the chorizo was topped with fresh cut green onions. The onions add a little crunch and pepperiness.

I enjoyed my brunch at The Tavern. It is slightly upscale without being fussy or pretentious. The menu is full of classic brunch items with new twists that are not too difficult to wrap your hear around. Is it my favourite in the city? No. Will I go back? Probably not but I would recommend it.

Happy munching!

Mata Petisco Bar

My latest list of brunch suggestions I am working from is BlogTO’s Top 25 New Brunch in Toronto by Neighbourhood. There is some overlap between this list and their Best New Brunch Restaurants in Toronto, 2014 but what I like about this list is by organizing it by neighbourhood, you can plan a whole day in a new neighbourhood and start it with brunch. And as we all know, brunch, not breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

A few weeks ago, we headed to Parkdale to check out Mata Petisco Bar.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetMata is a Brazilian restaurant that serves both brunch and dinner, combining the flavours of Brazil with Spanish and Portuguese food. The atmosphere is South American industrial/cozy: natural materials, industrial siding, custom lighting, antique tiles and beer posters. It has the trappings of a dive bar but in stylistic and hipster way.

We were seated at a table with banquette seating on one side and brightly coloured chairs on the other side. Vintage cartoons were being projected on the wall and paired with coffee, this was the perfect grownup Saturday morning.

At the table is an assortment of pickled peppers and hot sauces. Mata orders different varieties of chili peppers from Brazil and South America and then pickle them in house. From the pickled peppers they make their own hot sauces. The hot sauces and peppers range from a touch of pepper to your face will be on fire. Learning that Mata puts the time and attention to detail into their condiments made me very excited to taste what else they had one offer.

We started with an order of Croquettes.

FullSizeRenderCroquettes served with a cumari pepper aioli.

These are delicious! They taste exactly like the croquettes we had in Portugal. The fish was flaky, light and buttery and the outside is fried to give you the most satisfying crunch with every bite. The cumari pepper aioli is slightly sweet with a slow burn that gradually builds as you munch. If you don’t like heat, you will like this aioli.

GC ordered Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich.IMG_3490The Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich with grilled chorizo, scrambled eggs, malagueta pepper aioli, mozzarella, arugula, and served with salad and cassava frites.

This is a delicious sandwich but it is slightly on the small side. The main component of a dish should not be overwhelmed by the sides.

The chorizo is spicy and juicy. The pepper aioli adds another level of spice that compliments the chorizo and rounds out the flavour across the entire sandwich. The mozzarella adds a creamy, buttery taste to the sandwich. The arugula adds a crisp tartiness and freshness to finish off the sandwich.

I ordered the Smoked Beef Cheek Benedict and obviously I ordered a side of chorizo.IMG_3492The Smoked Beef Cheek Benedict with brioche, poached eggs, hollandaise, and served with salad and cassava frites.

The chorizo is great. It is spicy and peppery and completely juicy. Even though it is sliced throughout to aid in the cooking process, it is not dried out. There is the hint of charring on each incision, giving that taste of summer so easily associated with barbeque. It is easily comparable to the sausages we ate in Spain last fall.

This is one of the best Benedicts I have had. The brioche is airy and buttery, but substantially sliced. The beef cheek is tender, moist and has so much flavour with each bite. It is seasoned, peppery and a little sweet. The eggs ooze all over the beautiful pile of meat and bread they sit on and blend with the lemony hollandaise as they pool together over everything.

Cassava frites are a thing of beauty in their own right. Cassava has a grainy texture, similar to a parsnip, creating an earthy, rustic texture that gives the entire dish a more home-cooked feel. The cassava adds a level of authenticity to the dish.

Mata has classic brunch dishes with a South American flare to them. It goes beyond your regular menu adaptation and brings you something truly, unique, something you won’t find at any other restaurant in the city. I would highly recommend going, ordering some coffee and chorizo, and enjoying the vintage cartoons.

Patois

My first delicious brunch of 2015 was at Patois. In the first weeks of January we headed over to Dundas West to meet up with two old friends, Victoria and Laura. We met them separately and then together: GC has known the girls since high school, and I met them in university. Patois is the perfect spot to catch up with old friends – it is Asian cuisine meets Jamaican-soul food, combining comforting old standards with fun contemporary twists. It is food that personifies the past and the future: dishes you have come to know and trust but looking forward to innovation, change and new, exciting things.

The restaurant is small but cozy, reminiscent of a tiki bar on a beach. Yes, I do realize tiki bars are not Jamaican but the atmosphere is consistent with being on vacation: natural materials, golden pineapples and floaty toys hanging from the ceiling. We were seated at a table for four past the bar, half of us sitting in booths, half on chairs.

Be warned: when you go to Patois for brunch, coffee is expensive and adds up. They do not have regular drip coffee, so you will be ordering Americanos that do not come with free refills. It is a small thing but it will add up quickly and do you really love coffee that much that you want to spend 1/4 of your brunch cost on it? I think not.

Smith

On a quiet Sunday in September, we headed down to Church Street to check out Smith. The restaurant is in an old Victorian-row house on Church Street, slightly hidden from view. The only hint of the restaurant is a red marquee sign in the window spelling out the name. There is bar seating just outside the restaurant on the sidewalk. The restaurant is narrow, with twists and turns leading to the back patio which is one of the most romantic, cozy spaces in the city.

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The gate opens to overlook a park off Church Street. The benches are decorated with mismatched pillows of varying sizes and fabrics. The exposed brick wall is painted in sections and natural in others, giving a very industrial feel to the space. The tables are rough and rustic, reminiscent of barn doors. On our table there was an antique porcelain cabinet knob that was turn upside down holding a single sprig of lavender. It is simple and cute.

GC ordered the Benedict.

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The Benedict with poached eggs, parmesan leek fondue and home fries.

Yes. Fondue should always be a topping not a dipping sauce. The parmesan leek fondue is nutty with the garlicky freshness from the leeks. It is thick and rich but does not overwhelm the eggs. This is an adult version of an already adult breakfast item. It is fancy without being stuffy and pretentious. It is fresh and tastes of spring. This would be the perfect addition to an Easter brunch.

I ordered the Huevos Rancheros.IMG_1446 IMG_1447The Huevos Rancheros with tortillas, poached eggs, black beans, guacamole, sour cream and salsa.

Another perfect dish. This huevos rancheros is fresh and light but is packed with protein and flavour. The guacamole is creamy, as if it is blended with sour cream but maintains the lightness of a sauce. The salsa is chunky and fresh, allowing the fruitiness of the tomato shine through, with hints of spice. The tortilla is toasted and a strong support for the pile of food mounded on top but is still tender enough to slice through perfect bites of Mexican yumminess.

The brunch was a bit pricey, but it is definitely worth it as a treat. I returned a few weeks ago for a Winterlicious dinner with a friend and it delivered just as much as the brunch did. I can’t wait for the return of warm weather so that I can return to this patio and enjoy a delicious brunch once again.

Happy munching!

Luna Cafe

On a rainy day at the end summer we went to Luna Cafe. Luna Cafe is a tiny restaurant on the main floor of an old Victorian house on a side street just off on Ossington. The cold rain fogged up the beautiful antique stain glass windows giving the restaurant a very romantic atmosphere. The tables are a mismatch of farmhouse style tables; rustic, worn and comforting. I was very taken in by the decor and atmosphere of this restaurant. It was homey, warm, and inviting. It was absolute perfection.

We ordered coffees and then food. I ordered Egg’s Benedict.

IMG_1538 IMG_1539Poached free run eggs on English muffin with peameal bacon, wine-ripe tomato and chipotle hollandaise with greens and homefries.

Because it was a rainy day, we were one of two tables in the restaurant. The service was SO. OBSCENELY. SLOW. On a cold and moody day, we didn’t mind this. We were allowed to sit and chat with hot coffees in hand and watch the rain drizzle down the windows. We should have known that if service was slow when no one was in the restaurant that on a subsequent visit, with more guests, that it would be even more terrible.

This was delicious. The muffin was soft and airy. The peameal was crispy without being dried out. The chipotle hollandaise was buttery, thick and spicy. I can overlook bad service for good food. Or so I thought. But more on that later.

GC ordered the Smoked Salmon Egg’s Benedict.

IMG_1537Poached free run eggs on English muffin with naturally smoked salmon and fresh dill, hollandaise with greens and homefries.

Fresh, light and delicious. The salmon was velvety soft. The eggs had that hint of vinegar I crave and the dill was fresh. GC loved this take on the traditional Benny.

We loved our experience so much that we returned for a second visit. NEVER AGAIN. No one acknowledged our presence for 15 minutes. We were then seated at a large country table for four. Which we were then asked to move from after about 30 minutes WITHOUT FOOD to accommodate a group of 4. WHICH WAS NOT A GROUP OF 4. It was two couples that did not know each other! This move made no sense and was fueled by the lack of food. It took forever for the server to take our order and then even more forever for us to get our food. When we eventually got our food my order was wrong NOT ONCE. NOT TWICE. BUT THREE FUCKING TIMES. Sort your business out! Gah! Reliving this infuriates me to no end. No food is good enough to live through this. I completely acknowledge that this is the epitome of a first world problem, but do I not attend brunch to be the epitome of a first world problem?

Obviously I would not return to Luna Cafe and I think you should rethink your visit. Happy munching!