Windup Bird Cafe

Months and months ago when we ate brunch every weekend and it was warm and sunny, we went to Windup Bird Cafe. This restaurant is super cute. It is brightly painted, has a wooden bar, exposed brick and sleek metal accents. There is a cute patio facing Borden Street with potted plants and brightly coloured plastic chairs. Although the patio was inviting, we opted for a spacious booth at the back of the restaurants. We were the only ones in the restaurant. We viewed this as intimate but it is always concerning when a restaurant is deserted at brunch.

The menu is very unique, focusing largely on fusion and fresh, seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is very active with its programming – offering cooking classes, talks and seminars.These programs cover a range of topics from making sushi to food literacy. It’s great to see that kind of active fostering of a food community in Toronto.

GC ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffles.

IMG_1398The Chicken and Waffles with deep-fried chicken karage, roast potatoes and seasonal veg.

I’m not going to lie – it’s rather disappointing that the waffles are not perfectly round. The piece of chicken was a little small but it was tasty. Karage is a Japanese cooking technique where meat is marinated soy sauce, garlic and ginger and then coated and fried. There is subtle, underlying umami flavours.

I ordered the Smoked Salmon Benny.IMG_1399The Smoked Salmon Benny with avocado, spinach, and house hollandaise.

I am seldom of the opinion that eggs Benny should be healthy, but this was yummy. It was light and fresh, tasting of spring. The hollandaise was buttery and spicy, with tastes of dijon. This is a very adult take on the Benny and would be perfect for an Easter brunch.

I’m not into kale salad as a side for my brunch. Brunch should be served with potatoes, toast and any other type of carbohydrate. There is no room for salad at brunch.

After a delicious brunch, we headed north to check out the Cheltenham Badlands. The Badlands are easily one of the coolest place in Ontario I’ve had the opportunity to check out and I would highly recommend it if you live in the area. Indie88 (do we view them as an authority on travel?) recently named it one of Canada’s 10 Underrated Landmarks.

IMG_1403 IMG_1405 IMG_1414 IMG_1422IMG_1409IMG_1410IMG_1416 IMG_1423Happy munching and hiking!

The County General

Pre-wedding I was very concerned with eating well and getting fit. I had started running and was looking for ways to become a stronger runner. I was doing leg lifts, sit-ups, crunches and using weights. I was looking to add another type of exercise and yoga seemed like a good choice. In the summer, there were a number of free yoga sessions throughout the city and this was the perfect opportunity to try a new exercise. Our first attempt brought us to a free class at Canoe Landing Park. This is not a good choice of location for your first yoga class. It was a hot August morning, the sun was beating down and we lasted about 20 minutes. We were told by the instructor to listen to our bodies and our bodies said, “Brunch.” It should be noted that the instructor tried to shame us into staying for the whole session but brunch speaks louder than a yogi. We headed over to The County General.

The County General is cute and rustic and the food is similar. We sat on the small side patio. The patio can seat between 5-8 people, and could easily get crammed. But early on a Sunday morning, it was a great place to start the day with a cup of coffee.

IMG_1218I loved these cups and saucers. This cup would conjure thoughts of warm summer days even on the most frigid of days. GC and I had mismatched sets and it made the patio seem cozier. We enjoyed our Americanos and ordered brunch. I ordered the Eggs Benedict.

IMG_1221Eggs Benedict with English muffins, soft poached eggs, maple hollandaise and pulled pork.

Note: the plate is mismatched from the cups = rustic and cozy! This was very good. The English muffin was tender and was easy to slice through. The eggs were vinegary and runny. The hollandaise was buttery, thick and had a hint of sweetness to it. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, just the perfect amount to bring out the sweetness in the pork. I loved this pulled pork. It was sweet, salty and tender. Yumms.The pickled red cabbage was the perfect kick to help with the richness of the dish.

I would order this again and again. And would recommend you do too.

GC ordered the Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich.

IMG_1220The Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich with buttermilk chicken, avocado chutney, cilantro and pickled red onion.

Another mismatched plate! These simple touches of different place settings and plaid napkins added to the subtle country vibe of the restaurant that nicely contrasts with brunch in the city.

This sandwich was delicious! The chicken was tender and moist. Chicken thighs fry perfectly – the meat is almost impossible to dry out. The battering was crispy, flaky and the right amount of greasy. Yes, there is a right amount of greasy. The avocado, cilantro and red onion was the right combination of pepperiness and citrus flavour. They were light flavours that worked with the lightness of chicken. It is easy to overpower chicken with strong flavours but this sandwich was balanced and wonderful.

We thoroughly enjoyed our brunch. It led to the question: if 20 minutes of yoga results in this deliciousness what does a full hour get you?

Happy munching!

Lisa Marie

What is the only way to make my favourite meal better? Add some of my favourite people. A few weeks ago we went for brunch to Lisa Marie with Le Faz and Jamie.

Before we arrived, I was already in love. We had stumbled across another brunch place that takes reservations. Squeezing in two people for brunch is no problem but four can get tricky. When it comes to brunch, I like rules, regulations and order. Abiding by these things ensures that I get tasty food quickly. When we arrived, we learned we didn’t need reservations, the restaurant didn’t fill up until we were leaving. Oh well.

The restaurant is hip and simple. The walls are painted with various Elvis murals and of course, there is an Elvis bust behind the bar. The seating is a combination of bar seating, high tables and regular tables with benches. Overall, the restaurant is sleek and modern with the right hint of hipster pretension.

GC ordered the Bacon Explosion Benedict.

IMG_2562Two smoked and grilled bacon explosion patties topped with 2 poached eggs, jalapeño hollandaise sauce and served on brioche bread with a side of Dijon and duck fat home fries.

Obviously someone at the table had to order something that had two types of bacon weaved together into a thick, heart-stopping patty. GC wolfed this down so I did not get a taste but I will take that as a good indication of it’s deliciousness and quality. The only criticism was that the bun was significantly larger than the pork patties but this is probably a good thing. We don’t want GC dying prematurely before 30.

Le Faz ordered the Double Pancake Pork Burger.

IMG_2564Double stacked 4oz pork burgers with pancake buns, lettuce, American cheese and secret sauce with a side of maple syrup.

Jamie and I ordered the Fried Cornish Hen and Corn Bread Waffles.

IMG_2563 IMG_2565Old school battered and fried hen with corn bread jalapeño waffle. Comes with maple syrup and hot sauce. Top with a side of Dijon and duck fat fries, below with a side of pad Thai fries.

Holy yums. Chicken and waffles has become my new favourite brunch item. When I go for brunch I like to order things I won’t make at home and this dish perfectly fits that description.

I loved that instead of the traditional chicken, it was switched up with Cornish hen. It is the perfect size and lends itself so well to being deep fried because it is so tiny and doesn’t take long to crisp up. It was salty, juicy and tender. With a smaller bird, comes more bones which are a slight irritation that can be overlooked when deep fried and smothered in syrup.

The waffle was appropriately sized and didn’t dwarf the already tiny bird. I was happy with the amount of waffle that was included, anything else would have looked ridiculous on the plate and I wouldn’t have been able to finish. This is the best flavoured waffle I have had. The corn bread made the waffle dense and substantial and paired naturally with the jalapeño. The jalapeño added the right amount of spice and flavour without overpowering the waffle and the hen.

This was a delicious brunch and I want to go back for more! Happy munching!

Gilead Café

As Christmas approaches weekends and evenings fill with dinner parties, festive cocktails and baking. It’s hard to maintain any sense of normalcy and schedule which for me means GC and brunch. Last weekend GC and I reconnected over brunch at Gilead Café.

Gilead Café is sleek and modern with a touch of rustic charm. It beautifully combines materials and styles. There is a coffee bar, a blackboard wall with daily specials and walls of preserves. It is modern and simple without being cold and sterile. It is my dream kitchen. We were seated at a small wooden table near the window with views of the alleyway and row houses.

I ordered the Poached Eggs Benedict with House-made Ham.

IMG_2685

IMG_2686

YUMS. This was simple and understated but absolutely perfect. The hollandaise was zippy and silky. It was lemony and tart without being too citrus. It was drowning perfectly poached eggs.They were runny and rich. The ham was sweet and flaky. The English muffin was absolutely amazing. We all know how I constantly site my Gordon Ramsay English muffin as the best English muffin I have ever had but it looks like we might have a contender. It was airy, buttery and light. A fluffy, little pillow to put your delicate head on. I would like to eat this again and again.

The low point of this dish: the lentils. Why am I eating lentils in general let alone accompanying my delicious brunch? Fine, insist that I try to be a bit more healthy but these were mealy and boring. I would rather have salad with my brunch than lentils. Ick.

GC ordered the Poutine with Braised Beef & Aged Cheddar.

IMG_2683How come GC gets to eat poutine for breakfast and I had lentils on my plate? And why are all my life problems the epitome of first world? But because GC loves me he shared and I was able to enjoy this amazingness. The fries were crispy and fresh. The braised beef was tender, rich and delicate, flaking gently over the the fries. The cheese melted and the dollop of sour cream was decadent and amazing.

This brunch was fantastic. It was simple but sophisticated and delicious. After our brunch we headed to the Distillery District to wander the Christmas Market and then to the Gardiner Museum to check out the 12 Trees of Christmas. This year the theme was Toronto and the trees represented the various neighbourhoods of the city. Below are a few of my favourites:

IMG_2693 IMG_2697 IMG_2699 IMG_2703 Happy munching!

Uncle Betty’s

Is there anything better than discovering a delicious brunch spot? Yes! Discovering a delicious brunch spot near your house! I love our little house, for sale but it is hard to find a decent brunch spot north of Eglinton (if this comment is offensive, please suggest away). When a friend suggested we check out Uncle Betty’s we jumped at the opportunity. Brunch, less than 10 minutes away from our house and it’s good?! Yes, please!

Uncle Betty’s is a cute diner-style restaurant, with bright walls and lots of windows. There are mustaches painted on the walls and it is very family-friendly. If you aren’t into small children screaming, crying and jostling you while you eat your brunch, don’t come here. Since I can tolerate near-anything if I am eating good food, this isn’t a problem for me.

I ordered The Ultimate Grilled Cheese.

IMG_1643 IMG_1644 IMG_1645White bread with melted white and classic Cheddar cheese, a slab of homemade Mac ‘n Cheese, topped with pulled pork and drizzled with roasted garlic aioli.

This was delicious and ridiculous. Do you need to eat this? Probably not. Should you? Probably yes. It was cheesy, rich and messy. For some reason, messy food always tastes better. I loved the combination of textures from the mac ‘n cheese, slightly spongy, contrasted with the shredded pork and the oozy silkiness of the cheese.

GC ordered The Breakfast in a Bowl.

IMG_1642A breakfast-style poutine with home fries topped with sausage or bacon, two eggs, gravy and Cheddar cheese.

Overall we enjoyed our brunch at Uncle Betty’s. The food was a good solid take on your typical brunch menu. There were a few over-the-top menu items but they were not too ambitious that the execution failed. The rest of the menu was solid, hearty brunch that was at a decent quality for the price. The service was ok, not great, but everyone else seems to enjoy brunch at a bit more of a leisurely pace then I do.

Since we had a good experience when we went to Uncle Betty’s back in October, we decided to go again, especially to try the Dreesen’s donuts. GC ordered The Breakfast in a Bowl, a good indication that it was good and I decided to be decadent and order the Betty’s Benedict.

Betty’s Benedict

2 poached eggs served on a Dreesen’s Donut with a slice of peameal. Topped with a lemon hollandaise and served with home fries.

IMG_2360 IMG_2362I was disappointed. I expected each egg to be on its own donut. I know this is decadent and ridiculous but you are putting my eggs Benedict on a donut, I think it’s a fair assumption that this should be ridiculous. The donut was dry and had no flavour. It didn’t have sourness or sweetness of a plain donut. The Benedict as a whole was also fairly plain and flavourless. There was no zestiness or zip to the hollandaise sauce but my eggs were oozy.

This time the service was much slower as the staff was preparing for a big group. I understand large groups need to be accommodated but do not do this at the expense of your other customers.

We bought a half-dozen donuts to take home even though the donut in my benny wasn’t fantastic. The donuts were delicious. They were fresh, airy and light. My favourite was easily the cinnamon-sugar donut.

Uncle Betty’s isn’t my favourite choice for brunch but if I am looking for something local, it makes the cut. Happy munching!

Weslodge

On Sunday, ask GC and I headed down to King West to have brunch at Weslodge.

We choose Weslodge for a few reasons:

  1. It opens late for brunch and thus, treat you avoid ridiculous brunch lineups without having to wake up ridiculously early. We didn’t get home the night before until 3 in the morning and thus, view our typical weekend efficiency was delayed a few hours. We arrived at around 1 o’clock and the restaurant was half empty.
  2. It is on the constantly referenced Blog T.O. Top 50 Brunch list. As we have worked our way through this list, we give less and less authority to it. 50 is a very ambitious number for a list especially for referencing best brunches in a city that has a constantly changing restaurant scene. However, we have come too far on the list to give up on it now. We only have 9 more restaurants to try and my goal (if my waistline does not protest too much) is finish this list off by the end of January 2015.
  3. The restaurant looks really cool. The signage is marquee style lighting and the inside looks like a mix between an old-Victorian house/hipster saloon/Prohibition bar. We would learn that it was obviously the main focus of the restaurant rather than the food.

WeslodgeWe were seated at a large booth with too deep seating paired with too high of a table. This seems like such a small detail to notice and care about but it makes for awkward dining. When you eat out far too much, you notice these things. The décor is very hipster cool: lots of interesting and vintage elements that have no relationship to one another. The walls are a hunter green, donned with animal busts and small taxidermied birds, and Victorian portraits. The bar has a Prohibition pub vibe to it, with a chalkboard of cocktails. The servers have holsters over the shoulders which I can only assume should hold pads of paper for taking orders but they were empty. Weslodge is suffering from an identity crisis: are you my Victorian grandmother’s house, a saloon in the Wild, Wild West or a speakeasy?

This identity crisis translates into the menu. Given the décor, you would assume the menu would channel British flavours and dishes, like the Queen & Beaver. However, the menu lacks consistency. There are Scotch eggs, house made English muffins and croquettes to start, which are all very British however, then there is fried chicken, schnitzel, and crispy shrimp rolls on the menu. SORT YOUR LIFE OUT. In trying to cover a gamut of flavours and styles, Weslodge fails to do anything particularly well. The execution is okay, but given the price tag of the meal and the attempt at creativity you are obviously expecting and wanting more.

We both started off with a Scotch Egg.

IMG_2484The Scotch Egg with chorizo, tomato jam and black truffle.

This was delicious but when is a Scotch Egg ever not? It was served slightly warm and nestled in a bed of spicy tomato jam. I loved this tomato jam. It would be a welcome addition to my breakfast table. The flavour of the black truffle was unapparent but the salty yolkiness made up for this. The egg was a quail egg and added that little bit of richness that traditionally comes with quail eggs due to the size of the yolk. This Scotch egg is listed as one of Toronto Life’s top 5 Scotch eggs in the city, a list I plan to conquer.

GC ordered the Fried Chicken.

IMG_2486Fried Chicken with jalapeno cheddar biscuit, white gravy and jalapeno hot sauce.

I believe this is on the menu in the attempt to emulate a saloon but it’s not working. The chicken was fried well: it was crispy on the outside but juicy and full-cooked on the inside without being burnt. It was boneless which is an added bonus when one is trying to slice through fried chicken with a fork and a knife. The biscuit was flavourless and dense, two qualities a biscuit, particularly one with jalapeno and cheese, should not be. There was not nearly enough gravy on this, and this is coming from someone who can do without gravy (shocking, yes, I know). The jalapeno hot sauce was more of a chutney and was not spicy.

Overall, stick with fried chicken and waffles elsewhere; Maybe SCHOOL or Stockyard’s just to name a few of my favourites.

GC also had the side order of the Maple Bourbon Bacon.

IMG_2490The menu claims this is supposed to be thick cut but as you can see, it is obviously not. The bacon was crispy, slightly sweet and salty. It was good but I would have preferred slightly thicker bacon, especially when the menu claims this is how it will be served.

I ordered the Eggs Benny (I know there should be an apostrophe there but I am be true to the grammatically incorrect menu).

IMG_2487The Eggs Benny with house English muffin, lamb bacon, hollandaise and mizuna.

Looking at this makes me depressed. When it was brought to the table I pouted a little. This is the smallest, most underwhelmingly sad looking thing I have ever seen. The English muffins were tiny, dense and nearly impossible to cut through. Restaurants should not highlight something being house made if the quality is not great and this was the case with this English muffin. Now, to be fair, the best English muffin I have ever eaten was at Gordon Ramsay’s York and Albany in London (yums) and it probably doesn’t get much better than that but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

I was intrigued by lamb bacon because it was something different and therefore should be tried but I shouldn’t have. The bacon leathery, it was almost jerky like. As lamb is lean, why would you use it to make delicious, normally fatty bacon? Fail.

The eggs were not poached the same way. One was poached hard and therefore did not ooze slowly over everything on my plate. The second egg was poached perfectly but I cannot overlook two inconsistently poached eggs. The hollandaise was bland and boring.

The side of greens were good but did I go out for brunch to eat salad? No.

I wasn’t impressed with Weslodge. It is underwhelming food at an expensive price. The menu lacked the substance and creativity it was trying to go for. My suggestion: go for a Scotch egg and a cocktail. I can only assume it will be good because can you really mess up booze?

Happy munching!