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).

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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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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!

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!

Bar Buca

When you’ve eaten your way through most brunch restaurants in Toronto you get tired of seeing the same thing on every menu. I can make your standard bacon and eggs big breakfast that appears at every restaurant and to be frank with you, I like my eggs better. Now when I go for brunch I am looking for something more; I am looking for something different. This fits the description of Bar Buca.

I first went to Bar Buca back in February for brunch with Cynthia. Bar Buca is sleek and modern, using slick materials like marble, steel and concrete. It very much captures the look of contemporary and upscale Italy. You could easily picture this restaurant juxtaposed against the historic streets in Rome. There is an espresso bar at the front of the restaurant that brews coffee for dine-in and take-out. There is a long, wooden chair rail that wraps around the front of the restaurant. The tables are high bar tables with smooth wooden tops and stool seating. There is a long marble bar with leather stools and overlooks the tiny, open-concept kitchen. Seating is limited and communal, a concept I support. I will gladly take sitting with strangers if it means I can enjoy good food instead of waiting in line.

We were seated at the marble bar, drooling over the fresh foccaccia that was coming out of the oven in a steady stream.

I ordered the Ammazza Fegato.

IMG_3303The Ammazza Fegato with Tuscan offal sausage, farro, cavolo nero, king oyster and a poached farm egg.

This is rich and decadent. The farro is meaty, with a slightly crunchy grit to it. It is swimming in a pool of butter. The king oyster mushrooms are woodsy and fleshy. They add a silky meatiness to the base of this dish. The egg is nested and protected in one of the best sausages I have ever eaten. Offal refers to a combination of organ meats and this combination creates a juicy and evenly flavoured sausage. When I slice into the egg, it oozes all over the sausage and mixes with the butter and farro and creates this thick and creamy sauce.

This is one of the best breakfast I have eaten.

Cynthia ordered the Uova Rossa.

IMG_3301The Uova Rossa with duck egg yolk, bay scallop, crisp potato and scallions.

The duck yolk is thick and creamy. The scallops add a sweet ocean flavour to the dish. They are salty and fresh. The potatoes add a crunchiness and the scallions are freshness.

The highlight of the brunch: we were seating at the bar with a single seat on either side of us. The manager came over and asked us how we enjoyed our breakfast. I assumed that because we are adorable (obviously Cynthia, not me) he was just being polite. He proceeded to ask us if we could move seats and it would be worth our will. He brought over a beautiful, perfectly round bombolone filled with vanilla cream and rolled in cinnamon sugar.

IMG_3692All I have to do to get a free donut is move over one stool? OBVIOUSLY. This is the best donut I have ever eaten. It was still warm from being fried. It is filled with a thick and luscious cream, with the most aromatic vanilla flavour I have had in any dessert. The cinnamon sugar is lightly covering the entire surface of the donut. The donut itself is airy and light.

I only* (coffee is slowly becoming a necessity in my life despite having always made a conscious effort to not be a coffee drinker) drink coffee when I go for brunch. And Italians know coffee. Bar Buca is an amazing place to get your coffee fix. They serve their coffee with a sugar that is a mix of espresso crema and sugar. This is basically crack. It is thick, creamy and the right balance between coffee bite and sugary sweetness.

This donut and that coffee was the reason I wanted to return to Bar Buca with my favourite Italian, GC.

GC ordered the Carbonara Schiacciata or stuffed foccaccia.

IMG_3689The Carbonara Schiacciata with guanciale, farm eggs, crotonese and black pepper.

This sandwich. The foccaccia is light but at the same time dense. It is salty and is subtly piney from the rosemary. The egg is partially broken and spread thinly across the bread. Guanciale is a cured Italian meat made from pork jowl and the use of this meat adds a salty briny flavour to the sandwich, rather than a smoky taste which would be derived from using a meat like prosciutto. The crotonese cheese is salty and nutty, but more subtle and sweet than most Italian sheep cheeses.

I ordered the Coniglio Alla Milanese.

IMG_3690The Coniglio Alla Milanese with rabbit loin, prosciutto, smoked mozzarella and fresh gremolata.

Rabbit is not my favourite meat. I find it too much work for what you get. But this. This is how I can eat rabbit. This is essentially an Italian cordon bleu. The rabbit is thinly sliced and is extremely delicate. The prosciutto is even more thinly sliced, draped over the rabbit like tissue paper. The mozzarella is smoky and creamy, it oozes out over the rabbit with each slice and bite. The gremolata adds a fresh, spring citrus element to the rabbit, lightening the dish. The egg floating on top of the rabbit makes this meal breakfast and not dinner.

I am obviously in love with this restaurant. It is an upscale brunch that is not for the faint of heart. I acknowledge that to many, this is not what brunch is about but this is what I am looking for when I go for brunch. Brunch should not be restricted to just eggs and toast. Brunch is just as much of an opportunity to experiment and push boundaries as any other meal. And Bar Buca does that.

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!