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.

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Dirty Bird Chicken + Waffles

A few weeks ago, purchase Cynthia and I tried to enjoy tortas from San Cosme however, mind they had sold out and had closed for the day. We walked around the corner down Kensington Avenue and decided to try Dirty Bird Chicken + Waffles.
Dirty Bird is another small restaurant in Kensington: there is likely room for about 20 people, stuff standing. When you walk into the restaurant there is a large, island-style table that can fit between 8-10 people around, depending on if people are seated or clustered around the table. There is bar seating along the perimeter of the restaurant that can seat/stand another 10 or so people. The restaurant was full when we arrived on Friday night, however, based on arms weighed down with various assortments of craft beer, we knew the majority of the customers would not be staying in the restaurant.
The restaurant’s concept is fairly simple, fried chicken, served in a variety of ways. You can opt to have the fried chicken served in sandwich form or just the traditional, bone-in bucket way. We decided to order the 6 piece chicken meal with sides of coleslaw and fries.
IMG_5622The intention is clearly for this to be enjoyed by one person based on the size of the sides. The coleslaw was nothing special, just your generic, lightly dressed cabbage, without any major bite or tang. I like my coleslaw creamy and tangy, with hints of fennel. The fries were crispy but still soft and pillowy in the centre.
 IMG_5623The chicken was okay. It was not consistently cooked: the thighs were juicy and very crispy and the drumsticks while juicy, were not crispy. When you are only serving two cuts of meat (which is the standard with fried chicken because you don’t fry the breast) you should be able to manage consistency across both types. And fried chicken needs to be just that, fried and crispy. Otherwise you have the grease factor without the crispy delicious coating. The batter was nothing remarkable, just plain frying batter that was well-seasoned but nothing out of the ordinary. The hot sauce was tangy and had a slight bite to it, it added to the chicken in a nice complimentary way.
We were not completely satisfied from our chicken so we order The Swalty for dessert.
 IMG_5624The Swalty, a waffle ice cream sandwich with salted caramel ice cream, caramel sauce and beef bacon.
This was the highlight of the meal for me. The waffle was crispy on the outside but maintained a light, airiness inside. The ice cream (which is made by Ed’s Real Scoop) had the rich, caramelized, saltiness of salted caramel. The ice cream was creamy and had a smooth texture. No ice crystals had formed in the ice cream that can be so jarring and cold when you bite into the ice cream. The caramel sauce was not cloyingly sweet and complimented the subtle salted caramel taste of the ice cream. The beef bacon was crispy, and had a rich smoky flavour to it. The saltiness in the bacon accented the saltiness in the salted caramel ice cream.
Next time I am craving fried chicken, I will not be returning to Dirty Bird, I will likely revisit my current favourite fried chicken restaurant in the city, Bar Fancy. But I think I will have to have another swalty at some point this summer.
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!!!

Bar Fancy

I first went to Bar Fancy back in March with Cynthia. We were looking for a place to grab a drink and have a much needed catch-up session. We had heard that Bar Fancy had amazing fried chicken and what better and more appropriate way to spend a girls’ night then to eat fried chicken and drink beer?

IMG_3518 IMG_3522Bar Fancy is on Queen Street and is very easy to miss. Despite having huge glass windows the view is obscured by hanging plants in macramé baskets that your Nonna would have. You have to go down a long sketchy alleyway that is only lit by a badass neon tiger overhead. The inside of the bar is nothing special: dimly lit, store cozy tables and simple décor allowing the food to be the focus of the menu.

We ordered a plate of fried chicken. If you visit the restaurant between 5-7pm each night, order you can get fried chicken for $2.00 apiece. This is an amazing deal because typically the chicken is $18.00 for 4 pieces.

IMG_3521The chicken is presented very simply: on a Frisbee with a wedge of lime. There are no pretenses about the chicken or trying to make it into something it clearly is not. The pieces are huge; 2 pieces is enough for a snack but why would you want to limit yourself to only 2 pieces of this deliciousness? The chicken is meaty, buy tender, and a little greasy without soaking your face. The batter is crunchy and you can bite into the chicken without removing all the skin with one bite. The batter is slightly spicy, enough to give you the taste of the spice but without lighting your tongue on fire and is salty without forcing you to drink 6 liters of water. It is the best fried chicken I’ve eaten.

We enjoyed our fried chicken with the spicy Thai salad. This is salad works well with the chicken. The heat and freshness of the salad help offset the heaviness of eating fried chicken. And it is spicy. By the end of the salad my mouth was on fire and seeking comfort at the bottom of my pint glass.

We have since been back to have more fried chicken but this time with a side of their tar-tare. Neither Cynthia nor I loved their tar-tare, and that’s not surprising. The tar-tare is on the menu for $10.00 which speaks to the quality of meat that would have to be used. The interesting thing is that they serve the tar-tare with an Asian flair – using sesame seeds and seaweed which add nuttiness and umami flavours to the dish.

I will go back to Bar Fancy again and again for their fried chicken and maybe even outside the hours of 5-7 pm because it’s that good that I’m willing to pay full price.

Happy munching!

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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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.

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!

The Bristol

When we visited The Bristol Yard in May we were actually in a frenzy. It was a restaurant that was serving traditional British breakfast but it was closing. We knew we had to visit it before it was gone forever. However, the restaurant did not close; it simply moved further south which when you live in North York it might as well have closed forever. A few weeks ago we made the trek to Queen and Dovercourt to check out the new restaurant, simply named The Bristol.

It has much more of a British pub-circa World War II vibe to it with tufted booths, checkered floors and Union Jack bunting. I want to drink pints of warm beer with soldiers and cryptologist in this pub. My only complaint with the décor is that the tufted booths are slightly too low for sitting comfortably and eating at the tables. Even as two tall people, me and GC found this awkward and uncomfortable.

A note to soccer hooligans: although this seems like an excellent place to watch a match, it is not that kind of crowd. It is a crowd who want to enjoy a British breakfast without having to deal with British things. The day we went Liverpool was playing and there was a man in a jersey wanting to watch the game. He asked for the volume on the television to be turned on but also to a very high volume. He then proceeded to ignore his girlfriend/wife and her whole family to watch the game. Dude. I get it. You are into the team and would rather be watching with them instead of spending time with your in-laws but you agreed to go to brunch on match day. And really, if you were an actual fan you would know to watch the game at Scallywags with other Liverpool fans.

GC ordered the Full Monty.

IMG_2747IMG_2746aTwo eggs with two rashers or smoked bacon, one large house made sausage, black pudding, sautéed mushrooms, house made baked beans and served with grilled tomato, home fries and toast.

If you husband is willing to try black pudding because you are really into food, that’s love.

I ordered Rajcoe’s Chicken & Waffles.

IMG_2748The Rajcoe’s Chicken & Waffles with crispy fried tandoori chicken in onion bhaji batter served on a light savoury waffle made with chickpea flour, roasted cumin, coriander and fresh green chiles and served with a sweet and tangy mango, tamarind and coconut maple syrup.

This is the most interesting version of fried chicken and waffles I have ever had. The waffle was spicy and warm, but very dry. This can be attributed to the chickpea flour. It wasn’t necessary to use the chickpea flour because this flavour did not come through the waffle. Rice flour or potato flour would have created the same texture and flavour but slight more moist.

The chicken was spicy! But in a subtle way that slowly built while you ate it. It was a very boney piece of chicken which wasn’t easy to maneuver on the plate. I wasn’t into the maple syrup. It wasn’t sweet or thick like syrup. It was thin, with a hint of spice. With it’s texture and flavour I wanted it to be hot but it wasn’t. It was an odd topping.

The fried chicken and waffles were interesting, but not great. I would not order them again but I would go to The Bristol again and again. And you should too.

Happy munching!

 

The Drake Cafe

When do I visit uber hipster spots? Early on Sunday morning when they are still tucked up in bed. A few months ago we checked out The Drake Cafe on an early Sunday morning.

IMG_2320The Drake serves breakfast until 9 am and brunch after that. We arrived just slightly before 9 so we waited with coffees so we could order brunch ridiculousness.

We were seated by an older couple who were reading newspapers and sipping coffee. They were then joined by their granddaughter and her roommate. This couple personified the vibe of The Drake: cool, hip and eclectic. They are also the perfect example of what I want my life to eventually be: living in Toronto my whole life, keeping current with trends and new restaurants and aging absolutely wonderfully.

The couple on our other side was absolutely everything I don’t want to be, ever: arriving to brunch in sweatpants, and when there is a ridiculous bounty of delicious food you order a bagel. AND NOT EVEN WITH CREAM CHEESE. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??

We ignored other people’s poor choices by making our own great ones. GC ordered the Drake Breakfast.

IMG_2319The Drake Breakfast with 2 eggs, Perth bacon, sage sausage, baked beans, tomato jam, root vegetable hash and rye toast.

GC was disappointed by the toast being slightly burnt. He also wasn’t crazy about the root vegetable hash. It is my firm belief that there is no room for vegetables at brunch especially as a side. Minus these two minor complaints this breakfast was hearty, slightly different and filling.

I ordered the Chicken and Waffles.IMG_2321 IMG_2323The Chicken and Waffles with fried chicken thighs, savoury waffle, Niagara cherry jam, triple thick crème fraîche and maple syrup.

Omigosh. This is everything I love about food. The chicken was crispy, salty and juicy. Thigh meat is rich and juicy and is a great choice for chicken and waffles. The meat was not boneless which does make it slightly difficult to cut into with the waffles. The waffles were savoury, fluffy and light. They were moist and didn’t need to be drenched in syrup but very obviously should always be.

The best part was the cherry jam and the triple thick crème fraîche. The crème fraîche was thick and rich and decadent and ridiculously amazing. I want to eat this all of the time. And the cherries. They were so great. They were sweet and slightly tart. It was such a treat to be able to eat cherries in November. The cherries are reason enough to order this dish.

I really enjoyed our brunch at The Drake. It was different, well-executed and absolutely delicious. I would definitely recommend this restaurant. Happy munching!