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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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!

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!

Easy Restaurant

The only appropriate way to kick off a cottage weekend is to go for brunch. Back in the summer, ampoule we headed up to Muskoka for some much needed rest and relaxation. Before we hit the road we went for brunch at Easy Restaurant. Nothing makes me feel more relaxed than enjoying some delicious food with my best friend and not in the midst of the usual weekend-brunch craziness.

We went to the College Street location. The restaurant is filled with movie memorabilia, advice retro toys, ailment and heavily features images and posters from Easy Rider. It has a very chilled out, hanging out in your grandparents’ basement vibe to it – I was into it. It was cool without being pretentious and fussy and was accompanied by a great soundtrack.

The menu was a mixture of Mexican flavours with brunch classics. I ordered the Huevos Divorciados.

IMG_1325 IMG_13262 sunny eggs on a corn tortilla with spicy green & red salsa, re-fried black beans with side guacamole, ancho jam, toasted baguette with home fries.

I’ll be honest: when I ordered this I really thought it was going to be your regular huevos rancheros with a different name and maybe more salsa. Don’t be fooled, I actually know nothing about food. So you don’t make the same naïve mistake that I did, here is a description of the dish: Huevos divorciados, or “divorced eggs,” is a Mexican breakfast featuring two fried eggs separated by chilaquiles or tortillas. Refried beans with tortilla chips can also be substituted. One egg is covered in salsa roja and the other is covered in salsa verde.

There you go! My dish delivered in all the way it was supposed to. The red salsa was fresh and summery, and the green salsa stood in sharp contrast with its spiciness and heat. I liked that the beans on the eggs were refried but in their original form, rather than a mash but you still had the option of a more dip-style bean on the side of the plate. The eggs were perfectly cooked sunny-side up: the yolk had just started to solidify on the bottom into a creamy thickness but the rest of the yolk was still runny on top. The guacamole was delicious. It did not have tomato, which I prefer because I find tomatoes make the guac watery. It had the right amount of garlic, and zesty citrus flavour.

My favourite touch: that it was served with baguette instead of tortillas or regular bread. Delicious.

GC ordered the Guacamole BLT.

IMG_1323 IMG_1324The Guacamole BLT with crispy bacon, guacamole, tomato, and greens on a whole wheat panini with home fries.

This was a delicious and cozy brunch. The flavours were fresh and summery. This is the perfect brunch for feeling summery and starting a cottage weekend. It would also be the perfect brunch to enjoy on a cold winter day similar to what we are experiencing now. This is not my favourite brunch in the city but it is a solid choice and the price is right. It may not be in my Top 10 but it would grace the Top 20. If you are looking for a relatively greasy, Mexican-ish brunch, Easy Restaurant is the perfect choice.

After we brunched, we drove north and enjoyed a relaxing weekend on Georgian Bay. The weekend was perfect: good food and drinks, a steam, a black bear and even better company. I would recommend that you have a weekend like this too! Happy munching!!

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Universal Grill

As 2014 winds down, the BlogTO Top 50 is slowing being crossed off and whittled down. I have 6 more restaurants to go and 8 more to write about – not bad for a list that was released in August 2013. The yet-to-visit list consists of East-end spots and one vegan restaurant – no surprise there that I haven’t eaten a vegan brunch yet.

A few weeks ago we visited Universal Grill. We pass this spot constantly as we drive along Dupont and its brightly coloured exterior has always appealed to me. The inside is your typical retro diner, with stools at the bar and lots of booths. When we arrived on a Saturday morning the restaurant was full but not packed. Given this, I was disappointed that we were shoved in the corner. The spot was tight and awkward. GC and I are not obese or huge, but we are also not small people. This was not a nice fit for us.

Maybe it was because we were hidden in a corner, but we waited too long to be served. Tables that arrived and were seated after us were served before us. When we did finally order, it took FOREVER to get our food. I’m not speaking in hyperbole here: we waited at least 45 minutes to get our order. Ok. I guess this would fall under hyperbole but still a ridiculous amount of time to wait. This is a ridiculous amount of time to wait for any meal let alone brunch which heavily features eggs which take hardly any time to cook.

GC ordered The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich. IMG_2516

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich with spinach, bacon, farmer’s Swiss, cheddar, goat cheese and tomato on challah with spuds.

GC was apprehensive at first that the combination of cheese would be too much and would create too much contrast. Instead, the various cheeses added depth of flavour and texture that worked in harmony together. It was oozy and gooey. Despite all the cheese, it wasn’t overly salty. The spinach and tomato added the perfect amount fresh, crispness to cut the richness of all the cheese.

I ordered the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_2518The Huevos Rancheros with grilled tortilla, spicy red beans, fried egg, cheddar, guacamole and sour cream.

This was a tasty huevos. The crispy tortilla spears were a great garnish, giving a balance of tortilla crunch through the dish rather than just supporting it. Often the tortilla supporting the whole tower will become crispy and soggy, this ensured you would still enjoy a crunch with every bite. The beans were the right amount of spy. The egg was a little too fried for my liking: there was no oozy, running egg all over my rancheros. The guacamole was too thick and I prefer mine without tomatoes. It allows the guac to be smooth and creamy with the occasional chunk.

This place is cute and is obviously a neighbourhood hot spot. If I lived down the street, and this was my local brunch spot, I might be able to tolerate the service since the food was fairly decent. Since I have to trek out this way, I won’t become a regular.

Happy munching!

Beast

A few weeks ago I went to Beast for brunch with Cynthia. We sat on the patio and drank premium roast coffee from Kenya. Beast’s menu features a rotating assortment of coffees chosen by the chef who is a coffee connoisseur. If you are a coffee drinker, come to Beast. Your coffee won’t be an overlooked part of your brunch menu. As someone who isn’t much of a coffee drinker it was nice to be given a specific type of coffee based on what type of coffee I can handle – light, medium or dark. Although I prefer a lighter roast coffee, I opted for the medium roasted coffee of the day since the other two choices featured pecans and peanuts.

Cynthia ordered the Beastwich. IMG_0768The Beastwich with a buttermilk biscuit, fried chicken thigh, pimento cheese, a fried egg, pork sausage gravy and house potatoes.

The chicken was crispy and juicy. The meal as a whole was very thick and heavy. This is standard for this type of breakfast, they typically sink like a brick in your stomach and you don’t need to eat until late afternoon. We both thought that something zesty or some greens on the side would have been nice for presentation and would have lighten the plate slightly. This dish is not for the faint of heart.

I ordered the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_0766 IMG_0767The Huevos Rancheros with 2 crispy corn tortillas, Mexican-style chorizo, bean salad, avocado purée, tomato-red chile sauce, sheep’s milk feta and 2 sunny side up eggs served with house potatoes.

I will always be tempted by huevos rancheros when it is on a menu. Although this was good, it is not my favourite huevos rancheros – that I am crediting to the bite I had of Cynthia’s from SCHOOL. It wasn’t the best thing to order off the menu (despite the server’s suggestions) as it did not feature enough of Beast’s specialty: its meat.

The tortillas were very crunchy with an earthy corn taste. The avocado was smooth and silky, topped with an assortment of beans that were nutty and grainy, a lovely contrast in textures. I did not love the taste or texture of the chorizo. I prefer my chorizo to resemble the actual sausage, rather than it having a granular texture. It was mixed with too many vegetables to be appreciated. It did not have the amount of spice and heat that is necessary in a delicious chorizo sausage. If the chorizo sausage had been different, I would have enjoyed this dish as a whole even more. It was the low point for me. However, there was ample heat from the tomato-red chile sauce and I gave my dish a healthy sprinkling of the various hot sauces that were brought to the table. The eggs were runny and creamy, especially when they oozed into the fresh goat’s cheese. Yums.

This was tasty, but not my favourite “meat heavy” restaurant in Toronto. It was worth the visit and was made better by the company but it will not become a regular brunch spot for me.

Happy munching!

SCHOOL

Another Saturday, story another brunch. Last weekend I found myself at SCHOOL for brunch with Cynthia.

Photo Credit: Fashionista 514

SCHOOL is a cozy restaurant in Liberty Village that has embraced its name throughout the restaurant: apples on every table, a wall covered in clocks stuck at 3:30 in the afternoon, globes, books, blackboards and phrenology skulls. It brings you back to your school days with a smile instead of the typical dread that accompanies school. This restaurant is a must for teachers.

We didn’t have to wait that long as a group of two, about 15-20 minutes, which for brunch in Toronto is a miracle. We were seated near the big garage windows which looked out onto the patio. We would have preferred to be in the other half of the restaurant with the exposed brick walls and book shelves but this just means we will have to go again.

Cynthia ordered the Huevos 101. IMG_0001Huevos 101 – scrambled eggs, Mexi red beans, pico de gallo, Jack cheese, guacamole, jalapeno sour cream, and crispy tortilla hay.

Cynthia loved this and I loved the bite I had. To start, the presentation was gorgeous. It was a beautiful bowl, oozing with colour, flavours and aromas. The fried tortilla bowl it was served in was crunchy and a nice contrast to the mushiness (in a good way!) to the scrambled eggs and beans. The beans were hearty. The salsa and the guacamole added a nice hint of freshness to perfectly the whole dish. Yums all around as Cynthia said.

I ordered the Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Waffles.

IMG_0002 IMG_0003Buttermilk fried chicken and waffles with tobasco-pepper honey, whipped vanilla butter and coleslaw.

I have only had fried chicken and waffles at two restaurants in Toronto (Stockyards and now SCHOOL), but this was UNBELIEVABLE. Easily better then Stockyards. The fact the boneless chicken is used makes this dish easier and that much more enjoyable to eat. The chicken was crispy, breaded and fried to perfection. There was not a millimeter of nakedness on that chicken. The chicken itself was moist and juicy; it did not dry out but rather was protected by the crispy coating. The waffles were fluffy and airy, little pillows for the chicken to rest their beautifulness on.

The condiments for this were amazing. The tobasco-pepper honey was everything you could want in a condiment: sweet, salty, spicy and runny. It gently glazed everything and added the right combination of sweet/spicy/salty. The whipped vanilla butter is a thing of beauty in its own right. I want to spread this on everything.  As if butter could get better, but it does. This butter is butter’s older, sexier brother.  Even the coleslaw is worth writing about. It was tangy and sour with fennel seeds adding a hint of pepper. The perfect way to wash down the sugary, richness of the waffles.

Overall a great brunch experience that is definitely worth the trek to Liberty Village! I will definitely be visiting this spot again – feel free to join!

Happy munching!