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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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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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!

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!

Dutch Dream

It only seems fitting on a freezing cold day to talk about a hot summer day eating ice cream. Back in the summer GC and I FINALLY went to Dutch Dreams. The reason I say finally is Dutch Dreams is about two feet from my sisters’ apartments and has intrigued me for about 7 years.

Dutch Dreams is everything an ice cream parlour should be: its colouful with checkered floors, check neon-lit signs and an assortment of chotskies that add a sense of whimsy and playfulness to the parlour. There are an epic amount of ice cream flavours, toppings, waffle cones and other candies for purchase. The highlight for me was the variety of Oreos that were available. Obviously someone had been to America and raided a grocery store because there was Lemon, Birthday Cake, Berry and a multitude of other delightful flavours you cannot find in Canada.

As I was completely overwhelmed by all the choice, I stuck with your standard double-scoop cone.

IMG_1296Bottom Scoop: Cookie Dough
Top Scoop: Cherry Cheesecake

There is obviously nothing standard about this. If I had realized my ice cream would be decked out in such a manor, I would have gotten one scoop.

Now I’m not super into ice cream. Blasphemy I know, but I am much more into frozen yogurt because it doesn’t make me thirsty. You are probably at this point questioning why I went to an ice cream parlour. It was August. It was hot and ice cream is a logical choice.

This ice cream was good but I think the appeal is more the toppings and the theatrical ridiculousness of the ice cream. I preferred the cherry cheesecake to the cookie dough, as there was not enough chunks of cookie dough to justify categorizing this as cookie dough ice cream. The fruit on top of my cone was frozen which on a hot summer night is okay but makes it difficult to chew.

If you are into ice cream, Dutch Dreams is obviously delicious. For your basic ice cream, I prefer Greg’s in the Annex so I think next time I would partake in something a little more ridiculous like the Super Royal Dutch Baked Alaska.

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!

 

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!

The Huntsman

A few weeks ago, when it was actually warm and felt like summer, we had brunch on the patio of The Huntsman.

This was our second attempt to go to The Huntsman. Our first attempt was denied because the kitchen was being worked on during brunch hours. WHAT. Both us and the staff agreed this was terrible timing. We didn’t let this get us down, we just went the next weekend.

The inside of the restaurat has the British-pub vibe to it: navy subway tiles, leather booths and chairs, dark wood and of course, pictures of Winston Churchill decorating the walls. We were seated on the cozy patio – off facing a side street but with access to watch the hustle and bustle of College. It is a great little patio and would be a great spot to waste away summer nights with beers and good friends.

I ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffles.

IMG_0900 IMG_0901The Fried Chicken and Waffles with whipped butter and maple syrup.

I was debating between the Gather and this. I asked our server which one she preferred and she said that I should get the waffles; she said that they do something special with them. If doing something special refers to burning my chicken into an unfortunate crisp then I’m not interested. This was obviously burnt. The skin was dried out, too crunchy and bitter tasting. The chicken was not as juicy as it should be. Ever since I have had friend chicken and waffles at SCHOOL as boneless chicken, I can’t go back to bone-in. It is too much effort to enjoy the combination of the chicken and the waffles. Brunch is for lazy times, not picking meat off of bones.

Once you got through the chicken, the waffle underneath were perfection. They were buttery, fluffy, and light. The whipped buttery was creamy and rich, it spread smoothly across the waffles. My only complaint: I was not given side syrup. Do not suppose how much maple syrup I need with my breakfast because the answer is always more.

I should have stuck with my original though and got The Gather. Oh well. Next time.

GC ordered The Hunter.

IMG_0899The Hunter with house made corned beef, baked beans, cheddar, 2 poached eggs and Hollandaise.

Although my food was a miss, GC’s was a hit. At least one person’s breakfast worked out.

I loved the patio and the ambiance of the restaurant and based on GC’s food, the menu has promise. It may be worth a second look.

Happy munching!