My Relationship with Brunch

1Photo Credit: Lovely Lady Sarah Samuel

My relationship with brunch can be summed up by the following interactions with friends:

1. I ran into a friend a couple of months ago and he said “I assume you are always going to or coming from brunch.” This was at 1 o’clock in the afternoon during a workday.

2. I was at a party on Friday night and was asked “Where are you going for brunch tomorrow morning?”

3. I was sent a link to the below shirt saying, “I feel like you may need this.”

0d93ad54a8b024cad0202eb16dffe0e1I love that I am known for my love of brunch. That people ask for suggestions or want to talk about their favourite brunch restaurants in the city and if I’ve been there. But this wasn’t always the case. I used to hate brunch and breakfast foods in general.

2Photo Credit: Ann Street Studio

When I was a kid, there was exactly two breakfast foods I craved: toad in the hole-style eggs and crepes. I would make my own toad in the hole- style eggs, using different cookie cutters to allow my eggs to sit in a nest shaped like hearts or stars. My favourite part was the cutout, buttery and crispy, the perfect piece of toast for breaking into an egg. My dad’s specialty was making crepes. He would use the “Quick & Easy Breads” cookbook because it had step-by-step photos with the instructions. The pages with the crepe recipe were, of course, covered in flour and would stick together with egg because of how often these pages were used.

3Photo Credit: Life Style Asia

As I got older, my parents switched from going to church on Saturday evenings, to going on Sunday mornings at 8:30. Like any good Catholic, I was bribed to attend the early morning mass with the promise of breakfast afterwards. My parents would go to this small restaurant on Main Street called “The New Grenada.” My dad would order the egg’s Benedict (this probably explains where my love for this dish comes from) and my mom would vary her order. I would order chicken fingers and fries at 9:30 in the morning.

4Photo Credit: Martha Stewart

I didn’t start to enjoy breakfast until the summer of 2008. This was my first summer living in Toronto and my first summer dating GC. He lived in the Annex and we most weekend mornings we would go to Mel’s. Mel’s had been around forever and was a neighbourhood institution. It was your standard diner but it had this great patio that was on the side street, just slightly overlooking Bloor. Their toast wasn’t served with your standard strawberry jam, it was an in-house made rhubarb jam that was tart and sweet. It was the perfect little patio to fall in love with brunch and GC.

When I graduated university, I moved back home to live with my parents for 2 years. Every weekend I would come down to the city to spend time with GC. Unfortunately, he worked weekend shifts that were 3-11pm, restricting our time together to weekend mornings. Brunch was the obvious way to spend our mornings together. We would brunch, then discover new neighbourhoods until he had to go to work.

I moved in with GC in March 2012 and the brunch routine was a holdover from our “long-distance” days. Even once GC switched to a regular schedule and no longer worked weekends, it became an unconscious habit to wake up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and reach for my phone to scroll through a list of possible brunch suggestions. We continued to brunch most weekends.

5Photo Credit: ASC Public Relations Toronto

I’ve been brunching at least once a month for the past 5 years, or at least that is what I can remember. I have been working from various lists and because of this, somewhere along the way brunch was no longer about the meal or the company, it was about the lists. I rarely return to a brunch spot, regardless of how much I like it because of this sense of dedication and urgency to “the list.” I’ve tried so many restaurants and spent so much money on food that was good but not great and usually okay, not good because of these lists. I’ve tried a huge number of brunch restaurants in the city and I am sure I will try more, but I am done with brunch as my main focus for food and dining out. The BlogT.O. Top 50 list was too ambitious to be completely solid and despite only having 2 more restaurants left to try, I have decided that I am not going to complete this list. One is Ed Levesque which has somewhat changed since the publishing of this list and more importantly, is in the east end which is a pain to get to. The other is Hogtown Vegan which although I have no problem with vegans, brunch is for pork products and eggs.

7Photo Credit: lindszv Etsy shop

I am not done with brunch completely, just done with being confined to a list and eating at restaurants I have little to no interest in eating at. There are a number of brunches I am eager to try: Big Crow, Colette, and the Ritz Carleton to name a few but I am excited to expand my dining options to lunch and dinner and to perfect my brunch at home. I want to host more brunches and save going out for brunch when it can be a leisurely activity, not some sort of highly militarized mission that I sometimes make brunch into. I want to return to some of my favourite brunch spots in the city and order dishes I’ve had before and remember how good brunch can be. I want to return to enjoying brunch and eating brunch for brunch’s sake.

 

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!

Mother’s Day 2015

What day is today? Today is Mother’s Day! For Mother’s Day this year I hosted GC’s parents and Ninni for an afternoon tea in the backyard.

IMG_3754 IMG_3758I made five different sandwiches and savoury scones:

1. Cucumber & Chive Butter
2. Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Basil
3. Tomato Pesto Tea Sandwiches
4. Radish-Chive Tea Sandwiches
5. Nordic Open Faced Smoked Salmon Sandwiches
6. Cream Biscuits with Prosciutto and Parmesan Cheese

Dessert was leftover cake from Amelia’s birthday. To celebrate my amazing sister I had made a Chocolate Raspberry Cake.

IMG_3749Don’t worry – my Mama didn’t get left out. My mom, in all her typical intensity and amazingness, brought over a barbeque feast with all the fixings: steak, pasta salad, potato salad, greek salad and fruit salad. All I had to do in return was provide another cake, a Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake with a light cream cheese frosting.

IMG_3769I got it from my Mama – and by “it” I mean my baking and cooking skills. My mom has cooked and baked for our family for over 30 years and has always done it with grace, elegance and skill. It is never a big deal for my mom to host a family dinner or bring food to a potluck. She created the home that I hope to create for my family: I always want people to come over to our house and know that there will be food and drink, that it is not an imposition and that everything will be cooked with skill and love.

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.

IMG_3193

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!

Mata Petisco Bar

My latest list of brunch suggestions I am working from is BlogTO’s Top 25 New Brunch in Toronto by Neighbourhood. There is some overlap between this list and their Best New Brunch Restaurants in Toronto, 2014 but what I like about this list is by organizing it by neighbourhood, you can plan a whole day in a new neighbourhood and start it with brunch. And as we all know, brunch, not breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

A few weeks ago, we headed to Parkdale to check out Mata Petisco Bar.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetMata is a Brazilian restaurant that serves both brunch and dinner, combining the flavours of Brazil with Spanish and Portuguese food. The atmosphere is South American industrial/cozy: natural materials, industrial siding, custom lighting, antique tiles and beer posters. It has the trappings of a dive bar but in stylistic and hipster way.

We were seated at a table with banquette seating on one side and brightly coloured chairs on the other side. Vintage cartoons were being projected on the wall and paired with coffee, this was the perfect grownup Saturday morning.

At the table is an assortment of pickled peppers and hot sauces. Mata orders different varieties of chili peppers from Brazil and South America and then pickle them in house. From the pickled peppers they make their own hot sauces. The hot sauces and peppers range from a touch of pepper to your face will be on fire. Learning that Mata puts the time and attention to detail into their condiments made me very excited to taste what else they had one offer.

We started with an order of Croquettes.

FullSizeRenderCroquettes served with a cumari pepper aioli.

These are delicious! They taste exactly like the croquettes we had in Portugal. The fish was flaky, light and buttery and the outside is fried to give you the most satisfying crunch with every bite. The cumari pepper aioli is slightly sweet with a slow burn that gradually builds as you munch. If you don’t like heat, you will like this aioli.

GC ordered Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich.IMG_3490The Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich with grilled chorizo, scrambled eggs, malagueta pepper aioli, mozzarella, arugula, and served with salad and cassava frites.

This is a delicious sandwich but it is slightly on the small side. The main component of a dish should not be overwhelmed by the sides.

The chorizo is spicy and juicy. The pepper aioli adds another level of spice that compliments the chorizo and rounds out the flavour across the entire sandwich. The mozzarella adds a creamy, buttery taste to the sandwich. The arugula adds a crisp tartiness and freshness to finish off the sandwich.

I ordered the Smoked Beef Cheek Benedict and obviously I ordered a side of chorizo.IMG_3492The Smoked Beef Cheek Benedict with brioche, poached eggs, hollandaise, and served with salad and cassava frites.

The chorizo is great. It is spicy and peppery and completely juicy. Even though it is sliced throughout to aid in the cooking process, it is not dried out. There is the hint of charring on each incision, giving that taste of summer so easily associated with barbeque. It is easily comparable to the sausages we ate in Spain last fall.

This is one of the best Benedicts I have had. The brioche is airy and buttery, but substantially sliced. The beef cheek is tender, moist and has so much flavour with each bite. It is seasoned, peppery and a little sweet. The eggs ooze all over the beautiful pile of meat and bread they sit on and blend with the lemony hollandaise as they pool together over everything.

Cassava frites are a thing of beauty in their own right. Cassava has a grainy texture, similar to a parsnip, creating an earthy, rustic texture that gives the entire dish a more home-cooked feel. The cassava adds a level of authenticity to the dish.

Mata has classic brunch dishes with a South American flare to them. It goes beyond your regular menu adaptation and brings you something truly, unique, something you won’t find at any other restaurant in the city. I would highly recommend going, ordering some coffee and chorizo, and enjoying the vintage cartoons.

Ital Board

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe above is a snack I mae for a date-night with GC. It is an antipasto snack platter inspired by the Ital board at 416 Snack Bar: arancini, antipasto skewers, prosciutto, two types of Italian cheese, olives, crostini and Italian greyhounds with rosemary sugar.

The recipe for the Italian greyhound is below the cut. Happy munching!

Continue reading

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.

Me & Mine

In the early days of Fall 2014, we visited Me & Mine for brunch. Me & Mine is a cute, small restaurant on College Street West. The interior is very simple and modern, with touches of mid-century modern art. There is plenty of natural light and the light wood of the tables and floors creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. We were seated at a small table at the back of the restaurant near the bar. Coffees and food were served on vintage camping dishes – another rustic, comfortable touch.

I ordered the Brussels Sprouts & Vintage Cheddar Pie.

IMG_1586The Brussels Sprouts & Vintage Cheddar Pie with pickled beet and sage salad.

The pie was fantastic. I love when brunch is actually a combination of breakfast and lunch foods. The crust was flaky, buttery and light. The filling was creamy and cheesy. The Brussels sprouts were roasted nicely – caramelized and slightly crispy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. This pie tasted like a Thanksgiving side dish at breakfast time.

As it was brunch it was necessary to order a poached egg on the side. Although the egg was poached nicely it was an awkward side to have ordered – I regretted this decision even though it only cost $2. The whole purpose of eating a poached egg is to have it explode over toast or eggs Benedict and sop up all the delicious lusciousness into your mouth. Not to have your yolk spill into your salad.

I have said it before and I will say it again: salad is not a side for brunch. This time it at least was a logical side, as having home fries accompany a pie would be a ridiculous carb-indulgence.

GC ordered The Breakfast.The Breakfast with house cured pork belly, pork sausage link two poached eggs, toast and compound butter, roasted potatoes and salad.

This is your standard big-breakfast on another level. All bacon should be house cured pork belly and all breakfast sausages should be this thick, meaty and juicy. If you are looking for something a little different in your brunch, but not too different or unconventional, check out Me & Mine.

My only criticism: while we were settling up our bill they asked if we wanted to take dessert to go. Of course we were tempted. The desserts available were peanut butter cookies (obviously not) and butter tarts. I asked if the butter tarts had nuts and I was told no so we ordered 2 to go. We get home and GC goes for the first bite and of course, there was walnuts in my butter tarts. This is incredibly irresponsible. Obviously, if you have a severe allergy, you should never take any chances and probably never even risk eating out but I also operate under the impression that restaurants are responsible and employee somewhat competent employees. WRONG. That’s ok. I’ll stick with the pies and breakfasts, GC said they were better anyway.

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.

IMG_1442

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.

IMG_1445

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!