The Kind of School You Want to Go to – A Holiday Hashbrown Poutine Brunch at School Restaurant!

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I think everyone will agree that one of the best things about the holidays is/was getting a break from school.  These two beautiful, glorious weeks are like pure gold (unless of course you happen to have homework to do in which case the pure gold becomes more like a lump of coal.  Seriously, that’s just mean, but for the sake of keeping this happy, we’ll go for the homework-free holiday).  So what if I told you that there was a type of school that you’d actually want to attend during the holiday break?  One where you could educate yourself about delicious food and be surrounded by stacks of mouthwatering pancakes and French toast dripping in syrup, hot plates of eggs, bacon, and homefries with all the fixins’, and waffles outfitted with sweet and savoury accessories?  I probably wouldn’t need to twist your arm to haul your tooshie out of bed then, would I?  Because the only ‘school’ worth waking up to attend over the holidays just happens to be one of the city’s favourite breakfast/brunch spots, School Restaurant, located in Liberty Village!

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School Restaurant lives up to its name with their fun chalkboard diagrams (I could totally ace a test based on the anatomy of an ice cream sundae), their wall of clocks with all hands pointing to 3:30pm (quittin’ time!), bills slipped into little report card envelopes, and clipboard menus featuring fun menu items such as “teachers pet” basket of baked goodies, “headmaster omelette”, and “apple-a-day waffle”.  So not your average cafeteria garb.  If you love themed stuff, School is right up your alley.  And if you don’t care for it, you’ll love the food anyway, especially if you’re a breakfast and brunch fanatic like me!  I got the chance to eat from their special, limited time, “12 Days of Christmas” menu (which was available from December 13 – 24) last week and while I know you won’t find the same menu or exact items in their restaurant anymore, at least this gives you an idea of what the style is like and the type of food you can expect off of their regular menu.  And lucky for you guys, my item is actually available on the regular one!

What I love most about brunch places is their mix of sweet and savoury dishes.  While I usually err on the side of savoury, the sweet ones make me salivate just as much and I only wish I had found out about the special menu earlier, that way there might have been a chance of me squeezing in an extra trip.  But no matter, I enjoyed my incredibly delicious breakfast choice and I can still look forward to eating off their regular menu which boasts just as many scrumptious options: black ‘n’ blue flapjacks, $15 (pancake stack with black and blueberry sauce with brown sugar butter), krispy krunchy French toast, $15 (crunchy French toast coated in rice cereal with marmalade), roasted apple-a-day waffle ($15), cheddar-chive biscuits with honey butter ($7), and smoked salmon breakfast salad ($15).

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Their “12 Days of Christmas” limited edition menu featured lots of holiday cocktails and drinks such as mulled wine, bourbon eggnog, and winter rum punch as well as festive candy cane pancakes, eggnog waffles, gingerbread krispy krunch French toast, omelettes, buttermilk chicken and waffles, cheesy bacon French toast, and my dish: the joyeux noel hashbrown poutine!

Like I mentioned above, this is one of the dishes that is actually available on the regular weekend brunch menu as well so if you like what you see, you can enjoy this awesome deliciousness on Saturdays and Sundays too!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the main components that make up this dish: hashbrowns/homefry potatoes, cheese/cheese curds, and a gorgeous sunny-side up egg.  These three things alone make me a happy camper so have them all together in one dish sitting atop a generous ladle of rosemary gravy (have I told you I freakin’ love gravy nobody’s business?!  Well, if I haven’t, now you know), with tons of yummy leeks, and a side of tomato jam makes it ultra fabulous.

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The potatoes were perfectly diced (not mushy or dry or undercooked) which made forking mouthfuls of potatoes, gravy, and gooey cheese super easy, the cheese was perfectly melted and stringy and delightful (I love me my cheese curds but it takes the fun out of eating them if they’re cold lumps, you know?), the egg was beautiful and runny, and – wait for it – the leeks were awesome.  I know.  You wouldn’t think the leeks would play such a starring role but they did.  They were sliced thick enough so that you could taste them and see them in the dish with no trouble but not so thick that they were awkward to eat.  I’ve had dishes in the past where the leeks just weren’t prominent enough and I love that they were prominent here.  In all honesty, it was such a nice surprise that the leeks weren’t treated like an afterthought and I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I could do without the tomato jam (it didn’t taste bad, tomato jam just isn’t my thing) but I understand why it’s there (a little acidity is needed to break up the flavours) and can appreciate its presence even if it’s not my cup of tea.

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This was my first time coming here and I’m really glad I had the chance to enjoy my food during the holidays as it definitely made the experience fun and festive.  Going to “school” is definitely that much more bearable when the assignments are this yummy and when a perfect attendance record is this easy to achieve.

*****

School Restaurant is located at 70 Fraser Ave. in Liberty Village, east of Dufferin St. and just south of King Street West off the King streetcar.  They are open 7 days a week for breakfast/weekend brunch and lunch from 9am-3pm.  You can follow them on Twitter @schoolresto.

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It’s a Po’ Boy Kind of Day – A Crispy Fish Sandwich Lunch at The Gabardine!

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DSCN0539It’s time to put some crispy, savoury, mouthwatering grub back on Ate by Ate!  And what better way to do so than to introduce everyone to one of Bay Street’s popular work week diners, The Gabardine, where the taps are flowing and the food is droolworthy!  Located at 372 Bay Street at the corner of Bay and Richmond smackdab in the downtown core of the city, The Gabardine is a work-week only establishment.  Open from 8am-10pm Monday through Friday, the warm and welcoming diner caters to the work crowd, the university student crowd, and those who happen to have a hankering for really fab diner “grub” and a weekday off – like me!  With menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, The Gabardine positions itself as a casual, comforting space for hungry mouths in the morning before work, ravenous appetites midday, and relaxed and happy tummies at the end of a long day for hearty meals and drinks.  With stools at the bar, tables for two, and long booths for groups, it’s a great place to eat and unwind, especially when you’re in the mood for delicious comfort food.

Which is, you know, always.

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I made my way here for lunch during one of my Eaton Centre and underground PATH walking days knowing exactly what I wanted to eat which was quite the accomplishment considering my indecisiveness over all things yummy.  Given how I agonized over the menu online before coming, I really didn’t have any excuse for hemming and hawwing but when a menu reads like a food bible, all decisions have the potential of flying out the door; I’m used to it.

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The Gabardine’s lunch menu (served from 11:30am-3pm) is split into 3 categories: snacks and salads, sandwiches (served with a choice between fries or salad greens), and mains.  Most items ring in between $10-$20, but of course, there are few $6 and $9’s and a few $20+ but you get the idea.  I suggest you arm yourself with a napkin because you’re going to have to mop up some drool after reading the list of menu items.  Yummies include deep fried beer cheese croquettes with maple mustard ($13), roasted beet and farro salad with ricotta, grilled pickled onions and everything bagel spice ($15), the ever-growing popular ploughman’s lunch platter ($24) which in my mind is a nifty farm-to-table twist on the charcuterie board, Chinese bbq pork on a bun ($16) with mayo, scallions and napa cabbage slaw (with the option of substituting the pork for tofu ($14) – yum to both options!), chicken pot pie with herbed pastry crust ($19), a daily vegetarian risotto special and SO MUCH MORE.  There are items for hearty appetites, for vegetarians, for sandwich lovers, greasy spoon lovers, artisinal food lovers, the list goes on.  But the common thread is comfort food.

So what did I decide on before parking myself down at their window seat at 11:30am sharp that day?  The incredible-sounding shrimp po’ boy with butter lettuce, tomato relish and aioli ($16).  COME TO MAMA.  I have wanted a po’ boy sandwich for so long so seeing this on their menu made me break out into a happy dance!  BUT!  Instead of shrimp, the chefs were trying out something a little different for their po’ boys that day: crispy fried cod fish.  “Does that still sound tasty?” asked the nice waitress tentatively.  “Oh, for sure, that’s fine!”

What I really wanted to say was “HECK YES!”  Pft, shrimp, cod fish, it’s all heaven to me.  I freakin’ love my fish sandwiches and tacos.

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This meal was all sorts of fantabulous.  Not only was the portion huge (I wouldn’t be surprised if folks pulled a jaw muscle trying to fit the po’ boy into their mouth), but the quality and flavours were wonderful.  It’s easy to brush diner grub off as unhealthy, greasy, and well, cheap.  But this was none of the above.  The roll was soft and chewy, my salad greens were crisp and dressed perfectly (who wants soggy salad?), the butter lettuce was big and bright (who wants pale stuff that only covers half the bun?), and the fish was crispy, savoury, and to-die-for.  The cod fish chunks weren’t greasy, they were meaty, white and fleshy, and oh-so-delicious, and they were piled on high!  And combined with the tomato relish and creamy aioli (which functioned like the fish sauce), everything just worked.

It’s funny, when you’re eating something super savoury or super sweet, you tend to get a bit tired of it half way through because the flavours just get too overwhelming for the palate.  It’s not that you’re feeling full, it just gets to be too much with some foods.  But with this cod fish po’ boy with tomato relish, you consistently get bites of savoury fish between bites of acidic and sweet flavour from the relish to break things up so you don’t feel weighed down or bored with the same flavours throughout the meal and I totally appreciated how the aioli wasn’t glopped on.  It was a meal of crispy, yummy happiness and one I enjoyed during those elusive weekdays off.  If you have the chance, go.  It’s worth it.

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*****

The Gabardine is located at 372 Bay Street at the corner of Richmond Street West in Toronto’s downtown core.  They are open 8am-10pm, Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Visit their website at http://www.thegabardine.com/ to view their menus, beer, and wine lists and follow them @thegabardine on Twitter for the latest.

Stories, Comfort Food & Melty Havarti, Avocado & Arugula Macaroni & Cheese – The Heart & Soul of Cheesewerks

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I know Toronto is no Edmonton or Calgary or Winnipeg when it comes to the Canadian winter experience, but I have to be honest: this week was freakin’ cold.  Having to rapidly blink so my eyelashes don’t stick together cold.  Kenny on South Park cold.  I need to hug myself in my 5 layers of clothes all day long to stay warm cold.  You’d think I’d be immune to it or at the very least used to it having been born and raised here.  Sadly, that is not the case.  I am a squealing, teeth-chattering mess every winter and the only thing that saves me is sitting on my hands, wrapping myself up in a blanket burrito on the couch, and eating and drinking hot food and drink.  Comfort food and hugging my mug or bowl all the way.

It’s a little crazy to think that after 720 posts on Ate by Ate (yes, we’re getting closer to the 1000 mark!) comfort food isn’t everywhere on here.  I love the classics and I love my hot comfort food: hot soup with or without grilled cheese, classics like spaghetti and meatballs, beef stroganoff (SUCH a weakness of mine!), mashed potatoes and gravy with turkey or roast beef, and of course, MACARONI & CHEESE!  There needs to be so much more of that on here and I’m hoping to feature more posts on these mouthwatering types of dishes come the new year.  So, where does one go in Toronto for some good old fashioned mac ‘n cheese?  Cheesewerks!

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Located in the west end of the downtown core on Bathurst St. near Wellington, Cheesewerks is a delicious emporium of cheesy goodness featuring a plethora of grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, cheesy weekend brunch, sides and soups, local and artisinal foods, and lots of wine, craft beers and fun drinks.  We’re talking double smoked cheddar sandwiched between cracked peppercorn sourdough bread, asiago with BBQ pork on green onion potato bread (the Beijing), double-cream brie with caramelized onions and apricot chutney on walnut-raisin bread (the Charleston), swiss melted on roast pork and smoked ham with dill and lime mustard (the Miami), roasted tomato cream soup, and housemade lemonade, sweet tea and sodas just to name a handful!  The spacious diner is bathed in shades of yellow and orange and is the perfect place for both a get-together lunch with friends and a warm, comforting meal all by your lonesome.

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Honestly though, describing their food and menu alone does not do them justice.  Cheesewerks is my foodie soulmate.  Yes, you read right: my foodie soulmate.  Not a sushi bar.  Not a cupcake bakery.  A grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese diner.  Why?  Because of their love, passion, enthusiasm, creativity, heart and communal engagement.  I called it an emporium for a reason.  Cheesewerks is a family-run operation committed to engaging with the community not only through their delicious food but also through their food events, personal connections and stories.

Cheesewerks hosts foodie trivia nights every month, they’re at the centre of all the action at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival every year in Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario, they have a ton of fun with National Grilled Cheese Month with specials and events every April, they host amazing Country Mouse, City Mouse food tours in and outside of Toronto to showcase the breadth and wealth of cheese making talent in our province’s farming, artisinal and organic food industry and they are constantly reinventing their menu with new additions and different ideas.

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And the personal connections and stories?  From the heart of head cheesehead Kevin Durkee.  Each and every single one of those menu items is named after a city that has played a significant role in his life whether it’s the city he was married in or a city he worked in at one point in his life.  When I found that out after talking to him during my first visit I was floored and my heart just expanded ten-fold.  Because it’s the same way I approach so many things in my life and how I approach this blog, through heart and stories and special moments.  It’s about being one with your passion and your craft and truly owning it.  And that’s how it should be.  While a business is a business and a restaurant exists to serve food and ultimately make money, having that personal connection and having that engagement with the community is irreplaceable and untouchable.

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During my first visit to Cheesewerks earlier in the year, I had such a hard time narrowing down my choices (what else is new!) but I knew I wanted a macaroni and cheese.  The awesome thing about the menu is that you can have all the fillings of a grilled cheese sandwich made into a mac ‘n cheese for pretty much just a dollar or two more (grilled cheese sandwich items range from $7 to $10 and mac ‘n cheese dishes $8 to $11).

I loooove my avocado and arugula so I chose the Los Angeles in macaroni and cheese form ($9.50) to enjoy.  Ooey gooey havarti cheese mixed with elbow macaroni, mashed avocado and arugula topped with crunchy baked bread crumbs.  It is comfort food heaven in a bowl.  And I washed it all down with a tall glass of their housemade lemonade.  Let me tell you, this stuff is filling.  I know, I know, it’s pasta, of course it’s filling.  But you always think macaroni is no big deal because the noodles are so cute and small.  Trust me, if you want hearty comfort food that will keep that tummy warm and chugging through a winter day, their mac ‘n cheese fits the bill.  If my memory serves my right I think I even had leftovers that I took back home!

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My mouth is watering just looking at these photos again and given how we’re clearly in the thick of cold weather season (technically winter doesn’t start until the 22nd so I’ll just call this cold weather season), I am hell bent on making a return visit over the holidays.  Whether it’s trying their weekend brunch, a grilled cheese, ordering their famous tomato soup or downing another bowl of delicious macaroni and cheese, it’ll be happy memories in the making and stories to tell.

*****

Cheesewerks is located at 56 Bathurst St. near Wellington St. and Niagara St.  You can check out their official website HERE for their menu, promotions and events and follow them on Twitter @CHEESEWERKS