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.

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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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I’ve Never Met a Potato I Didn’t Love! Potato Pancakes & Sour Cream at Futures Bakery & Cafe – The Ate by Ate Daily, Vol. 008

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DSCN2323Sunshine, a street-side table by an open window, and potatoes and sour cream – nothing like a yummy breakfast at Futures Bakery & Cafe to start a day off!  It just made sense coming here for breakfast given the plans I had for the day: staying on the Bloor-Danforth subway line, picking up a few scones at Cobs Bread in the Annex and just being out and about early in the morning.  It was so nice coming back and bring reminded of all the fun times I had here during grad school just hanging out with friends while we planned our conference at school (and eating pierogies while doing so), having breakfast with my mum and brother in the summer, and having lunch with my boyfriend during those crazy, agonizing days of thesis-writing.

I had been meaning to try Futures’ potato pancake breakfast ($6.95) for a long time now so I finally hunkered down, went back (aside from getting a few cake slices to go during the winter, it’s been a long time since I actually sat down for a real meal here), and ordered myself a plate: 3 big potato pancakes made with grated potatoes, carrots and plenty of herbs served with lots of tangy sour cream on the side!  I looove sour cream so of course I had a field day dolloping it onto my pancakes but truthfully, they taste fabulous all on their own.  They’re moist, savoury, herby and a scrumptious vegetarian option.  Next up on my to-eat list: blueberry crepes, the chicken salad sandwich, the pesto, mozzarella and tomato sandwich, and the knackwurst and sauerkraut!

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*****

Futures Bakery and Cafe is located at 483 Bloor St. West, in between the main intersections and subway stations of Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.  It sits right at the corner of Bloor St. and Brunswick Ave. on the south side of Bloor.  They are open from 7:30am to 2am 7 days a week.

A Quiet Morning of Apple Tea & Golden Brioche with Jam at Terroni Bar Centrale

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Sometimes it’s the tiny things that bring us the most joy.  A little over a month ago I decided to take a random vacation day off from work to be alone with my thoughts and to be out and about on my own.  I wanted to walk around, I wanted some fresh air and most of all, I wanted to eat yummy things and get a head start on my Christmas shopping!  Truthfully, I’ve really missed the days when I had the flexibility of being out during the week and not just on the weekends.  The pace and atmosphere is just different and it’s something I can appreciate more now that I’ve been a full-time working girl.  I have such great memories from my days in grad school just exploring the city during the week (and working my tail off every other moment!) and growing as a person.  I knew taking a day for myself would do me some good and in true Deb fashion, I had a super fun day planned out for myself: tea and breakfast at a cafe, walking, window shopping, lunch with a friend, and more walking and window shopping.

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I’m nothing if not prepared!  So prepared that I woke up at the exact same time I would have woken up had I gone to work.  My alarm woke me up at 5:30am, it was pitch black out and no, I am not a crazy banana.  Even though I mumble and grumble every morning when my dreaded alarm clock wakes me up, quiet, peaceful mornings in the city are moments I really cherish.  I love sitting back and relaxing with a magazine, a cozy pot of tea and a plate of  warm comfort food like bacon and eggs or fresh bread hot out of the oven.  Having quiet breakfast to myself just makes me happy and it makes me look forward to the rest of my day that much more because I know I’ve taken advantage of every possible moment.

I hopped on the bus, headed to the subway, got off at Summerhill station and skipped on over to Terroni Bar Centrale for some hot tea and sweet breakfast nibbles.  After going to Terroni for weekend brunch last fall, I remembered their menu well and knew that they had sweet breakfast options and of course, darling little pots of loose leaf tea.  After choosing a pot of their Torta Di Mele black tea with apple ($4) to start, I hemmed and hawwed over my food: did I want biscotti?  Or maybe the yogurt and granola parfait with fruit?  Or their special Pandolci, Scandinavian-style pancakes with Nutella and jam?!  After some careful thought, I chose the Brioche con Burro e Marmellata: housemade brioche with housemade jam ($6).

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Believe it or not, good ol’ fashioned toast and jam is a weakness of mine and truly one of my favourite things in the world.  It’s a total comfort thing.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into quarters was my go-to lunch as a little kindergardener.  Toast and jam is the only thing I will touch when I’m not feeling well.  And there is nothing like the feeling of warm, crispy toasty golden bread crunching between your teeth with the sweet, fruitiness of jam or jelly lingering on your tastebuds.  It’s like a cozy hug from your favourite childhood teddy bear and I love it.  Terroni laid their golden slices of brioche on an adorable wooden platter with some butter and a VERY generous amount of jam!  It was warm and soft and buttery and oh so delicious.  Coupled with my pot of loose leaf tea, it made for the perfect way to start my day.  The wonderful thing about brioche is how it stands up to things like jam.  It doesn’t get soggy, it retains its shape and it has this lovely mix of thickness and lightness that just works.

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Mission quiet, peaceful, delicious morning to myself accomplished.

*****

Terroni Bar Central is located at 1095 Yonge Street on the corner of Price St. between Summerhill and Rosedale subway stations in midtown Toronto.  They’re open 7 days a week: 11:30am-10pm Sunday to Wednesday, 11:30am-11pm Thursday to Saturday.

A Power Breakfast of Eggs, Tomatoes, and Creamy Tahini! The Shakshouka at Aroma Espresso Bar

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I really have to hand it to my boyfriend for humouring me while I noshed on my warm, saucy, eggy, tomatoey Shakshouka power breakfast at Aroma Espresso Bar.  He didn’t make faces, he didn’t make gagging noises and he also didn’t make any sarcastic “I’m-so-disgusted” comments at me while I was enjoying my meal.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Look how pretty this dish is, why on earth would anyone make comments about it not tasting good?!  And why would it come from your significant other?!”  Because my boyfriend hates tomatoes.  HATES tomatoes.  With a fiery passion.  I have never met anyone who despises them as much as he does.  Sauce on pizza….hmm, okay.  Anything else he vehemently declines.

And he’s really on the fence about eggs.  Loves them boiled, hates them runny.  Doesn’t prefer them scrambled, would never order them poached, and is really only into the egg whites.  Sigh.  Sometimes it’s remarkable how our palates are polar opposites in some ways.  But we love each other, we’ve grown so much together and it’s our quirks and eccentricities that make us who we are as individuals and as a couple.  So I really appreciated how he didn’t ask me how I could eat THAT and concentrated on his own sandwich instead.  He’s my honey after all and he just shakes his head amusingly as I eat.

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This Tunisian and Israeli style breakfast is truly a breakfast of champions!  It really packs a protein punch with a ton of contrasting flavours and it’s quite a fun dish to eat.  Aroma’s Shakshouka, a dish of warm tomatoes and tomato sauce with 2 eggs, tahini sauce and a basket of baked-in-house bread, is part of their every day breakfast menu and it’s one of those dishes that warms you up from the inside out.  I know it seems a little odd to be talking about warm dishes in the summer,  but there are those days when it’s real chilly in the morning and you just want something a little on the heartier side for breakfast to get rid of those goosebumps.  Either that or you’re just freezing from the blasting air conditioning.  Either way, it’s a dish that fills you and it’s fun dunking the bread in the tomato sauce, poking the eggs so the yolks run, dipping the bread in the yolks (can you tell I love dipping my bread in egg yolks?), treating the tomato sauce as both a food and somewhat of a soup, and dabbing tahini sauce on everything as you eat.

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I have to say, the tahini sauce REALLY made the dish for me.  Sure, I love my eggs and the bread-dunking is fun, but there is just something so delicious about the creamy nuttiness of their tahini that is unlike any sauce I have ever had and it’s wonderful because it breaks up that acidicity from the tomatoes.  It completely changes the dish and grounds it, keeping it from being too savoury and too tomato heavy.  I mean, I know the dish is meant to be about the eggs and tomatoes, but I think it was a smart move to include the tahini because it prevents the tomatoes from being too overpowering.

And the bread!  So soft and yummy.  I chose their multigrain to accompany my breakfast (it comes with the dish but you get to choose what kind of bread you want when you order) and I was actually taken aback but how much of it there was.  I know it was technically 2 big slices cut in half to make 4, but goodness did it ever look like a mountain in my little basket!

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Over the last year I’ve become such a huge fan of Aroma Espresso Bar.  Several years ago I felt ambivalent about them and it was only because I always feel that way about chains.  Are you really in love with their food or are you only buying into the popularity, the hype?  Do they really deliver on quality and truthfully, is the food good?  And with chains it’s especially touch and go because we all know some locations just do a better job than others.  My mum feels that way about her coffee.  If she dislikes the cup she got, it’s not necessarily a reflection on the company but possibly on the person who made it (sorry!).

I love Aroma’s food and drinks more and more though and I’m finding it so much fun learning about different foods and different cuisines done Aroma style (a Bulgarian Bureka sandwich!  Spanish and Latin American alfajores cookies!  Turkish coffee!) and trying their salads and sandwiches.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the smoked salmon sandwich (I just had a half sandwich of this yesterday for my afternoon snack.  Yes, that’s right, I have sandwiches for snacks when I’m super hungry!) and quinoa salad (there’s grilled eggplant in it, YUM!) and we already know I’m a fan of their hot chocolate.

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New locations are popping up all over the place so I’m hoping to add lots of new posts for sandwiches and breakfast and drinks!

*****

Aroma Espresso Bar is an Israeli espresso and coffee chain with over 100 locations worldwide.  There are 8 branches in and around Toronto, with shops in Thornhill and Vaughan.  Click here to view the list of Toronto and GTA locations.