Sweet AND Savoury? Walnut, Pear & Bufala Mozzarella French Toast Weekend Brunch at Origin!

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French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.  Take risks.  Do things you never thought you would do.  And for me, on that sunny, beautiful Saturday morning at Origin on King St. East, I did just that: I ordered something sweet and savoury.  No, no, I don’t mean I ordered a sweet dish and a savoury dish.  Oh no, I ordered myself a dish that was both sweet AND savoury.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Um, yeah, SO?!  It’s not like you ordered wild boar or rabbit!”  You’re right, sweet and savoury dishes are run-of-the-mill and no big deal in the culinary world.  But here’s something I’ve never revealed on Ate by Ate: I HATE SWEET AND SAVOURY THINGS!  HATE!  WITH A PASSION!  *cue pounding fists*

You all know I’m kooky-crazy for my sweets and desserts.  You also know I’m heads over heels for savoury things like eggs benny and spicy sushi.  But you didn’t know that I’ve always hated things like teriyaki, maple bacon, and maple sausage.  Some people break out in hives when their eggs aren’t served with ketchup.  Some people take a temper tantrum when the food on their plate touches each other.  I hate my meat sweet.  And any other sweet and savoury combo aside from peanut butter and jelly (what can I say, it’s a childhood thing that’s never left my heart).  Always have, most likely always will.  Don’t even try to sell me on strawberries and balsamic because I will just scoff and turn the other cheek.

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

Origin Restaurant Toronto dining room

So what in blue blazing hell possessed me to order something sweet and savoury for weekend brunch at Origin then?  The menu.  I couldn’t help it.  Against my better judgment, I took a chance on their French toast with bufala mozzarella, poached pears, and warm walnut brittle ($16) and ended up absolutely loving it to itty bitty pieces.  I love bufala mozzarella, I felt like French toast that morning, and the thought of having pears I could actually eat (remember my ridiculous raw fruit allergy that makes me swell up like blowfish?) made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Let me tell you though, this was no easy thing to overcome.  I took a deep breath.  “You can do this, Debra.  You can order something you know you may not like”.  There were so many things on Origin’s weekend brunch menu I wanted to try but I dug my heels in and stuck with it and lucky for me, it totally worked out!  I love it when a scrumptious, delicious dish proves my taste buds wrong and totally blows me away.  I never thought this could happen.  I never thought I could enjoy something that was both sweet and savoury.  But I did and I enjoyed it in a beautiful dining space in a restaurant I’ve wanted to visit for ages.

tea at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

Origin Restaurant menu Toronto

Origin, located at 107 King Street East at King and Church (with 2 other locations in the city), always felt like an eatery that was out of my league and out of reach.  I first learned about Origin several years ago when I saw a photo of their adorable pink, frothy froo-froo ice cream float in an issue of Toronto Life.  I had this misconception that it was much too upscale for me but after a co-worker raved about her dinner there, I knew I had to finally buckle down and go one weekend.  And given how Origin serves up a kick-ass weekend brunch menu (I looked it up online, hemmed and hawwed over some of the options, and gulped down my saliva – what else is new?), that was the perfect match for me.  So I suited up for busy day out (market, cupcakes, brunch, and more) and made my way over to the beautiful restaurant and bar.

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French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

And I do mean beautiful.  Brick walls, funky light fixtures, big windows, chic black, gray and white accents and a killer patio that I cannot wait to pounce on in the summer!  One of my favourite things about Origin is their kitchen.  It’s right in the middle of the dining area and you can literally see and hear all the action.  You hear the chefs calling out orders to each other, you hear the sizzles and skizzles, you can see the food being plated and so much more.  I love it when the cooking staff are integrated into the restaurant; it’s make things much more transparent and more communal.

Aside from 3 different kinds of French toast, $13-$17 (one even has duck confit!), they have burgers and sandwiches (a breakfast burrito $15, a peameal sandwich $11,a killer grilled cheese $7, and an Origin burger with chipotle aioli and arugula $17), an egg white frittata with fior de latte, tomato and pesto $13 (you can bet I’ll be coming back for this one!), smoked pork belly and fried eggs $16, a daily quiche $12, and number of sides to outfit your meal such as Spanish fries, beet and goat cheese salad, and deviled eggs.

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

My beloved French garnished with several sprigs of fresh basil and served with bufala mozzarella, poached pears, and warm walnut brittle, was all sorts of rich, sweet, savoury, decadent, warm, buttery, soft, crunchy, juicy, and YUMMY.  One of the reasons why I think I enjoyed it so much was the savoury and sweet were clearly identifiable but completely in harmony and balance with each other.  I love sweet brunches and breakfast dishes but at times, it’s almost too sweet and a bit much.  But because of the bufala mozzarella and basil (which, oh my god, was delicious), that savoury saltiness cut right through the sweetness of the walnut syrupy sauce and pears.  And it worked the other way as well.  The sweet juiciness of the pears and warm sauce and the inherent milkiness of the bread kept it from being too salty and the type of dish that makes you want to guzzle water down.  The whole thing just worked.

French toast weekend brunch at Origin Restaurant in Toronto

AND!  The bread!  Oh my gosh, the bread deserves a standing ovation.  It’s not your typical challah.  Origin does their French toast using fresh-as-a-daisy French brioche!  BRIOCHE!  It is so soft, buttery and milky and even though brioche was not listed on their menu, it was unmistakeable the second I bit into it.  And our sweet server confirmed when I asked her.  Origin made me feel so welcome and relaxed, they gave me great food, and they completely knocked down my disdain for sweet and savoury dishes down a notch (I loved my brunch, but don’t expect me to nosh on teriyaki anytime soon!) as well as proving my preconceived notions about them being out of my league wrong.  Bring on the brunches and patio!

Origin Restaurant & Bar in downtown Toronto on King Street East

*****

Origin is located at 107 King Street East at Church Street in downtown Toronto.  They serve 2 other locations in Toronto (Liberty Village and soon-to-be Bayview Village in North York!).

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Checking In For Weekend Brunch – Banana Bread French Toast, Mango, & Pecan Cream at The Gladstone Hotel!

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It’s Thursday today and we all know what that means: one day closer to the weekend!  I don’t know about everyone else, but I utilize my weekends and free time doing one of the following things: taking photos, attacking blog projects, going through recipes I want to try, planning the next scrapbook layout, and researching fabulous weekend brunch places in the city!  Oh, and going through and organizing my cargo ship of a lip gloss collection among other housekeeping.  But that’s a whole other story for another day! 

Today’s food delights take us to Parkdale on Queen Street West, specifically to the culturally and historically iconic Gladstone Hotel!  As the oldest operating hotel in Toronto, the Gladstone has gone through what any existing institution from the 1800s would go through: boom and bust, revival, reinvention, and resurgence.  Much like the Distillery District, the Gladstone was taken over and restored in the early 2000s, keeping its authentic, historial roots and essence intact, but modernizing the venue to appeal to a different demongraphic; namely, the artistically enriched Queen Street West district.  Much of Toronto’s history was rooted in the business of manufacturing and the Gladstone, being the oldest hotel in Toronto, catered to the working class during its historical heyday, housing railroad and manufacturing workers as well as those who came to Toronto to visit the CNE.           

Nowadays, the Gladstone is a hubbub of art and cultural activity, hosting galleries and events, great dining and music, and of course, hospitality.  The very first time I set foot in the Gladstone was over a year ago during Doors Open Toronto.  The museum and art lover in me was absolutely taken by the beautiful art and paintings as well as each uniquely designed, art and gallery inspired hotel room.  And don’t even get me started on how in awe I was over the manual operating elevator!  Beautiful art and history aside, I was totally smitten with the dining and the menus I pored over during that first visit.  Weekday breakfast, weekend brunch, daily lunch, dinner, and dessert, culinary tasting “tours”, a commitment to fair trade, and the love and support of a number of  local food producers – they do it all and weekend brunch was the first order of business on my list!  Gladstone loves food and it shows. 

Weekend brunch, held in the Gladstone Cafe, is served from 8am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays with one of the best brunch menus I’ve seen yet.  Their menu, in my opinion, is so fresh and creative.  To me, it breathes new life into brunch as a meal.  We’re all accustomed to the eggs and bacon and pancakes, and while we love those mainstay options at times, I know there are so many people who think, “I want to be wowed”.  You want to feel excited, you want to feel inspired – the worst thing is looking at a menu feeling lackluster over what’s before you and half-heartedly thinking, “hmmm…I guess I’ll have this”.  I love looking at a brunch menu knowing there are multiple wonderful options to choose from, things that will force me to come back a second time, and a third, and a fourth. 

On the menu: breakfast poutine with chicken gravy, cheese curds, and an egg on top (for the hearty lovers!); fig cream yogurt parfait; huevos Carlito (sunny side eggs with tomatillo salad, avocado aioli, and – this is for the pork lovers – pork belly!; kimchi reuben (I can see this being veeeery popular); salmon scramble, mushroom quiche, and a variety of others.  They have a huuuge list of wines and beers written up on the wall as well as a generous selection of Tealish teas to choose from.  And in comparison, brunch prices are very much in line with other weekend brunch sit-down spots, hovering between the $9-$14 for most dishes

My pick?  The banana bread French toast!  I was hemming and hawing over the French toast, the tofu quesadilla (OH YES), the salmon scramble, and a few others, but ultimately, the homemade banana bread French toast ($11) won this time, with the tofu quesadilla begging me to come back for it the next time.  No need to twist my arm!

The banana bread French toast came in nice, thick, sweet triangular wedges with blueberries and mango, pecan cream and pecans, butterscotch, and – to my surprise – two links of pork sausage!  I wanted to put that out there because the sausage isn’t listed on the menu under the description of the dish, so vegetarians, steer clear; carnivores, rejoice!  Oh how I loved this dish.  Here’s the thing though: I was never a fan of banana bread.  I KNOW.  How could I not love banana bread?  It smells divine, it screams homemade baking goodness, and it’s more interesting than plain pound cake.  But it never struck my fancy.  It was always either a little too dry, a little too oily, a little too crumbly, or just SOMETHING.  But the French toast sounded so lovely on the menu I threw caution to the wind and gave the dish a shot.  And I am SO happy I did! 

I have never had banana bread so moist in my life.  The insides were soft and so flavourful while the outsides had that beautiful French toast crust to it that prevented the butterscotch, light at air pecan cream, and fruit from sogging the banana bread up.  The flavours and textures in this dish worked so well together, and this is coming from a girl who typically doesn’t eat savoury with sweet on the same plate!  But somehow, it worked and it was absolutely delicious.  The savoury pork sausage was juicy and not the least bit dry or fatty, the blueberries weren’t too tart or sour, the mango amped up the freshness and lightened up the dish, and pecans provided the dish with toastiness and crunch.  The butterscotch with banana bread was perfect and I honestly couldn’t have been happier – I cleaned off my plate!

The Gladstone Cafe is a lovely spot for weekend brunch with a bright and airy atmosphere that’s great for both socializing with friends and sipping a morning cuppa with the paper on your own.  I have plenty of art photos from the rest of the hotel that I’d love to show you guys sometime so I’ll save them for the next post.  The tofu quesadilla is still calling my name so you can bet I’ll be back for a follow-up and then some! 

*****

The Gladstone Hotel is located at 1214 Queen Street West, just east of Dufferin Street in the Parkdale neighbourhood.  In addition to their breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner menu, the Gladstone hosts culinary “tours” whereby chef Michael G. Smith creates a different ethnic inspired menu taking guests on whirlwind tour of tastes, flavours, and food.  Visit their dining website HERE to find out more!  Events will be added to upcoming August Food Calendar and future food calendars from here on out.

The Weekend Brunch Club – Sweet Challah French Toast With Blueberries & Caramelized Bananas at Wish Cafe!

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The weekend is upon us and we know what that means: happy weekend brunch times all around!  Thus far, I’ve only had weekend brunch at Table 17 and while I love coming here, I’m looking forward to introducing new and yummy members to the weekend breakfast club throughout the summer and giving them their rightful spots on the blog.  There is so much weekend brunch goodness in the city I might as well create a completely separate filing system just for this! 

I am having an absolute field day researching and looking up weekend brunch menus and special seasonal dishes, especially French toast and waffle ones.  I always seem to err on the side of savoury but I wanted to start switching things up on the blog or at the very least start featuring more sweet breakfast dishes because 1) I’m a big fan of waffles and 2) French toast is my mum’s favourite brunch meal so I’ve been looking up and jotting down every single French toast menu item I come across, just for fun and for future reference.   

I figured there was no time like the present to start my French toast and waffle mission, so I have a delightfully scrumptious stack of challah French toast from Wish Cafe to post about today!  I loved Wish so much I came back for weekend brunch and their brunch menu is just as impressive as their lunch and dinner ones.  Much like the lunch menu, many dishes are priced between $10-$15 and there’s a perfect balance between savoury and sweet breakfast dishes, as well as ones with and without meat for vegetarians. 

Some of my favourites include a grilled nutella sandwich with raspberry compote (calling all nutella lovers!), 3 types of eggs benedict with leek and parmesan fondue, creamy oatmeal with cranberry apricot preserves and maple syrup, spinach with caramelized apples, pecans, and stilton cheese, and for the meat-lovers, a pulled pork sandwich with fried egg and cheddar!  They have a great list of accompanying side dishes that you can choose from to complement your main (the grilled tomatoes and the grapefruit and apricot marmalade have my name on them!), and if the weather is nice, the beloved patio of theirs that I love so much is open for brunch too. 

My decision to have French toast was totally guided by my nagging sweet tooth.  I’ll be honest: I wanted a cupcake but knew I wouldn’t have the time to get to a cupcake shop after brunch so I knew a sweeter brunch dish would soothe that craving and fulfill my French toast mission on the blog!  Wish Cafe’s thick, sweet, mouthwatering challah French toast brunch meal ($12) is served with caramelized bananas, blueberries, maple syrup, and dusted with powdered sugar.  The 4 thick, moist-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside slices of French toast with stack one on top of each other and they were absolutely divine.  I felt like I was eating French toast for the first time and discovering this insanely tasty dish all over again!  The French toast was cooked perfectly with crispy edges and moist and thick middles (no one wants thin and soggy French toast!), and the caramelized bananas were amazing because it was like having bananas foster all over my French toast with warm caramel-like sauce all over it!

I know for a fact that I’ll be coming back to Wish for many meals to come, brunch included.  While I was eating my French toast and “mmming” throughout the entire meal, I snuck a peek at the neighbouring table’s dishes, saw their mouthwatering florentine eggs benedict, and said, “well, I guess I know what I’ll be having next time!”  With so much great food on their menu, they almost make my blogging too easy.  

*****

Wish Cafe and Restaurant is located at 3 Charles Street East at the corner of Charles and Yonge Street in downtown Toronto.  They offer lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch, and their patio is currently available for spring and summer wining and dining!  They are open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays).  Hours of operation are 11am-11pm from Tuesday to Saturday, and 10am-4pm on Sundays.  View their official website and menus HERE.

A Sunny Sunday Morning Breakfast With Sun Maid Raisins – Cinnamon Raisin French Toast!

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This is what transpires when my mum sees cinnamon raisin bread on sale in the Sobeys weekly flyer: she buys two loaves and we have ourselves a ball making French toast for Sunday morning breakfast 🙂  I know raisins aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I personally really like raisins in baked goods like oatmeal and chocolate chip raisin cookies and raisin bread. 

However, that is not to say that raisins and I have have always been friends.  I will always and forever remember my tragic encounter with raisins at the age of 6.  My first grade teacher thought it would be fun if a group of us brought a snack to school and did a blind trade with one another.  We’d all secretly place our snack in a plastic bag and then one by one we’d close our eyes and reach in for a random snack that wasn’t our own.  I had brought little gummy fruit snacks and I distinctly remember another classmate bringing Twizzlers, but that’s about all I can recall.  Anyway, I was second last to go and my own snack was still in the bag so I was left with having to choose the other item that was left: a box of raisins.  No, I’m not kidding.  Needless to say I cried my little 6-year-old heart out when I came home from school and I’ve never quite forgotten the heartbreak.  But raisins and I have reconcilliated since then.

We tried out a loaf of the cinnamon raisin bread for our French toast and it turned out great!  The cinnamon made the toast really fragrant and there was tons of flavour so there wasn’t even any need for syrup.  Just a little drizzle of honey and a bit of powdered sugar to pretty it up and the slices were good to go.  Each loaf had about 12 slices around 14 if you count the ends) and we cracked and whipped 6 eggs.  We had a tiny bit of leftover egg in the end which we ended up just scrambling in the skillet, but it’s always better to have a little extra than not enough, so half a dozen eggs should be sufficient enough for a loaf of the cinnamon raisin bread.  We had our stove top dial set to 7 (so 2 notches away from maximum heat) and it made for a soft inside and a nice, browned outside!  The amount of heat is a nice happy medium; high enough so that the egg gets cooked through and doesn’t soak through the bread making it soggy, and yet not hot enough to burn it.  I really loved how yummy this was and I’m thinking that it would also make great bread pudding too!

Rise and Shine: Banana French Toast

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I may not be the morning person I used to be growing up (I whimper when my alarm goes off at 6am – it should be illegal to have to wake up when it’s still pitch black out, good god) but I loooove breakfast foods.  Runny scrambled eggs, sausage, home fries, waffles, French toast, fruit and granola, yogurt parfaits, smoked salmon and cream cheese…I am all over it like mud on a pig.  And given how I’m hungry only, oh I’d say, a few minutes after I wake up, it is imperative that I eat.  I am not joking.  My stomach makes gurgly noises and will start to eat eatself if I don’t feed the poor thing.  It makes me feel like a high maintenance 2-year-old at times, but I look at it this way: I get an extra delicious meal in before everyone else has even stumbled out of bed.  Yup, Deb has already inhaled a breakfast burrito before you’ve even combed your hair.  I kick butt.

Today’s breakfast: banana French toast!  Now I know there are probably an infinite number of ways to make French toast, but here’s how I do it.  If you’re using medium-sized eggs, you can go by a 3:4 ratio: 3 whipped eggs for every 4 pieces of toast.  We made 8 slices of French toast and used 6 eggs and had a little bit of egg mixture left over, so it works just fine.  After cracking the eggs in a large bowl, I pour a splash of milk in (I use 1% but whatever you have on hand should work) and whip them up with either a pair of chopsticks or a fork, whatever works for you. 

Heat your skillet or frying pan on high heat to get it going.  Drizzle a little vegetable oil when the skillet is hot and lower it medium-high heat.  Maximum-high will burn your eggs and toast, and medium isn’t “sizzling” enough to crisp up the toast; you’ll be left with soggy centres if it’s not hot enough.  Spongy and moist, yes, soggy, no.  Lift up the pan and tilt it around so the oil coats the entire surface.  And then you give your bread an egg bath! 😀  Dunk your bread in the egg mixture (I used whole wheat today) coating both sides.  Slap the bread in the skillet and let it hang out for about a minute so the edges can crisp up and the centres can cook before flipping.  Rinse and repeat for the rest of the batch.  Sift powdered sugar or cinnamon over top and add desired fruit (in my case, sliced bananas) and ta-da! 😀

I’m really excited to try out some new granola, quinoa, and dried fruit recipes, and I have a batch of breakfast photos that I haven’t posted on the blog yet, so look out for those too!  Rise and shine, y’all!