Potato Leek Soup with Grano Padano Cheese & a Smoked Salmon, Potato Rosti Brunch Dish at Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar, Part II!

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All you need is cheese.

It’s more than just the name of a magazine to me – they’re words to live by!  I know cheese isn’t the healthiest of foods (yes, yes, sodium and fat content and all that jazz), but as a foodie and lifelong lover of cheese, I can’t imagine life without it.  I sample fresh Ontario cheeses from the farmers’ markets.  A burger just isn’t the same if a melty, gooey slice hasn’t been melted in it.  I’ve been known to eat cream cheese-and-nothing-else sandwiches.  And don’t even get me started on the extra shreds I sprinkle onto my tacos, enchiladas, burritos, omelettes, and pasta.  We don’t have enough space in this post for that novel!  So it makes complete and perfect sense why a wine and cheese bar would be my dining dream come true.  Sure, I may not drink wine but I make up for it in cheese consumption!  How Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar on Cumberland Street in Yorkville alluded me for so long is beyond me.

Housed in a tall, beautiful Victorian style home bathed in shades of gray and charcoal with stone accents and warm pops of green and orange, Caren’s is quaint and sophisticated and yet completely accessible and I don’t just mean physically accessible by public transit!  I know many of the eateries and establishments in Yorkville (and the neighbourhood itself) may come across as upscale and out-of-reach to us average folk, but I’m telling you, appearances can be deceiving and I’ve certainly allowed my preconceived notions inform my decisions about places before I got the chance to know them in the past.  Behind the chic, polished exterior is warmth, comfort, and homeyness oozing with wonderful food and drink, a peaceful, inviting atmosphere, and one of the nicest places to dine in the city.  It’s romantic, it’s inviting, and it’s SO PERFECT for relaxing weekend brunch meals, intimate dinner evenings, and get-togethers and cocktail parties.

So, how did I find out about Caren’s?  While I would love to say that I “stumbled” on it during a beautiful walk through the neighbourhood, I can’t.  I owe this one to my sweet coworker, Pat.  While she and I were discussing yummies and fun things in Yorkville (I was raving about Mela and she was raving about stationery – great minds think alike!), she mentioned Caren’s and how she was cheese classmates with Tiffany MacIssac, Caren’s master of cheese.  Curious beyond belief, I looked up the Yorkville gem online and immediately fell in love.  Cheese!  Weekend brunch!  Yorkville!  That was certainly all the convincing I needed!  And what impeccable timing.  I wanted to take a stroll through Yorkville anyway so I made it my mission to go to Caren’s for weekend brunch this past weekend and the plan went out without a hitch (fter all my flub-ups, fall-throughs and disappointments as of late it was about time something went my way!).  Weekend brunch, 11:30 am sharp!

Caren’s menus focus on French cuisine with some Italian and European influences in conjunction with local, Canadian fare – after all, it is a wine and cheese bar!  Their extensive brunch menu incorporates a number of brunch classics (French toast, omelettes, pancakes, eggs benny and more) as well as plenty of savoury soups, salads, and sandwiches, and featured items that highlight their wonderful selection and offering of cheeses.  Brunch prices are $10 on the low-end and $20 on the highest end, with most menu items coming in between $12-$16.  Their menu offers 19 dishes with additional sides at extra charge including parsley home fries, apple wood smoked bacon, chorizo sausage, house cured gravlox, and more.

You can enjoy your meal in the comforts of their ground floor dining area and bar, their outdoor front patio, their intimate 2nd floor dining room, OR – wait for this – their ridiculously gorgeous back patio courtyard that might as well be a cabana oasis!  I was shocked out of my leggings when I stepped into their back courtyard to snap a few photos.  It is breathtaking.  Cushions, lanterns, soft glows, palms – THIS is where an amazing cocktail party takes place!  Caren’s will rent out their dining areas for private functions so this is definitely something to keep in mind for everyone!

I had myself my own little food party in the form of weekend brunch yesterday.  I’m not kidding.  I ordered a ridiculous amount of food and by the end, I was truly stuffed!  On Deb’s plate: Caren’s soup of the day ($12), creamy roasted potato and leek with tomatoes and Italian grano padano cheese (like I would have a meal here without any cheese – pish!) and their eggs pacific ($13), a dish of potato rosti, salmon, truffled eggs (insanely fluffy scrambled!), fruit and greens, and creme fraiche.  Their meal-size soup was monstrous!  I should have known better.  I was expecting a side bowl, maybe a medium-sized bowl.  Nope, meal-sized.  But I have no regrets.  Because it was mouthwateringly delicious.

Creamy, smooth, and velvety, I had freshly cracked black pepper sprinkled on, and the olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese made the soup so flavourful and savoury.  The texture was perfect and the tomatoes gave it that hint of freshness and juiciness.  It wasn’t heavy at all and the cheese?  I could eat it by the spoonful.  Similar to Parmigianno Reggiano, it was grated onto the soup and it gave the soup that extra hit of savouriness and meatiness to make it really feel like a meal-size soup.

And my eggs pacific.  OH.MY.GOD.  Smoked salmon lovers, you need this in your life.  I have NEVER had a meal that gave me so much thick, savoury, slices of smoked cured salmon in my life.  Half the time, meals will often fall short of the desirable amount.  But this?  Fit for two meals.  Slice after slice of amazing, scrumptious salmon filled my plate with a fluffy mountain of eggs, potato rosti rounds underneath, and a huuuuge dollop of red onion capered creme fraiche.  I’m telling you, the salmon and creme fraiche MAKES this dish.  If there was anything I’d change, I’d make the potato rosti a little thicker, but that’s about it.  It was truly delicious and the creme fraiche just brings everything together as you can use it for the potato rosti, the smoked salmon, and the eggs.  It breaks up the salty, cured flavour of the salmon and keeps it from becoming too overwhelming.  And the soup, a spontaneous choice in the beginning, proved to be a great complement to the meal!

Even though I never feel like I have enough time to enjoy everything I want to enjoy during my days out, I feel fulfilled that I got to try this wonderful dining spot out and you can bet that I’ll be back for more weekend brunch.

*****

Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar is located at 158 Cumberland St. in Yorkville, just east of Avenue Rd.  They are open for lunch (11:30am-5pm from Monday to Friday), dinner (5pm-10pm Sunday to Tuesday and 5pm-11pm Wednesday to Saturday), and weekend brunch (11:30am-4pm Saturdays and Sundays).

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The Weekend Brunch Club – Neapolitan Eggs in Stewed Tomatoes, Potato Rosti, and Springtime Brunch at Table 17

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I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of the most indecisive people on this plant.  I have had the time of my life writing Ate by Ate, but I’m telling you, I drive myself crazy sometimes with my own waffling.  It takes me days to figure out which places I’d like to visit, what neighbourhoods I want to explore, and what menu items I want to try, and it’s not because I’m bored of my options – quite the opposite.  There are so MANY amazing choices for me to choose from that, as a result, I often find myself wanting to do a gazillion things at once and this in turn makes things harder because I know I have to come to a concrete decision sooner or later. 

This just in: for the first time in goodness knows how long, I had no trouble deciding on where I wanted to have a nice weekend brunch a few weeks ago and shockingly enough, what I wanted to have.  This easy breezy decision even took me by surprise.  My tummy knew exactly where it wanted to be fed: Table 17 on Queen East in Riverside.                

After the great brunch I had my first time there (The Sloppy Giuseppe!  Two fried sunnyside eggs with polenta, bolognese, and greens), I really wanted to go back to try some of their other brunch dishes, especially since I knew how great their variety was in terms of savoury egg breakfasts.  I always tell myself that I’ll get around to trying the French toast and pancake breakfasts, but when I go to places like Table 17, with their rustic, farmers’, local meshed with global atmosphere and menu, I always er on the side of savoury. 

Even though Table 17’s brunch menu isn’t exceptionally large (there are 10 main brunch dishes to choose from), what keeps those of us who thrive on variety coming back is their focus on seasonal ingredients and mixing up their cheeses and vegetables in dishes such as their weekly scramble, which changes every week, and their quiche which also changes on a weekly basis.

I settled on the Neapolitan Eggs with a side of potato rosti and while I do love the Sloppy Giuseppe more between the two, there’s such a brightness and freshness to the Neapolitan Eggs dish with its savoury tomato sauce and greens.  There’s a level of flavour depth in tomato sauce that is just uncomparable to anything else.  Just the thought of a big pot of tomato sauce with a hint of cream and a spattering of fresh herbs makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Growing up, I was always a fan of the cream sauces like alfredo, white wine, mushroom, and such.  I love them dearly still (spaghetti in white sauce or mushroom sauce will always be a weakness), but tomato sauce has really grown on me and I appreciate its flavour and versatility so much more. 

Neapolitan Eggs (or Eggs in Purgatory) is a classic southern Italian dish, originating in Campania in Naples and while the origins of its alternative name are subject to speculation*, Table 17 does a fabulous job on their menu of integrating these traditional, classic European flavours into their local framework.  Local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible, but globally inspired – that’s the intent and motivation.  Two of Table 17’s brunch dishes tip their hat at classic and traditional Italian favourites, including the Sloppy Giuseppe dish I had my first time and their Neapolitan Eggs.  Neapolitan Eggs can be made in a few different ways – eggs baked in tomato sauce or cracked into the sauce and then simmered – but Table 17 does it poached style. 

The dish ($10), which is also a vegetarian option, consists of two poached eggs in stewed tomatoes and basil on country toast with a green mix salad in olive oil vinaigrette.  My favourite aspects of the dish include the thick, runny yolks of the eggs (the delicious hallmark of an awesome poached egg), the thickness of the egg whites (they tasted so good with the cracked black pepper, oh my goodness), the texture of the tomato sauce (segments of crushed tomatoes strewn throughout tomato sauce juice with sweet onions), and the lightness of the dish as a whole.   

And of course, we can’t forget about the amazing potato rosti on the side!  Table 17 offers several side dishes ($4) in addition to their mains, things like double-smoked bacon, bangers (sausages), frites, and potato rosti.  Made with shredded potatoes and then formed into large patties for pan-frying, potato rostis are a fab alternative to hash browns and homefries.  Their potato rosti side is absolutely fabulous and it is SO DELICIOUSLY GOOD. 

The crispy, crunchy, waffle-like potato pancake came in a half moon pie shape and was cut into four wedges and was accompanied by a dish of sour cream.  It was perfect for dipping (in the sour cream and in my tomato sauce), it was crunchy and crispy on the outside and soft and potatoey on the inside, and it was so good eating mouthfuls of it with the mix of egg white, egg yolk, green salad, and sour cream.  It was brunch heaven in my mouth and it was a wonderful complement to my eggs and tomatoes because it just sopped up all the flavour and provided that tiny bit of fried crunchiness that makes everything extra awesome.

I’m already looking forward to my next brunch here and given how indecisive I am, it wouldn’t hurt for me to start thinking about what I’d love to try next.  I’m thinking of having either the Farmers’ Breakfast or the Weekly Scramble.  With potato rosti again.  Or maybe a side of bangers.  Or maybe I should just flip a coin.   

*****

Source *= Almost Italian.com

Table 17 is located at 782 Queen Street East in the Riverside district of Toronto in the east end.  They are located on the north side of Queen East, east of Broadview Ave. and west of Boulton Ave.  They are open 7 days a week for dinner at 5:30pm and are open for weekend brunch at 10:30am.  Brunch is served until 2:30pm.  Follow them on Twitter @table17, check out their Facebook page here, and their site here.