Fueling Up on Love For Food – A Weekend Brunch of Smoked Trout & Goat Cheese Baby Quiches at Cafe Belong

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“Food is Fuel, Food is Medicine, Food is Love”.  This passage, carved beautifully onto the metal plaque outside Cafe Belong, sums up, guides, and informs every menu creation, every culinary decision, every philosophical perspective, and every loving feeling towards food that Cafe Belong has.  It’s a beautiful way to sum up how I feel about food.  For me, food is my creative fuel.  It makes me excited for things to come, open to new opportunities and experiences.  Learning about food and being completely immersed in all its complexities has enriched my life in ways I never could have imagined and it truly is the fuel that drives my dreams and ambitions. 

And food as medicine?  That too.  Just not in the way you might think.  Being a foodie is therapeutic for me.  Hunkering down and zoning out while I’m scrapbooking my food photos puts me in my happy place.  And when I’m convinced I’m too tired to blog or to go out and get stories, I use that love of food to push myself a little harder and to remind myself that I have so much fun doing it.  When my fingers hit the computer keys, everything’s good.  Food is love.

In the context of Cafe Belong, this passage has to do with the integrity of food in all its facets (preparation, cultivation, presentation) and treating food, and the land it grows on, the people who make it, serve it, grow it, and eat it, with the utmost love and respect.  This is much easier said than done, but that is what makes the joy and experience of eating and cooking that much more rewarding.  It’s the same joy and pride you feel when you pluck a ripe tomato off the wine in your own backyard and when you snip chives off from your herb pots.  This is not to say that the farm-to-table, locavore way of eating and living is without flaw; only that the guiding principles behind this way of eating provides an alternative or at the very least, a way of envisioning one.            

What makes me SO excited about Cafe Belong and its food are their ever-changing menus based on the seasons.  I LOVE seasonal fare and with 3 different main menus to eat from (lunch and dinner, 4 to 6, and weekend brunch), there is so much fabulous, delicious food to go around.  Menus are divided into hot and cold “kitchens” and sides, with each section highlighting seasonal ingredients.  Cold plates include things such as fresh vegetable, cheese, and grain salads (tomato salad and pot barley), cold plates with fish and seafood (cured fish and fennel, tuna ceviche, spring lobster salad with fingerlings), cured meats and cheeses, and yogurt and granola brunch among others.  Hot dishes incorporate fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits in ways that liven up warm comfort food such as smoked duck with squash, cranberries, and beans, lobster boil with leeks, potatoes, and greens, and cauliflower gratin and squash dumplings. 

The menus are so inspiring and there is so much to explore and try and if I had to choose a seasonal menu to be the most excited about, it would have to be fall.  My heart feels full to bursting at the thought of gorgeous fall colours and leaves outside the cafe windows and fall comfort food.  It’ll take a very long time to cycle through a year’s worth of seasonal menu items, but I am definitely up for the challenge of enjoying one special meal here each and every season to get a well-rounded perspective an overall experience of Cafe Belong. 

My first Cafe Belong experience was a weekend brunch one and I enjoyed it in the lively atmosphere of the dining room and kitchen, where the hustle and bustle of the kitchen was visible and the windows from where natural light streamed in seemed never-ending.  People were ordering summer cocktails (brunch cocktails for those of you who love a tipple in the morning!), heaping mountainous plates of brunch salad, and wooden planks carrying brunch lobster rolls and other mouthwatering entities.  While I’ll admit that it was a warm day in the cafe when I went, everything felt light and airy and relaxing  with the large windows overlooking the lovely outdoor patio.  I know it seems odd that I would give up a chance at dining al fresco (hello, summer patio dining series), but I didn’t feel like donning my hat while I ate so inside beside a window I stayed. 

The summer brunch menu ($9 on the low end, $25 at its highest end) features dishes such as potato and egg tart wih apple and greens, lobster roll on brioche with cucumber, radish, and spinach, blueberry pancakes with whipped cream and maple syrup, poached eggs with hollandaise, honey-glazed ham, and savoury biscuit, and market flatbread in vegan, vegetarian, and carni form.  My pick?  The smoked trout and chevre quiche with tomato and cucumber salad ($18), a beautiful, colourful dish bursting with juicy, smoky, cheesy flavour!  This was not your typical quiche though.  From the menu, you would think of quiche with trout and chevre (goat cheese) in it with cucumbers and tomatoes on the side.  Oh no, the dish was comprised of two baby goat cheese quiche tarts surrounded by thick wedges of smoked trout fish, sprigs of fresh dill, juicy tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers in a creamy, tangy, scumptious dressing that tasted like a lighter, airier version of a buttermilk thousand island dressing.

 

It was so sweet and adorable because the trout, tomatoes, and cucumber huddled around the baby quiches like a cozy igloo (I know, I know, it’s SUMMER, but that’s what comes to mind!) and the flavours just flowed between each other wonderfully.  I love that the baby quiches had a crispy yet fluffy cornbread taste and texture to them and the sprigs of dill just heightened the flavours of the dish phenomenally.  The tomatoes were ridiculously juicy and tender and basically melted in my mouth and the quiches mopped up the dressing very nicely. 

There was creamy, tangy flavour from the dressing and goat cheese, warmth and comfort from the quiche which balanced out the “cold kitchen”ness of the dish, and insanely savoury delicious smokiness from the trout.  It was like eating mouthfuls of cured fish with flavour that just did not quit.  I really appreciated the amount of fresh fish on my plate and only wish the quiches were larger so I would have more to enjoy!  What was lovely was how each ingredient played off each other.  You could feasibly eat each one on its own and it would still be taste delightful, but together it was wonderful. 

*****

Cafe Belong is located at Evergreen Brick Works at 550 Bayview Ave.  They are open for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and lunch and dinner 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm from Monday-Friday, and 11am-10pm on weekends.  Click HERE to view menus and to read more about this wonderful locavore cafe.

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Food is Fuel, Medicine, and Love – A Photo Spotlight on Cafe Belong at Evergreen Brick Works, Part I

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It’s the first day of August, so let’s start the month off with a bang!  I’ve wanted to dine at Cafe Belong at Evergreen Brick Works for over a year now but never even took a baby step towards doing so because the pricing is definitely more of a special occasions type of range.  But I took the plunge and had my first meal here recently and I can’t wait to tell you all about the darling of locavore, seasonal, farm-to-table cuisine in Toronto.  Even though I had never enjoyed their food or dining experience until now, I was still able to snap some photos throughout many of my visits to the Brick Works, so consider this a mini photo montage of sorts.  They have a beautiful outdoor patio, a fresh and inviting dining room, and a cafe area where all the baked goods, snacks, and java action happens, and a beautiful space with kitchenware and home decor.  It’s a space that grows and thrives on change and seasons and I’m so excited to share my first food experience with you all.   

*****

Cafe Belong is located at Evergreen Brick Works at 550 Bayview Ave.  They are open for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and lunch and dinner 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm from Monday-Friday, and 11am-10pm on weekends.  Click HERE to view menus and to read more about this wonderful locavore cafe.

Good Food & Brunch Are Knocking at Your Door – Chicken Salad, Watercress, & Asparagus at Hammersmith’s, Part I

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All hail the brunch and lunch in the east end!  Riverdale and Leslieville round up some of the best brunch cafes in the city with the likes of Le Papillon on the the Park, Bonjour Brioche, Table 17, Lady Marmalade, and my latest brunch favourite, Hammersmith’s!  Located smack dab on the corner of Gerrard Street East and Logan Ave. and humbly referred to as Riverdale’s friendly neighbourhood corner brunch spot, Hammersmith’s boasts seasonal, farmhouse style food that is simaltaneously wholesome and simple, yet unique and deliciously complex. 

You’re probably wondering how I found out about Hammersmith’s in the first place.  I know many of you are accustomed to hearing me (or rather, reading me) say that my food discoveries were made during random walks around town or by random sightings on a streetcar.  Not this time.  Let it be known that even the most die-hard of foodies rely on some holy grail food bibles every once in awhile.

 

I found out about Hammersmith’s in one of my issues of Where magazine Toronto!  Yes, that’s right, a free tourist magazine made available at hotels, the Eaton Centre, and in Union Station.  I will always and forever see myself as a tourist in my own city because there is always something new to explore and learn about and food is at the top of this list.  Where magazine Toronto has been one of the best things in my life for over 2 years now and I digilently pick up my free monthly copy at the Eaton Centre at the beginning of every month to flip through throughout the month.  And once I read about Hammersmith’s within the magazine’s sea of restaurant listings, I knew it was only a matter of time before I made my way here.

One of the things I love about Hammersmith’s is their menu focus.  They have one blackboard menu for the season as oppsoed to pages upon pages of items that may or may not garner any interest on a regular basis.  It’s about quality here, not quantity and they keep it simple, fresh, and mouthwateringly delicious with their mix of meat and vegetarian dishes.  What you might find on the menu on any given day?  A duck plate (hello duck confit hash!), a smoked bacon omelette, a mushroom omelette, a braised beef and goat cheese sandwich, a smokey bacon sandwich with tomato and arugula, chicken sandwiches with different fixin’s and fillings, an asparagus plate, and plenty of fresh sides to go along with these mains including a scone plate, bacon hash, a watercress and green bean salad, and asparagus with miso and scallions.   

Their menu changes based on what’s in season and they build a menu that flows from one item to the next, in the sense that they utilize their ingredients in more than capacity and in more than one dish.  Nothing goes to waste and they find scrumptious ways of using “leftovers”, so to speak, and you’ll see what I mean later on in the post.

Open from Wednesday to Sunday (10am-3:30pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, an Fridays, and 9:30am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays), Hammersmith serves brunch and lunch all 5 days, with a new special $35 price fixe dinner promotion currently in place from 6pm-9pm on Thursdays and Fridays.  Prices for brunch mains range from $9-$13, with sides coming in at $5 each.  In addition to their farmhouse stye food, Hammersmith’s also serves up a mean, decadent selection of baked goods and sweets along with an entire blackboard menu full of drinks!  This Part I post is specifically focused on the food, but if you have a hankering for sweets and drinks, don’t fret because Part II and III will soothe those cravings with strawberry lemonade and cupcakes!

Back to the food though.  I knew right off the bat that I wanted to try both a main and a side and since I’m a huuuge lover of watercress and asparagus (can you tell by all the asparagus photos I post in the blog’s Facebook  farmers’ market photo gallery?), I went with the chicken salad and watercress sammy ($10) and the asparagus with miso and scallions ($5) will a cool glass of strawberry lemonade, which I’ll rave about tomorrow. 

Their sandwiches are served on a crusty baguette with an amazing side salad of mixed bitter greens and arugula and razor thin slices of radish, tossed in a mouthwatering olive oil dressing.  Their chicken salad is so moist and so fresh, and deliciously creamy without being soggy or laden with mayo.  The chicken breast was shredded and piled onto the baguette and topped with watercress and it’s moments like these where you just know you’re eating some of the best chicken out there.  Much like my experience at Delux with their achiote and lime chicken sandwich, I thought the chicken salad was pure fantastic.  Combined with the salad, I cleaned off my plate till it was shiny.

And the asparagus!  Oh my goodness.  Spears of crisp asparagus were bathed in miso butter and special hot sauce and it was unlike anything that I had ever had before.  The miso butter was savoury and toned down the slight bitterness of the asparagus while the special hot sauce gave every bite that amazing bit of kick.  And to really kick things up a notch, I was given a special little “extra” to go with my meal.  Rememeber how I said Hammersmith’s doesn’t waste anything and utilizes all their food and ingredients in different ways?  Well, when you make chicken salad without the skin, it has to go somewhere.  And that somewhere was on little plate.  That’s right, folks – crispy chicken skin partnered with dollops of hot sauce and spicy grainy mustard!  A little like peking duck only with crispy chicken skin.  Now THIS was different – and delightfully delicious!

I love it here so much and now that I’ve come here once, I’m determined to come back and eat my way through their blackboard menu, season after season.  Part II and III, we go sweet and fruity fresh with Hammersmith’s cupcakes and drinks!

*****

Hammersmith’s is located at 807 Gerrard St. East in Riverdale, at the corner of Gerrard and Logan Ave.  They are a brunch and lunch cafe open from Wednesday to Sunday (10am-3:30pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and 9:30am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays), with a price fixe dinner currently available on Thursdays and Fridays for $35.  Currently, for the summer, they are also now open on Mondays from 10am-3pm!  They accept cash and debit only.