Rise & Shine to a Mexican Fiesta! Weekend Brunch in the Beaches at Xola

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Rise and shine to a Mexican fiesta!  If you’re looking for a weekend brunch spot to add to your list of foodie escapades, head to Xola in the Beaches.  Located in the east end of the city on Queen Street East, Xola is a fun and colourful cantina serving up delicious weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner options with Mexican flair and flavour.  Truth be told, I stumbled on Xola last summer during a day out in the Beaches neighbourhood but didn’t get around to eating here until I did an assignment for Eat In Eat Out magazine for their feature on Mexican restaurants earlier in the year but because I’ve been so on and off with blogging for the last little while I haven’t gotten the chance to post about them here on Ate by Ate until now.  Phew!  It’s actually not such a bad thing now that I think about it because the weather is beautiful now which makes Xola’s fun and fiery interior and menu pop that much more.  It screams summer more than it screams winter in January!  Before I dive right into divulging the yummy details of my first meal here though, let me rewind and talk a little bit about the assignment I took on that led me back to Xola in the first place.

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When I took on the assignment for Eat In Eat Out magazine knowing that it was for a feature on Mexican restaurants across Canada, I wanted to approach it in a non-traditional way.  I didn’t particularly want to choose any old Mexican restaurant in Toronto for lunch.  So I racked my brain for something different, something special.  The light blub came on and Xola came to mind.  I quickly searched through my photos from last summer for the photo I took of Xola’s menu taped to their front window, did a little digging online, and found out to my utter delight that they served weekend brunch on Saturdays!  Seeing as how Mexican weekend brunch is a pretty neat and unique thing in Toronto (it’s not like the city is crawling with places that serve it.  Not yet anyway), I knew it was the perfect place to write about.  And it totally and wholeheartedly was.

Xola is barely a year old but I’ve seen and heard folks talk about lineups out the door some nights!  Thankfully for me I was planning on having my meal during the day and arriving right when they opened at 12 noon so I wasn’t too fussed or worried about that.  I was much more interested in what I was going to stuff my face in.  Xola’s weekend brunch menu, served on Saturdays from 12pm-2pm, serves everything from burritos with slow braised beef and slow braised pork to fish tacos, omelettes with goat cheese, and THREE kinds of huevos rancheros with fresh corn tortillas, eggs, chorizo sausage, potatoes, different salsas, sour cream, fresco, and black beans among other dishes.  Prices range from $8-$15, making it an incredibly affordable weekend brunch spot.  NOTE: Xola accepts CASH ONLY.  They are a CASH ONLY establishment much like Lady Marmalade in Leslieville.

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When I think back to this meal and this visit, I smile because everything about Xola is just so fun and vibrant.  They have this gorgeous, colourful mural on one wall that I love to pieces and while the place is small, they more than make up for it in flair, food, and personality.  For weekend brunch that day I enjoyed a handful of yummy things: a cold and delicious glass of horchata ($3.50), a Mexican drink made with rice, milk and cinnamon; a ridiculously large dish of chilaquiles ($9): homemade tortilla chips covered in creamy red salsa, drizzled with sour cream and sprinkled queso fresco cheese; trio de gorditas ($8.95), my meal of corn masa patties topped with an assortment of refried beans, red salsa, and green salsa with sour cream and queso fresco cheese and served with guacamole and scrambled eggs; and last, but not least, a freshly made Mexican margarita!

I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything so much because they were all delicious in their own way and because all this food was so new to me, I was seeing it with fresh eyes and tasting it with fresh tastebuds.  The horchata drink was so unbelievably delicious.  It was like dessert in drink form.  It had just enough sweetness from the cinnamon and the milk and rice gave it substance while the ice kept it cold and refreshing throughout the meal.

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The chilaquiles?  Out of this freakin’ world.  This is like the appetizer to end all appetizers.  So messy but so fun!  The red salsa (which is the consistency of a sauce, not to be mistaken with the pico de gallo style of salsa) is thick and creamy and with the sour cream and queso fresco, there was savouriness, there was tanginess and of course there was fun and crunch from the tortilla chips.  My trio de gorditas dish makes my weekend brunch and breakfast-loving heart all warm and fuzzy because the inclusion of scrambled eggs just screams happy breakfast to me.  It makes me think of warm sun streaming in through windows, hot eggs coming out of sizzling pan, and enjoying that first meal of the day on those wonderful weekend mornings where the remainder of the day stretches out in front of you and the possibilities for loveliness are endless.

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And finally, the margarita!  I know, I know, I don’t drink!  But my server was so sweet and so gracious that the drink was on the house so I did what any good patron would do: I thanked her profusely and enjoyed it.  Not all of it because I’m such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol (drinking is honestly not my thing) but enough to know that heck, it was REALLY good!  The lime just made it so juicy and refreshing and for me, it helped to tame the strength of the tequila.  At the very least, you all know now that you can certainly raise a happy glass here!

So, if you’re looking to enjoy Mexican food in a fun and different way, Xola in the Beaches is just the ticket.  Happy Friday and early weekend, everyone!

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*****

Xola is located at 2222A Queen Street East in the Beaches neighbourhood in Toronto. Weekend brunch is served on Saturdays from 12pm to 2pm. Operating hours all other days: Monday (5pm-9pm), Tuesday (closed); Wednesday to Friday (12pm-3pm for lunch, 5pm-closing for dinner); Saturday (12pm-closing); Sunday (4pm-closing).  CASH ONLY.

“Bee Mine” – Weekend Brunch of Eggs Benny & Buttermilk Cheddar Scones at Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill!

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You know what we’ve never discussed here on Ate by Ate?  Food snatching.  Do I have a story behind this discussion point?  Oh you bet your sweet ass I do.  So let’s talk.  You know the kind.  Folks who sneakily spear something off your plate when you’re not paying attention or those who snatch the obligatory fry from your basket or those who just plain eye your leftovers.  For those of you who know F.R.I.E.N.D.S inside and out, we can laugh over Joey’s ridiculousness over not sharing his food with his date at the restaurant and even sweet little baby Emma (“JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD!!!”).  Truth be told, I’ve never really had to deal with that in all my years of living.  I mean, sure, there was the one time my brother and I mixed up our school lunches and I ended up with his and he ended up with mine which left me in conniptions because I totally felt like he’d stolen my entire container of beloved grapes, but aside from that I’ve always been surrounded by pretty  respectful people who don’t overstep their bounds when it comes to my food and in that sense, I’ve been very lucky.  Either that or my boyfriend, friends and family are simply scared of my wrath.  Hmmm.  Point is, life has been pretty much sticky-snatchy-finger free.

Until one fateful morning at weekend brunch.

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It was a beautiful, warm, sunny Sunday morning at Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill at Yonge & Front St.  I was beside myself with excitement.  I was out on their patio, I was covered by enough shade to take decent photos, I was finally going to try their weekend brunch menu which I had been wanting to do for months, and I was spending the day with my boyfriend.  It was picture perfect and my appetite was raring to go.  I hungrily scanned their brunch menu, hemming and hawwing over sweet versus savoury dishes like I always do until I finally settled on the eggs benedict; but more about the luscious food in a second.  I desperately felt like some simple but delicious comfort food and the warm, rich, creamy eggs benedict bathed in hollandaise was exactly what I was craving.  My dish came and I sighed in happiness.  My beautiful eggs benny in all its glory.  Gosh did this dish ever make me smile.  My boyfriend and I then proceeded to dig into our respective brunch dishes and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

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Until halfway through the meal when chaos ensued:

“Ahhhh!!!” *napkin swat* “Go away go away go away go away!!!” *napkin swat* “Nonononono….damn it, NOOOOOO!!!”

Take a wild stab at what happened.

Answer: a freakin’ BEE flew into my hollandaise and STOLE MY FOOD.  A BEE!  Into MY hollandaise!  In MY brunch!  Like I wasn’t already a nervous wreck seeing the damn thing flying near the bushes by our table, oh no, it had to circle my plate several times like a vulture eyeing its prey and then freakin’ LAND on my food like a helicopter landing pad!  Like, seriously, of all the ways to ruin my food!  I could have dropped it.  I could have been too sick to eat it.  But a bee setting up shop on it?!  ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME?!  I never in a million years thought the first time I would have my food stolen would be by an insect of all things.  Now, you must be wondering how this meal was salvaged.  Because you know I wouldn’t be writing about this if there wasn’t something positive to it.  All I can say is, god bless our server.  He noticed the commotion at our table, rushed over with a linen napkin, smothered the darn thief with it and quickly took the dish away to discard.  Then he said 5 magic words:

“I’ll bring you another one.”

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Not only did we receive exceptional service from the second we were seated, but our server really went above and beyond to mend my broken heart (and, quite frankly, my heebie jeebies).  I was halfway through my meal when the chaos happened and after the dish was taken away, one of the other servers promptly brought me a hot and fresh dish that made up for the half that was ruined.  Ahhh.  Happiness restored, crisis averted.

Well, now that I’ve recounted my absurd food snatching story, it’s time to get down to business and talk REAL food.  I adore O&B’s weekend brunch menu.  Available on Saturdays and Sundays starting at 10am, their weekend brunch menu reads like a book of classics with the most fantastical of twists.  You have French toast but in PB & J style (pain au lait, peanut butter, housemade strawberry jam and candied peanuts).  You have breakfast classics on a pizza (roasted maple ham, caramelized onions and a fried egg!).  And the hash?  Beef short ribs with poached eggs and chipotle tomato jam.  Those are just 3 of the 11 brunch dishes that they offer on their menu.  In addition, they make their lunch menu available as well which is great because you can mix and match your food to your heart’s content!  I took advantage of this by ordering a side salad of fresh kale and greens ($5) which was a beautiful, light and fresh mix of dinosaur kale, radishes, swiss chard, baby greens, matchstick beets, and wheatberries.

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The main attraction: O&B’s eggs benedict is by far one of the most delicious I’ve ever had.  I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT!  Their eggs benny ($14) incorporates potato home fries, 2 large poached eggs covered in rich, creamy hollandaise sprinkled with chopped green onions and pepper flakes on top of 2 slices of make-me-warm-and-fuzzy honey ham and 2 amazing fluffy, airy, melt-in-your-mouth BUTTERMILK CHEDDAR SCONES!  SCONES PEOPLE!  OH.MY.GOD!  I wasn’t lying when I said they took the classics and twisted them in fantastical ways!

We’re so used to seeing and having eggs benedict on English muffin halves and while I love my toasted English muffins, it was SO delicious having my poached eggs on buttery scones that were honestly like a cross between tea scones and buttery, cheesy biscuits.  Are you guys familiar with the infamous Red Lobster biscuits?  Imagine those in all their soft, buttery glory but in cheesy buttermilk scone form.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the hollandaise because the scones soaked up the sauce so well and everything held it’s flavour, texture and shape throughout the meal without getting soggy which was terrific.

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Despite the food snatching, food ruining kerfluffle, it was truly one of the most enjoyable, scrumptious weekend brunches and I adored my food to pieces and would eat through the weekend brunch menu in a heartbeat.  Sans the uninvited vistor.

*****

Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill is located at 33 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge Street & Front Street E.

The Weekend Brunch Series – Savoury Eggs Benny French Toast & Chocolate Chip Pancakes at Brownstone Bistro!

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I must have the best luck scoping out awesome and fantabulous brunch spots.  I have yet to have a meal that has fallen flat or to find a place that has let my spirits down.  Cupcakes?  Sure, I’ve had a few duds.  Sushi?  I definitely have my favourites.  But weekend brunch?  Oh gosh, that’s a toughie.  I fall more and more in love with each and every single eatery I come across in the city and the meals just keep tasting more delicious and scrumptious.  I thought for sure my beloved poached eggs and egg benny dishes couldn’t get any more amazing (places like Brockton General, the Gladstone Hotel and Wish Cafe set the weekend brunch pretty damn high already in general!) but I thought wrong because Brownstone Bistro, located at 603 Yonge Street just north of Wellesley Street with Irwin Ave. to the west and Gloucester Street to the east(really, it’s a hop, skip and step away from Wellesley subway station) has captured my brunch-loving heart and I almost can’t even find the words to describe how wonderful their weekend brunch is.

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Seriously, if anyone is looking for an accessible brunch spot to hit up (it’s right on Yonge Street, it’s so close to the subway, their brunch hours are from 10am-4pm which would really fit into anyone’s eating schedule, and located within the downtown core for those who don’t prefer venturing too far north, east, or west – you know who you are!), Brownstone is THE place.  Hell, I would even drag folks up in Newmarket to come down here to have a meal.  It’s that freakin’ terrific.

Not only does their brunch menu boast a mosaic of brunch dishes for sweet and savoury cravings, their prices are incredibly reasonable.  For those who enjoy weekend brunch on a regular basis, you know you’ve grown accustomed to seeing brunch prices hit $14-$18, in the sense that this price range doesn’t really surprise or faze you because it’s common at a number of spots throughout the city; it’s not shocking anymore.  At Brownstone Bistro though, you can get a belt-popping, belly-filling brunch for $10-$12 and the choices are things you just wouldn’t find anywhere else.

OH!  And did I mention they give you complimentary fresh-out-of-the-oven mini muffins?!

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SWEET!  They are delightful not just in appearance (so cute!) but also because they’re warm and yummy and all sorts of comforting.  Thinking about mini muffins always make my brother and I laugh because we always think back to the hilarious F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episode where Ross so desperately wanted Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment across the street and he thought he could sway him by giving him a basket of mini muffins.  Ross: “Someone sent us a basket at work once.  It was the happiest day!”  Chandler: “Your work makes me sad”.  Haha!

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They’ve divided up their brunch menu into sections: classics and omelettes, eggs benny and healthy choices, sweet dishes, and signature brunch entrees which is where you’ll find really unique stuff with the Brownstone Bistro stamp of delicious approval: savoury French toasts and souffles, stuffed peppers brunch-style, and even a hashbrown and scambled eggs casserole au gratin!  Even their classics have a twist: wild mushroom and mozzarella omelettes with basil; grilled chicken and guacamole omelettes with pesto; and egg breakfasts with spicy Italian sausage.

And beyond their brunch dishes you have lunch fare such as soups, salads and sandwiches for those who don’t prefer brunch food quite so much.  While I would never go this route, I totally understand that not everyone is a brunch-obsessed nut like me!

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My boyfriend and I shared about 1/3 of our brunch with one another (you’ll understand why we did 1/3 in a bit) because we just couldn’t decide which one we truly wanted more!  I snatched up the scrumptious, mouthwatering Grilled Chicken & Portobello signature dish ($12) which was comprised of juicy strips of grilled chicken and portobello mushrooms with spinach on piece of thick cut French toast with two poached eggs, smothered in hollandaise sauce (OH YES) and served with a mixed green salad with balsamic dressing, while my boyfriend took on the Chocolate Chip pancakes served with whipped cream and fresh fruit ($10).

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Let me start with my yummylicious savoury French toast.  It makes my mouth water just thinking back about it!  The grilled chicken and hollandaise make this dish.  And of course the poached egg yolks!  The grilled chicken is so tender (not a bit of dryness or toughness in sight), the portobello mushrooms are savoury and juicy and the hollandaise sauce and yolks that spill out of the poached eggs make for amazing dipping for the grilled chicken and French toast!  The French toast and grilled chicken soak up the sauces so you get all tender juiciness in every bite.  You never have to worry about your meal getting dried out or being left with too much of one thing.  The savoury flavours that come together are incredible and remarkably, you get those meaty textures and flavours from the grilled chicken and portobello mushrooms without the heaviness.  Their mixed green salad is delicious, bringing everything together and keeping the dish fresh and lightening it up.

And then there’s the chocolate chip pancakes!  I enjoy pancakes, I really do, and often times I’ll want them when I go out for weekend brunch.  But let’s face it.  Nobody likes dry pancakes.  Or pancakes that are too thin or too thick or pancakes that just completely lack in flavour.  But Brownstone Bistro’s pancakes are FANTASTIC!  The pancakes come in a set of 3, were studded with chocolate chips, drizzled with chocolate sauce and dusted with icing sugar with whipped cream and fruit on the side.

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And do you know why their pancakes are so great?  Because you don’t need maple syrup with them.  Yes, pancakes taste yummy with maple syrup, but you know a pancake hits the nail on the head when you don’t NEED maple syrup to eat them.  When you can scarf them down without maple syrup and they still taste delicious.  If you need to douse and down your pancakes in syrup just to make them edible, you know the pancakes don’t cut it, but if they hold up on their own, you know you’ve got some awesome flapjacks.

I’ve taken my family here since this meal and they loved it to pieces too.  Love for Brownstone Bistro all around!

*****

Brownstone Bistro is located at 603 Yonge Street by the corner of Gloucester Street on the east side of Yonge, north of Wellesley Street and just steps away from Wellesley subway station.  They are open from 11am-11pm Monday-Thursday (lunch and dinner), 11am-12am Friday (lunch and dinner), 10am-12am Saturday (weekend brunch and dinner) and 10am-11pm Sunday (weekend brunch and dinner).  They also offer a theatre menu too!