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.

*****

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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All Hail the Breakfast Hash! Mushroom Gravy & Fried Eggs – Weekend Brunch at The Gladstone Hotel on Queen/”Queer” Street West

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I was going to save this post for early July but given how I just watched Michael Symon and Daphne Oz make mouthwatering breakfast hashes on The Chew earlier today and how I’m totally smitten with the street name change of Queen Street West to Queer Street West in honour of World Pride and Pride Week here in the city, I decided I would post these photos today instead.  So, to celebrate amazing breakfast hashes and “Queer” Street West (gosh, this is never going to get old), I present to you all weekend brunch at the Gladstone Hotel!  This is Ate by Ate’s 2nd post on weekend brunch at the Gladstone (check out the 1st one HERE) and I’m hoping that I’ll get to post many more in the future because I’ve enjoyed both my experiences here so much.

The Gladstone Hotel’s weekend brunch menu (served on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am-4pm in the Gladstone Cafe) changes every so often with new and different dishes which is why both of my posts are unique from each other.  It’s totally worth it to go back for repeat visits.  Even if the menu was the same, I would still come back (if I love a place, one visit is never enough) but for those of you who enjoy the spice of life and love new things and variety, this fits right into your wheelhouse.  The great thing about the weekend brunch menu is that while the dishes might be different from menu to menu, the selection and variety is just as great because you’ll always have those egg breakfasts, sweet dishes, and savoury plates to choose from.  The menus don’t necessarily favour one brunch category over another so you won’t ever feel like you’re stuck eating only one type of dish.

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The current weekend brunch menu features yummies like the Lumberjack (eggs, bacon, potato hash and a short stack of pancakes, $15), the Queen (and egg white and caramelized onion frittata with arugula, cheddar and multi-grain bread, $12),  the Sweetie (bread pudding French toast served with caramelized apples, maple caramel drizzle, and bacon, $10), the El Completo (fried or scrambled eggs with tomato, onion, lime and feta black beans with chorizo sausage and corn tortillas or toast, $12), and Jerk Chicken Tacos (3 spicy pulled jerk chicken tacos served with mango chutney and crunchy sweet rice and black eyed pea fritters, $13; my boyfriend ordered this one and I sampled some of those fritters with the mango chutney and oh my gosh they are to die for) among others.

I was hemming and hawing between the Sweetie and the Hash ($11), a dish featuring a red-skinned potato and onion hash smothered with vegetarian mushroom gravy and topped with a beautiful fried egg.  In other words, weekend brunch sexiness.  Two entirely different, contrasting dishes vying for my undying love and attention.  Ultimately my savoury craving won out because 1) I am a potato freak, 2) I am also a fried egg freak, and 3) I am a gravy freak.  I was drooling even before my plate came.  THAT is how you get my weekend brunch motor running and THAT is how we get our freak on!

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This dish is truly the epitome of comfort food, brunch style because the crispiness of the hash and the savouriness of the mushroom gravy just takes it to another level.  The hash, which was shaped into a giant potato patty-like pancake, was fantastic because it maintained its texture in spite of it being covered with gravy and the gravy itself was possibly the best gravy I have ever had in my life.  It was thick and so ridiculously flavourful and the actual mushrooms served with it kept the consistency from getting congealed or gummy with its juices and it kept the flavour coming in spades so everything just worked.  The egg and arugula brightened up the dish visually and offered the tastebuds something a little different to latch onto throughout the meal so that the savouriness of the hash and gravy wouldn’t get too heavy or overwhelming, with the egg being a blank canvas so to speak to absorb some of those flavours and the arugula contributing its signature peppery bitterness to break up the saltiness.

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What made this brunch even more fabulous was my drink: tea!  The Cafe offers a bunch of different loose leaf teas from Tealish including their Coconut Chai, Lemon Meringue, and Toasty Almond among other black, green and rooibos tea varieties.  For whatever reason, I didn’t order a tea during my first visit to the Gladstone nearly two years ago so I decided to order one this time.  I went with the Blueberry Lagoon since I hadn’t tried that one yet and oh my gosh, I almost jumped out of my seat when my tea came: a teapot accompanied by an adorable china tea cup!  Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.  I was not expecting that.  I was expecting just a regular cup with my loose leaf in a filter or something.  I was completely taken aback by the cuteness of it all and it made my tea-loving self so incredibly excited and happy!  And the Blueberry Lagoon tea was delicious to boot so that made me even more happy.  I was on cloud nine; a new Tealish favourite to add to my tea scrapbook!

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The Gladstone Hotel Cafe is such a nice and relaxing place to have weekend brunch (or any meal for that matter) and I love that each experience offers something new and exciting, at least for me.  I just might have to make another return visit before the end of the summer to try that Sweetie dish and to be delighted once again by another delicious meal.

*****

The Gladstone Hotel is located at 1214 Queen Street West (or Queer Street West during Pride Week!).

 

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!

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!).

The Weekend Brunch Series – Loving Prosciutto & Eggs Benny at La Vecchia at Yonge & Eglinton

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poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

Thinly sliced meats, cubes and wedges of cheese, olives and tapenade, honey, mountains of arugula…good god, my mouth is watering just thinking about all of the scrumptious delights!  I think the month of April really changed me.  I’ve always loved things like cheese and crackers and cured meats (one of my favourite guilty pleasures is a herb and garlic cream cheese sandwich with thinly sliced German salami – YUM, YUM and YUM), but after going to dinner with coworkers at Obika Mozzarella Bar in Brookfield Place, having an amazing, wonderful dinner at Hockley Valley’s Cabin restaurant with my FBC friends during FBC 2013 and basically having enough cheese and charcuterie to last me two lifetimes during the month of April alone (I might as well be a walking cheese wedge), I have really begun to appreciate the artistry behind charcuterie platter creation.

I would always eat things in isolation; some cheese cubes on a toothpick at parties, some antipasto, a few slices of meat.  All enjoyable but never really together because, let’s face it, the nagging voices that sternly tell us to stay away from all that sodium will deter us from that fun.  But I am here to say that every so often, I DON’T CARE.  I definitely plan on paying much more attention to charcuterie platters from here on out and to indulge in one of my favourite charcuterie staples, prosciutto, when given the opportunity.  So when eggs benny with prosciutto stared at me in the face from the menu of one of my more recent weekend brunch meals at La Vecchia by Yonge & Eglinton, I had to take advantage!

La Vecchia weekend brunch menu in Yonge and Eglinton

La Vecchia weekend brunch menu in Yonge and Eglinton

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past La Vecchia over the years.  Located on the east side of Yonge Street a few blocks north of Eglinton by Broadway Avenue, it’s sandwiched between so many different eateries, many of which I’ve visited on a regular basis.  But what set La Vecchia apart and what drew me to it in the first place is its ambience.  It exudes that feeling and atmosphere of old world Italy (historical but with plenty of character, and a quiet, easy-breezy sophistication and glamour) and when the patio is set up during the summer, it makes you feel so relaxed just walking by it.  It’s the type of place I feel I can truly soak in a dining experience.  The type of place that gives you more than just delicious food but also a delicious experience – sitting back and taking your time, savouring those bread and olive oil moments, sipping water as you people-watch; all those little details that make those meals so memorable and enjoyable.

La Vecchia dining room in Yonge and Eglinton

La Vecchia has a FABULOUS weekend brunch menu.  Not only do they offer plenty of savoury and sweet options, but they also offer plenty of choices within those options.  You never have to feel like you’re caged in when you’re perusing their menu.  Case in point: 7 frittatas, 6 egg (uova) breakfasts (benedicts, sunny side ups, poached, and style of your choice), 5 sweet brunches, a whole host of veg, salads, and antipasto, fresh focaccia sandwiches,  and – wait for this – 9 (nine!) pasta and risotto brunch dishes!  And lots and lots of yummy things like portobello mushrooms and grilled vegetables, sausage, cured meats, goat cheese, parmesan, bocconcini and Asiago, calamari, and so much more!

Prices are very brunch-typical, hovering around $11 or $12 for most mains and dishes with a few less expensive ones ($8 or $9) and a few more expensive ones ($14 to $16).  This menu makes me think of “Around the World in 80 Days” only more like “Around the Menu 80 Times” because of all the different types of dishes!

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

My brunch pick for my first visit to La Vecchia: the Semplice Uova (egg) breakfast ($12) featuring 2 poached eggs on a bed of juicy, thick slices of tomato and fluffy arugula topped with thinly sliced mouthwatering prosciutto with a side of home fries, diced roasted red pepper and fruit.  So many of the my favourite things rolled into one!  I love prosciutto and arugula like nobody’s business, the prosciutto imparted so much flavour in the dish, the runny yolks in the poached eggs (which, by the way, were perfectly runny and poached) gave the dish this great, thick, egg yolky “sauce” for me to dip my home fries and tomatoes in, and the fluffy arugula just soaked up every flavour around it, just like an English muffin would in a traditional eggs benny.  There was a great balance of flavours and textures (salty, juicy, starchy, runny, and crunchy) and I didn’t find the prosciutto to be overbearing or overpowering in the dish with its cured salty flavour.

poached eggs benedict weekend brunch with prosciutto and arugula at La Vecchia

I love poached eggs and eggs benny so much and it’s so much fun trying different combinations and variations.  We’re used to seeing the classics (the florentine, the peameal, and the smoked salmon) and while I love them, it’s awesome seeing different meat and veg combinations that also really speak to the Italian cuisine of the eatery.  You can bet I’ll be back to try some of the sweet brunch dishes (they have crepes with strawberries and chocolate sauce!) and their pasta – lots and lots of pasta!  La Vecchia is a fabulous weekend brunch spot and with spring finally here their open front windows and patio will make dining here even sweeter.

*****

La Vecchia is an Italian eatery that serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch 7 days a week (11am lunch Monday-Friday, 10:30am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Saturday, and 10am-3:30pm brunch and 3:30pm dinner on Sunday).  They are located at 2405 Yonge Street on the east side of Yonge Street several blocks north of Eglinton by Broadway Ave. in the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood.  You can view their menus and contact info on their website HERE.