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Critic: Toronto’s love-hate relationship with brunch

How the unholy amalgam of hangovers, soggy toast and overpriced eggs became a city-wide ritual of belt-loosening hedonism

The Critic: The Brunch Boom

(Rose and Sons, a newfangled greasy spoon in the Annex, serves up brunch decadence. At right, a hulking stack of brisket, brie, cornbread and fried eggs, a dripping patty melt and Dr. Pepper–soaked bacon with schmaltz-fried hash browns and eggs)

Rose and Sons Two Stars
176 Dupont St.,

Farmhouse TavernTwo Stars ½
1627 Dupont St.,

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Brunch always seemed to me a silly invention, the Hallmark holiday of meals. We have this fantasy of idle gossip over mimosas with Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha, but more often than not it’s spoiled by lineups, slowpoke service and $5 thimbles of orange juice. The menu options are eggs Benedict with gloopy hollandaise or bone-dry pancakes decorated with waxy, unripe strawberries. No serious chef would open at that in-between hour, except to make quick cash on piles of potatoes and toast.

Then, in the past year or so, restaurants started opening at a breakneck speed, and, to remain competitive, chefs began offering increasingly decadent brunches. The most talked about are the Trimalchios who raise the bar with epic breakfast feasts that leave you so terrifically bloated you cancel dinner plans. At Origin Liberty, Claudio Aprile’s west-end place, the French toast is loaded with blueberries and duck confit, and the bartender shakes cocktails like it’s 11 p.m., not a.m. At Edulis, the homey oasis in the middle of King West’s condos, brunch involves half-price wine, velvety pâtés, slow-roasted pork belly and a slice of Black Forest cake, a leisurely gout-fest that stretches over three hours. And, after 23 years, the upscale institution Splendido launched its first brunch service, a $35 prix fixe that includes freshly baked brioche with lobster.

If you go to these places on a Sunday, you’ll notice the crowds tend to be 30-somethings, often with babies or toddlers. They are new-breed yuppies who grew accustomed to dining out every night and posting pics of their latest gastronomic accomplishments on Facebook. Brunch is their social lifesaver—the one time of the week when they can go out with the kids, maybe even catch up with friends over a drink, and not be sneered at by other diners. It’s usually less expensive than dinner, which means they can get their gourmet fix without blowing the childcare budget. On Sundays, the courtyard in front of Edulis is a parking lot for jogging strollers.

The busiest brunch in the city is currently at Rose and Sons, a north Annex diner owned by Anthony Rose. Until last year, he was the head chef at the Drake Hotel, where he led Toronto’s recession-era comfort food movement, popularizing poutine with brisket, mac with small-batch cheese, and smoked everything. I remember stopping by the Drake’s barbecue pop-up shop very early one Saturday morning a few years ago, after someone’s too-long karaoke birthday party. I ordered a slow-smoked pulled pork sandwich topped with coleslaw, a bag of kettle chips, a retro glass bottle of root beer and a sugary whoopie pie—the perfect nexus of quality ingredients and lowbrow cuisine. It also prevented a hangover.