brunch

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What is brunch, anyway? (and other thoughts about the stuff-your-face weekend ritual)

The brunch scene at Rose and Sons (Image: Emma McIntyre)

The brunch scene at Rose and Sons on Dupont Street (Image: Emma McIntyre)

Toronto writer Shawn Micallef believes we should all be thinking a lot more about brunch. His new book, The Trouble With Brunch, was published last month by Coach House Books; it’s part-autobiography, part-history, and part-dissertation, all with the aim of examining the relationship between the weekend ritual and shifting attitudes toward class and leisure. Here’s an excerpt.


In 1895, the English writer Guy Beringer published an essay titled “Brunch: A Plea” in a now-obscure periodical called Hunter’s Weekly. Nearly a hundred and twenty years later, the vision for a new meal that he proposed is as real now as a traditional Sunday roast was in his time. Little can be gleaned about Beringer himself—all searches for further information circle back only to this essay. In a 1998 New York Times article, “At Brunch, the More Bizarre the Better,” author William Grimes attributed the invention of brunch to Beringer and quoted a few passages from the original essay: “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

Just like we do today, Beringer saw the link between brunch and the hangover, writing that having the first meal later in the day on Sunday would make life easier on “Saturday-night carousers.” Beringer differentiated brunch from those English roasts, calling the latter “a post church ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies” while brunch, served around noon, would instead begin with tea or coffee, marmalade and other breakfast fixtures, before moving on to heavier fare. “More than a century later, Beringer’s template for brunch remains as valid as the day it was created, perhaps because, in drafting his culinary declaration of independence, he was not overly specific about what dishes should be served,” wrote Grimes. “He demanded ‘everything good, plenty of it, variety and selection.’ In a postscript, he suggested that beer and whisky could be served instead of coffee and tea, laying down a precedent for the mimosa, the Bloody Mary and the screwdriver.” Satisfaction, a little gluttony and a buzz—the familiar components of most brunches served today.

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Food Shops

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This new Danforth bakery sells gluten-free bread, doughnuts and brunch

(Image: Valerie Howes)

(Image: Valerie Howes)

Since early July, Spanish-born baker Tia Vazquez has quietly been selling gluten- and dairy-free goods at Tia’s Bakery, a new store just steps from Pape subway station. Vazquez started her business in Guelph before opening shop in Cambridge. Her first Toronto location has robin’s-egg-blue walls, a small patio and a counter loaded with trays of cookies, cakes and warm, sugared pumpkin doughnuts. (In addition to sweets, Vazquez sells three types of bread: a crusty Italian loaf, a multigrain and an “un-rye,” which gets its flavour from caraway seeds.) Most exciting, though, is the Saturday brunch menu, which carries the kind of carb-loaded dishes most gluten-shy diners only dream of: Belgian waffles, huevos rancheros and house-made bagels with smoked salmon and faux cream cheese.

Tia’s Bakery, 761 Pape Avenue, 416-462-9777, facebook.com

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Restaurants

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Crema Coffee on the Danforth is now doing brunch

(Image: Valerie Howes)

(Image: Valerie Howes)

Toronto coffee entrepreneur Geoff Polci and former Rock Lobster chef Joshua Charbonneau met through their mutual association with Toronto’s Backyard Axe Throwing League, but they’ve recently transitioned from recreational tool-lobbing buddies to full-on business associates. The result of their partnership is a new brunch destination on the Danforth, housed in the east-end outpost of Polci’s Crema Coffee chain. Earlier this summer, Charbonneau built a small kitchen in a nook at the back of the shop, both for in-house brunches and outside catering gigs. He’s since been supplying underserved Greektowners with heaping platters of classic brunch food, including buttermilk waffles, oozy eggs Benedict and steak-and-bacon pies from Aussie pie shop Kanga. Prices range from two bucks for the cheapest of sides to $13 for the most elaborate mains.

Crema Coffee Co., 508 Danforth Ave., 416-901-3131, @cremaTO

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Restaurants

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Mother’s Day Brunch 2014: nine very delicious ways to say “I love you, Mom”

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Mother’s Day is on Sunday, May 11, and Toronto’s best brunch spots are filling up fast. After all, how better to thank the woman who birthed you than to ply her with pastries, prosecco and a gut-busting midday meal? For all you last-minute planners, we pulled together a list of spots that aren’t yet booked up, with options to suit every style of matriarch. Here, nine Toronto destinations for Mother’s Day brunch.

Bar Buca
Chef Rob Gentile’s grown-up snack bar doesn’t take reservations, but his decadent Italian brunch is worth the wait. Choices range from crunchy cream-filled cannoli to chocolate-toped Tuscan crepes infused with pig’s blood, and the cocktail list is similarly inventive. We suggest the Mimosa Rosa, an effervescent mix of prosecco, grapefruit and orange aperol.
75 Portland St., 416-599-2822, no reservations

Hudson Kitchen
Hudson Kitchen’s brunch menu is an intriguing mix of European and Asian flavours—think buttermilk pancakes with bourbon syrup, Spanish omelets and Filipino-style French toast with pork and pineapple mostarda. For Mother’s Day only, meals come with a complimentary package of take-home petit fours.
800 Dundas St. W., 416-644-8839

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Restaurants

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Top Five: Toronto’s best brunch spots

Where to go for the city’s most hedonistic breakfast feasts

Top Five: Toronto's best brunch spots

Farmhouse Tavern

1. FARMHOUSE TAVERN

Sunday-morning reservations are filled far in advance. The crowds are here for Alex Molitz’s way with duck—one dish brings slices of ruby duck prosciutto and two duck eggs rolled in panko and deep-fried. They’re like intensely rich, overgrown scotch eggs. 1627 Dupont St., 416-561-9114.

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New Reviews

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Review: Me and Mine makes comfort food chic on the College West strip

(Image: Igor Yu)

(Image: Igor Yu)

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Me and Mine 1 star ½
1144 College St., 416-535-5858

Chef-owners Joel MacMillan and Melissa da Silva designed their restaurant on a budget, creating a minimalist design of white walls and blond pine tables. At night, the hanging Edison bulbs radiate a warm glow, and a mixed crowd of neighbourhood millennials and boomers fill the room. In the kitchen, MacMillan and da Silva use familiar ingredients in innovative ways.

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Openings

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Introducing: Me and Mine, an eclectic new brunch spot at College and Dufferin

Introducing: Me and Mine

(Image: Igor Yu)

Name: Me and Mine
Neighbourhood: Little Portugal
Contact Info: 1144 College St., 416-535-5858, meandmine.ca, @meandmineto
Owners/Chefs: Melissa daSilva and Joel MacMillan, former chefs at Zócalo in the Junction

The Food: The unconventional brunch menu subs typical bacon-and-egg plates with things like miniature pork pies, kale and goat cheese torte and house-made Southwestern sausage with double-baked cauliflower casserole. Poppy seed pancakes come with cured trout and cucumber salad.

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New Reviews

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Review: Iranian brunch with a touch of ceremony at Takht-e Tavoos in Dufferin Grove

Takht-e Tavoos

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

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Takht-e Tavoos 2 star
1120 College St. W., 647-352-7322

Tavoos, a new Iranian brunch restaurant from the owners of The Pomegranate, brings a touch of ceremony to the otherwise no-frills College and Dufferin strip: the room is loaded with murals and pottery and chandeliers, servers pour Turkish coffee from copper pots, and one group of diners sits picnic style around a Persian rug.

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Recipes

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Recipe: gluten-free pumpkin muffins at Bunner’s that taste every bit as good as the butter-jacked counterparts

Toronto Life Cookbook 2012 Recipe: Pumpkin Muffins
Toronto Life Recipes | Breakfast
PUMPKIN MUFFINS
By Ashley Wittig
Bunner’s

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Features

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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.,
647-748-3287

Farmhouse TavernTwo Stars ½
1627 Dupont St.,
416-561-9114


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.

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Must-Try

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Must-Try: buttermilk-custard French toast at Emma’s Country Kitchen

Must-try: Emma's Kitchen

Emma’s Country Kitchen on St. Clair West upgrades the brunch staple with stout slabs of apple-cinnamon loaf dipped in buttermilk custard, then fried so the edges are crisp and the centre soft. A dollop of tangy whipped citrus butter adds a rich kick. $12. 1108 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-652-3662.

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Recipes

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Recipe: Barque’s belt-busting flapjack tower of pulled barbecue duck meat, chèvre and blueberry compote

Toronto Life Cookbook 2012 Recipe: Duck Pancakes
Toronto Life Recipes | Breakfast
DUCK PANCAKES
By David Neinstein
Barque

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Must-Try

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Must-Try: Splendido’s indulgent new brunch service

Monday Must-Try: Splendid Brunch

After eschewing brunch for most of its 23 years, Splendido has finally decided to cater to Toronto’s collective Sunday-morning obsession—albeit in a characteristically indulgent style. Chef Victor Barry’s two-course breakfast, appropriately dubbed The Spread ($35), starts off with a generous assortment of flaky pastries, house-made charcuterie, fine cheeses, pickles and spreads—by itself, this would make a fine and filling brunch.

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New Reviews

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Review: The Whippoorwill, the latest Bloordale brunch spot

(Image: Courtesy The Whippoorwill)

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The Whippoorwill  1 star½
1285 Bloor St. W., 416-530-2999

Bloordale’s newest brunch spot deploys all the ubiquitous diner-kitsch cutery—red vinyl booths, checkered floors, Formica tables—without overdoing it. (We only noticed one taxidermied moose head.) The kitchen offers satisfying riffs on traditional brunch fare. Soft buttermilk biscuits sit under two runny poached eggs, fresh watercress and an expertly lemony bearnaise sauce. Eggs come with the crunchiest potatoes you may have ever tasted, spicy, ’nduja-chunked braised beans, and scrapple, a Pennsylvania Dutch dish of pan-fried, pork-studded cornbread. It’s crisp and salty, but far too rich to be doled out in such massive servings. Service is friendly and speedy— but make sure to get there before 11:30, when the line snakes out the door.

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Restaurants

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Splendido starts regular brunch service for the first time ever this spring 

The Harbord Street institution opens for brunch on March 31, serving the mid-morning meal on a weekly basis for the first time in its venerable 20-year history. (While Splendido serves an annual Mother’s Day brunch and a five-course lunch menu every December, it has never counted brunch as part of its regular service.) Combine that with participating in Winterlicious earlier this year and chef Victor Barry headlining Slurp Noodlefest this weekend and it looks like the white-linen restaurant might be making an effort to democratize its appeal for a more mainstream audience. Brunch runs from 11 am to 2 pm every Sunday—and reservations will be available. Bless.

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