By the Way Café
400 Bloor Street West
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee and juice: $43
Over the past twenty years, I’ve eaten at By the Way innumerable times, but have never made it to this Annex landmark for brunch. We arrived early on Easter Sunday to a sparsely populated room that over the course of the next hour filled up fast.
The brunch menu offers a fairly massive selection of items for such a tiny little open kitchen, and all the typical brunch favourites are represented. Omelettes ($7 – $8) come in a variety of options from veggie to smoked salmon or western. Poached eggs ($6 – $7) are offered up as Benedict, Charlotte (smoked salmon) or Florentine (spinach).
The heuvos menu (yes, a heuvos menu) offered items such as Rancheros, Divorciados and more ($9). And of course, the typical waffles and French toast were also available, as well as a selection of middle Eastern items such as hummus, tabouleh and falafel (all $5).
We started with coffee ($2) and a fruit salad ($8) to share. This large bowl of mostly out of season fruit was just okay. A selection of pale melon, plus grapes and chunks of banana were large in quantity but pretty bland in flavour. I’m not sure what could have been done to improve this dish, other than to jazz it up with local apples or even some (also out of season) berries.
The apples in my French toast sandwich ($10.95) were mighty fine, however. Sautéed lightly and sprinkled with cinnamon, they got paired with brie and became the filling between two slices of golden eggy challah bread. In retrospect, I should have ordered a side of bacon or ham to go with this for the full-on Paula Deen fry-up experience, especially because more of the same meh fruit salad came with the dish. The sandwich was really great, but bacon would have made it stellar.
Across the table, the husband was heartily enjoying the shakshuka special with poached eggs ($9). This traditional Israeli breakfast can be served scrambled or poached – with the scrambled version also offered on the regular menu. A thick and spicy tomato broth is used to cook the eggs, and then the whole thing is served with pita. Despite the eggs arriving hard-cooked instead of oozing and golden, this was comforting and exciting all at the same time, with slices of jalapeno emerging from the bottom of the bowl.
As the room filled up, we started to feel a bit cramped – my only real complaint about the space any time I’ve been there. The main room is small and when it’s busy, everyone feels a little jammed in. Speedy and friendly service makes up for this however, and our server kept the coffee coming and even got my Paula Deen reference.
With an opening time of 9am daily, plus a menu that includes not just the traditional brunch favourites but lots of really interesting and unique dishes, if I lived in the Annex, it would definitely be my go-to breakfast and brunch destination. I’ll have to settle for trying my hand at the shakshuka at home, and remembering that By the Way offers more than just lunch and dinner.