Cluck, Grunt and Low
362 Bloor Street West
Buffet brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40
Despite the fact that I write restaurant reviews for a living, I’m never terribly comfortable giving out personal recommendations of places to go, for fear of ruining a special event for someone by sending them to a place they hate. Which is why I never ask for personal recommendations from other people, and don’t take unsolicited ones with much seriousness. And is also why I tend to take the comments on certain online food discussion forums with a big rock of salt – because I have no way of knowing that person’s background, experience or palate in comparison to my own. So when a heated debate started recently on said food forum about the brunch at Cluck, Grunt and Low, I figured it was easier to just check the place out for myself.
The person taking the negative point of view in the above-mentioned debate complained about the lack of Cluck, Grunt and Low’s traditional dinner fare on their all-you-can-eat buffet. But it’s advertised as southern breakfast, and for the jaw-droppingly low price of $12.95, it’s primarily breakfast foods on offer. I wouldn’t expect ribs and fried chicken for that price. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fabulous.
Places in the Annex tend to open early for brunch and we arrive shortly after 10am to find only a few tables occupied. From the door, the spread looks sparse, and we take our seats worried that the naysayer might be right. A cheerful server brings us coffee straight-away and points us in the direction of the bar and the front window where the food is arranged on platters and in steam trays. She points out the list of “cluck-tails” which includes mimosas, bloody marys and a southern cider with Maker’s Mark bourbon ($6.50 – $7.50).
However, she can’t actually serve us booze before 11am, so we request some water to wash down the coffee and head for the buffet in the corner, where, between the husband and I, we try just about everything on offer.
It’s always good to eat your vegetables, even doused in mayonnaise, and both the snappy coleslaw and potato salad count as vegetables. We read complaints online about the potatoes being hard, but the day of our visit, the spuds are to the bite and nicely flavoured with chopped parsley. There’s a green salad as well, but we see no reason to fill up on lettuce before hitting the hot stuff. There’s also a huge bowl of boiled shrimp in the window to entice people walking by. I’m not a huge shrimp fan, and these ones are prepared in the traditional manner with their shells on, but the couple I bother with are sweet and plump.
Hidden under lids on the steam tray we find very serviceable scrambled eggs with diced peppers; moist savoury cornbread; a zesty chili made with brisket and some more of the same brisket in Cluck, Grunt and Low’s sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. This is so moist and tender it almost falls apart with a nudge of the fork.
But wait, there’s more: a fairly standard (i.e. probably not house-smoked) bacon; sweet pink ham; crispy cubed homefries; and a pot of southern-style corn grits round out the steam table offerings. Doused with butter and maple syrup the grits end up being a favourite. Also, fluffy biscuits with the option of jam or southern-style white gravy, and baked beans which garner our only real complaint of the day, as they’re slightly undercooked. This complaint is levelled at Cluck, Grunt and Low’s baked beans a lot, actually, and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just a chosen style here rather than an oversight in the kitchen.
It’s not a buffet without dessert and Cluck, Grunt and Low has a spread in the front window to make passersby groan. Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches are cutely arranged with peanuts and bananas, while pecan squares are my dessert of choice, although I’d be tempted by the pecan fudge cake if I wasn’t already making a pig of myself by going back for a banana pudding tart. Oh yeah, there’s fruit too, but when given a choice it’s all about the gooey pecan squares.
Staff keep bowls and platters full and neatly arranged, but still manage to keep up with the incoming crowd as the place fills up by 11am.
The verdict on whether we’d come back – hell, yeah. I’ve eaten a lot of brunches writing this column for the past year and this is definitely one of the places I’d return to just for fun, without having to do the work of writing it up. We were happy with just about every dish on offer and at $12.95, the price can’t be beat.
There is no fried chicken or sticky ribs slathered in sauce, but Cluck, Grunt and Low offers up an impressive buffet spread with something for just about everyone. And while I don’t like giving out recommendations based on my own tastes and experiences, this is one brunch I’d definitely have again. Take that with as big a rock of salt as you can carry.