Cowbell
1564 Queen Street West
416-849-1095
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

Since it opened in 2007, Cowbell has never been open on Sunday. Chef/owner Mark Cutrara set that day aside to spend with his family. The idea of Sunday being family day is a big one in the Parkdale neighbourhood where the restaurant is located, however, and brunch is possibly more popular here than anywhere else in the city, with Gen X and Y hipsters from the area looking for a way to get out of the house and have a reasonably priced meal with their kids without resorting to a fast food chain.

So Cutrara’s decision to open for Sunday brunch (with Saturday service also being considered) offered both locals (and not so locals) another brunch option; this one made with regional, sustainable ingredients; and also kid-friendly, although maybe not so much of the “frenzied daycare” vibe one might get from neighbouring brunch haunts where hipsters sit around and compare their latest tattoos while setting their kids free to terrorize staff and other customers. Cowbell is not the kind of place where you let the rugrats run free.

Instead, it’s a fun, quirky brunch spot with some seriously awesome food and just enough cuteness to not feel stuffy.

The first thing we notice upon entering is the table settings; funky mugs, most looking like dollar store or Salvation Army finds (“I’d Rather be at the Beach!” said Greg’s), are arranged at each place setting. The menu is a short card with a picture of a cow and framed in a red gingham print. “Joe and Hooch” outline the beverages while “Grub” lists the food. There’s also a section of “Little Vittles” – side dishes such as duck eggs, toast, sausage, bacon or home fries, priced at $2 or $3 each that could be add-ons, an a la carte menu on their own, or small plates suitable for smaller bellies.

Hungry Husband opts for the Rusty and Jerome ($17), a massive tray of meaty goodness that includes 2 eggs, sausage, beans, meatloaf, bacon, waffle and toast – it’s like a cross-section of the entire menu with smaller versions of Cutrara’s chorizo atop fragrant sweet baked beans ($10 full-size order), the best meatloaf ever (no, really) covered in sweet and savoury onion gravy ($12), and sourdough waffle with whipped cream and apples and pears ($11). Toast appears to be pan-fried with a lovely crunchy crust. Our only complaint was the waffle which was slightly burnt on the edges and topped with cold fruit which made the pastry get cold too quickly, but this was a minor infraction, quickly replaced by the chef himself who was out of the kitchen and overseeing the dining room. The waffle itself was light and airy and tangy like good sourdough should be.

As a big fan of eggs Benedict, I’m always up for new variations of the dish and Cowbell’s version with smoked trout ($12) was especially nice. House-smoked trout was light and sweet – neither too fishy or overwhelmingly smoky – atop homemade English muffins. There was apparently some debate as to whether this should come with a side salad of local greens (it was the first brunch service and the kitchen was still working out some details), so I ordered a side of nicely cooked home fries as well ($2).

Service is friendly and professional, but less stiff than I’ve encountered during dinner here. The table next to us includes two rather demanding pre-teens and the server doesn’t blink an eye at the indecision and order changes – or the spillage – they put her through during their meal. And while trips past the kitchen to the washroom reveal that the brigade is slightly in the weeds (we think the toast might have been bunging things up), it never shows at front of house at all.

By now, any minor kinks in service have invariably been worked out, and Cowbell is getting great buzz as the newest go-to brunch spot. Cutrara’s crew are serving up some great grub, and there’s a really lovely vibe to the dining room during the day with sun spilling in through the south-facing front window. We do hope Chef is not too upset at losing his one day off – because his customers are undoubtedly appreciative that he’s now open for brunch.