Sunday Brunch – Globe Bistro

globeswinedine

Globe Bistro
124 Danforth Avenue
416-466-2000
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $60

So here’s a conundrum… where to take visitors who are into eating locally for brunch? There are lots of dinner options out there, but brunch, if the restaurant is even serving it, seems to be a lot of the same old, same old.

Fortunately Globe Bistro fit the bill, and our friends from Buffalo were on board as soon as we started reading the locally-sourced menu to them over the phone.

Upon arrival, we immediately start off with coffee and The Baker’s Basket ($10); an overly generous basket of scones, cornbread and cinnamon loaf with strawberry and pepper preserves. The value for money theme of the warm and flaky pastries is one that runs throughout the meal. Despite using local products, which can cost more, Chef Kevin McKenna manages to offer up hearty servings at a reasonable price. We’re impressed with both the quality and quantity of the pastries – the basket is enough for four of us to split.

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Sunday Brunch – Morning Glory

morningglorysandwich

Morning Glory
457 King Street East
416-703-4728
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Morning Glory is one of those neighbourhood joints that fly under the radar. A popular Corktown breakfast spot since December 2003, it now tends to get overshadowed by Gilead Café, just around the corner. But on the Sunday morning we visit, the flow of customers is good, with many headed for the small but cute patio out back.

Inside, wooden tables sit in front of the church pews that line one wall. It’s a wee spot, only 20 seats, and the kitchen is smaller than what I work out of at home. A staff member washes dishes by hand while another pulls back an undersink curtain to pull out an iPod attached to the stereo system. It may look all retro and kitsch but they’re embracing technology.

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Sunday Brunch – Nyood

nyoodsmokedsalmonNyood
1096 Queen Street West
416-466-1888
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

Those folks that make the clam and tomato juice are on some kind of campaign to make the Caesar Canada’s official cocktail but they’ll get no support from me to do it. The very last thing I want to even think about when sitting down for brunch is the salty burning combination of vodka, clamato juice and celery salt (or whatever it is that goes around the rim of those things). Seriously… no. So we’re not off to an auspicious start when our group of four sits down at Nyood for brunch on a recent rainy Sunday to be presented with an amuse of teeny versions of Nyood’s cherry tomato Caesar. Three of the things sit and taunt us throughout the meal and the lone Caesar drinker at the table is happy to stop after just one.

Coffee, please, all around, and keep it coming. Which, thankfully they do, and it’s even decent stuff.

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Sunday Brunch – Merci Mon Ami

mercimonami_croissant

Merci Mon Ami
171 East Liberty Street, #107
647-436-3832
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40

As had been made evident on this site before, I am not a patio person, especially a streetside patio. But on a quiet Sunday morning, my bags loaded with goodies from the Liberty Village farmers market, I can’t help but be completely charmed by the front patio at Merci Mon Ami.

And charm is the operative word here. This Liberty Village sandwich shop does most of their business on weekdays, opening for breakfast and lunch and closing at 3pm to focus on catering. Inside, the space is elegantly decorated and seating is two long communal tables, but the patio is pretty iron chairs and tables, pots of flowers and a sunny view of the market tents.

The market plays a big role in Merci Mon Ami’s brunch menu, with many of their ingredients including maple syrup, produce, honey, meats and bread sourced from no further than across the parking lot.

Potential customers should know that the card is a short one – 4 mains and 3 baguette sandwiches are all priced at $13.50. There’s also a mixed green salad ($6.19) and sides in the form of croissants, bacon or yogurt and granola ($3.10 each).

The French toast and Croque Monsieur look appealing but we opt for the other two mains instead.

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Sunday Brunch – Sage West

sagewestbreadpudding

Sage WestClosed
924 College Street
647-346-6183
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Most people are probably more familiar with Sage Café on McCaul Street than they are with her sister restaurant Sage West. It’s one of those places you really want to like; it’s a pretty space that doubles as a lounge with live salsa bands and dancing in the evening; the staff is friendly and accommodating. The food… well the food is just mediocre.

We arrive to discover only one other table occupied, yet the extensive menu has many things crossed off. The chicken pot pie and the potato latkes are no longer on offer, and the chicken burrito handwritten onto the printed menu is also not available. Our server tells us the restaurant is in the process of changing the menu to reflect a move to more Latin-American fare (thus the salsa dancing), but the scratched out menu sheets are still kind of sloppy.

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Sunday Brunch – Bonjour Brioche

Bonjour Brioche
812 Queen Street East
416-406-1250
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $25 (cash only)

People seem to either love or hate Bonjour Brioche. I regularly come across raves about their exquisite pastries and breads, but the service, and the line-up on weekends, can be a sticking point. In fact, in order to ensure we’d get a table to do this review, we actually visited on a Friday. Even then, by noon the place, including the patio, had filled up.

I suspect that a big part of Bonjour Brioche’s charm is that it’s so charming. Mixed furniture, pretty blue cotton tablecloths and tchotchkes mix well with display cases of tarts and cakes and baskets of bread, brioche and flaky croissants.

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Sunday Brunch – La Tortilleria

La Tortilleria
1040 St. Clair Avenue West
647-344-2429
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and hot chocolate: $30

Rubbernecking as the St. Clair West bus rumbled eastward on a Saturday morning, the hungry husband and I both see the sign at the same time “Now serving weekend breakfast”. So we pass up the roti at the Green Barns Farmers Market and walk back to Dufferin to La Tortilleria. Because we loves us some Mexican food.

However, when we arrive we realize that our knowledge of Mexican food really only involved the more typical dinner entrees – what the heck do they eat for breakfast in Mexico anyway?

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Around the World and Back in Time at Butler’s Pantry

Butler’s Pantry
371 Roncesvalles Avenue
416-537-7750
Brunch/lunch for two with all taxes, tip and soda: $30

This is supposed to be a brunch review. You’d know that because it’s Sunday. Except it’s not a brunch review because we didn’t actually eat brunch. Upon arriving at the Roncesvalles location of Butler’s Pantry we decided we weren’t really in the mood for typical brunch fare. Instead we decided to revisit some old favourites for a trip down memory lane.

That’s not to say that Butler’s Pantry doesn’t offer a decent brunch card. Although it’s been probably 7 or 8 years since I’ve had the dish, their French toast ($7.25) is still renowned, and I’m momentarily chagrined at my decision to have an entrée when a plate of the massive fluffy fried bread goes past. The rest of the brunch offerings (offered until 2pm on weekdays and 4pm on weekends) include a variety of omlettes ($6.25 – $8.25), eggs Benedict ($7.25, $8.75 with smoked salmon), and scrambled eggs ($8.95).

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Sunday Brunch – The Parkdale Drink

The Parkdale Drink
1292 Queen Street West
416-778-8822
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

When The Parkdale Drink first opened up a couple of years ago, we were distraught that it would lure too many hipsters under the bridge at Queen and Dufferin, forever changing the face of our insulated little neighbourhood. Then one night we walked past and realized that it had, in fact, lured 905ers under the bridge, as evidenced by the Daisy Duke jean shorts, high heels and bedazzled t-shirts worn by the very classy young ladies hanging around out front having a smoke. We swore at that point never to enter the place, and reviews of the food by other media outlets did little to persuade us to change our minds. We’d peer in the huge glass windows on our way to the Caddy and make that tsk tsk sound, either because the place was empty or full of people who scared us.

But we needed a brunch review last week and didn’t feel like going too far in the pouring rain. We’d exhausted most of the other options in the area, so figured it wouldn’t be too terribly scary to pay the Parkdale Drink a visit on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The room was empty and we were the only customers in the place for the whole time we were there, reinforcing the idea that the locals, at least, aren’t really considering this lounge a viable dining option. However, the food was decent, the service impeccable (as you would expect if you were the only customers) and the vibe – on a rainy Sunday, at least – was comfortable.

Leather sofas arranged in a large south-facing window would be a great spot for cocktails although the low coffee table isn’t conducive to eating. The rest of the long narrow room is an odd mix of beige, red and pale green walls that seems to suck all the light out of the place. But it is modern and comfortable, and there’s a bright patio at the back.

The brunch menu is full of basics, most of which are under $10. There’s a variety of omlettes ($7 – $9), brioche French toast ($9) and pancakes that comes either plain or with fruit or chocolate chips ($7 – $9). Eggs benedict comes in a variety of options ($9 – $11) and there’s a decent variety of vegetarian choices as well.

The fried egg sandwich ($6.50) comes with “choice of breakfast meat” with options of bacon, sausage or ham or peameal bacon for $1 extra. It is exactly what it claims to be – fried egg, cheese and back bacon on white toast. Home fries are a delightful surprise; nicely browned chunks of fluffy potato, topped with sautéed sweet bell peppers and onions.

I opt for the veggie eggs benedict ($9) which sees the standard poached eggs, English muffin and housemade hollandaise sauce accompanied by sliced avocado, wilted spinach and tomato. This is a really great flavour combination, although it would work better with the avocado slightly mashed, as things tend to slide around too much otherwise. Eggs are properly cooked with nicely runny centres and the hollandaise is fresh if not memorable in terms of flavour elements.

Both plates come accompanied by the typical selection of brunch fruit; de rigeur cantaloupe and berries, although where there would normally be a slice of orange that threatens to squirt the diner in the eye as they eat it, someone has sectioned and peeled orange segments and artfully arranged them on the plate. Yes, I said sectioned and peeled. But I guess if we’re the only customers in the place for an hour, it’s not like the kitchen has anything more interesting to do. We appreciate the effort – it’s a nice touch, and the sides and garnish add a lot to our overall good impression of the place.

Service is friendly and efficient – coffee is refilled regularly, water comes to the table with our menus. We’re asked if we want dessert. We’re so impressed, in fact, that we discuss coming back for dinner, and would definitely come back again for brunch.

I don’t know if The Parkdale Drink is still attracting that some clubland-style crowd who descend upon the place for cocktails and bottle service; I suspect it doesn’t get hopping until well after my bedtime so I may never know. But maybe after a couple of years in business, the kitchen has worked out the early kinks that earned it so many mediocre reviews. Brunch at least is a decent card of well-executed standards at reasonable prices that are worth checking out if you’re brave enough to venture under the bridge.

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Sunday Brunch – Toba

Toba
243 King Street East
416-367-8622
Brunch for two including all taxes, tip and coffee: $43

I’m a sucker for a pretty face. While our reviews here at TasteTO generally focus on the food, service and décor always play a part in the overall experience. And while it’s usually the case that the artwork hanging in a restaurant will neither make or break the meal, I’ve got to admit that the wall of 50s pin-up girl paintings at Toba endeared the place to me – just a little. Six paintings line the east wall of the persimmon-coloured room, and all appear to be channeling pin-up artist Gil Elvgren. The works are unsigned and appear to be copies of some of Elvgren’s most well-known images; it’s clear someone is as enamoured of the collection as I am – the series also appears on Toba’s website.

But we didn’t come to Toba for the cheesecake, we came for the brunch, and an impressive brunch it was.

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How Sweet It Is

Sweet!: The Delicious Story of Candy
By Ann Love and Jane Drake; Illustrated by Claudia Davila
Tundra Books; $14.99, 64 pp. softcover publication April 14th, 2009 (hardcover © 2007)

Some might say that a book about candy, with kids as the target market, could be a little off-base in this era of childhood obesity and early onset diabetes. But a childhood without candy is a sad one indeed, and authors Ann Love and Jane Drake spend most of their book looking at the history of candy over the course of 8000 years rather than encouraging their readers to run out and stuff their faces.

Geared to a readership between the ages of 9 and 12, Sweet could also skew younger if it was read with an adult to explain the more detailed passages, but would also make decent reading for teens and even adults. I have a personal library full of books on the history of candy and chocolate, and the authors managed to include more than a few facts and stories of which I was unaware. Fun cartoon-like illustrations by Claudia Davila definitely make it clear that this is a children’s book, but cartoon interpretations of such candy icons as Milton Hershey will amuse adults as well.

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Sunday Brunch – The Free Times Cafe

The Free Times Café
320 College Street
416-967-1078
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and beverages (includes coffee and juice): $52

It’s only logical that after last week’s post about blintzes, I had to find some. And since I haven’t been to the “Bella, Did You Eat?” Sunday brunch at Free Times Café in a couple of years, it seemed like an excellent time to revisit an old favourite. For some reason we had balked as the price rose to the current $19.95 per person, but having probably eaten more than that amount of blintzes, latkes and gefilte fish during our review visit, I can’t really remember why we ever thought it wasn’t a great deal.

Greeted at the door by owner Judy Perly, we’re immediately made to feel at home. Having run the Free Times since it opened almost 30 years ago, Perly remains gregarious and welcoming. Despite the fact that it’s busy, customers feel more like guests in someone’s home.

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Prix Fixe Month – Southern Accent

Southern Accent
595 Markham Street
416-536-3211
Prix fixe dinner for two with all taxes and tip (without beverages): $65

It cannot be argued that New Orleans is a city known for its food. Cajun and Creole dishes with the addition of Spanish, Irish and even New England influences make the place a destination for visitors who love a good meal. My visit there is full of memories of shrimp po-boys, muffaletta, dirty rice and cocktails consumed sitting on a curb on Bourbon Street.

Toronto’s closest facsimile, however, left me with memories of US inauguration day as viewed from a television still sporting rabbit ears, and some heartburn that extended well into the next morning.

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Sunday Brunch – The Drake Hotel

The Drake Hotel
1150 Queen Street West
416-531-5042
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

I have no idea why I’ve been obsessed with fried chicken lately, some cold weather comfort food craving, no doubt. But when perusing the online brunch menu for the Drake and discovering that Executive Chef Anthony Rose was serving up fried chicken and waffles, I knew I had to check it out.

A confession – despite living under 10 minutes away, I don’t get to the Drake that often. In part because the Gladstone is closer, and also because, after living in Parkdale for 15 years, I still can’t quite shake that “Drake! You ho!” attitude. Back in my day, part of the basement of the Drake had a dirt floor – and that’s how we liked it!

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Sunday Brunch – Cafe Du Lac

cafedulaccrepes

Café du Lac
2350 Lakeshore Boulevard West
416-848-7381
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

If Toronto wasn’t already known as a brunch town, just wait until people really start feeling the recession pinch. Already considered much more economical and family-friendly than dinner at a high-end restaurant or a business lunch, brunch is poised to be the main weekly meal out for many families. No matter how tough times get – there’s still not many people who can be bothered to poach eggs at home.

This brunch popularity is already evident at Café du Lac, where families filled almost every table during our visit last week. Unfortunately with but one server for the entire room, the smooth relaxed brunch mood was a bit lost in the confusion.

Things start well enough and we’re set up with coffee and water while our order is taken. The menu is short and to the point, with a selection of crepes, omlettes, and bagels as well as French toast, and we select a couple of dishes and sides that we think will best represent the Quebecois theme.

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Sunday Brunch – School Bakery and Café

schoolflapjacks

School Bakery and Café
75 Fraser Street
416-588-0005
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40

A good tip for restaurant reviewers who don’t want to get “made” is generally to try to sneak in under the radar when visiting a restaurant and not make yourself too obvious. But just as the husband and I were both keeners back in our regular school days, we are keeners when it comes to running this site, and in checking out new places. Which is how we managed to be the very first customers through the door at School Bakery and Café when they opened last Sunday for brunch. And not only did we arrive to an empty restaurant, but Chef Brad Moore was there to shake our hands and the staff gave us a round of applause. Talk about being the teacher’s pets.

Moore and partner Sean D’Andrade have taken the old Warehouse Grill location on Fraser Avenue and transformed it into a really fun space full of thoughtful touches that could have verged on being twee, but mostly elicit exclamations of “Oh, cool!” Every detail has been thought out; a wall of clocks are all set to 3:30pm; menus arrive on lined paper attached to a clipboard; apples grace every table and are replaced with apple-shaped candles in the evening; salt and pepper shakers are shaped like blocks; chairs and banquettes are covered in a silk-screened fabric that looks like writing and diagrams on a blackboard; and stools along the counter are straight out of science lab.

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Sunday Brunch – Cluck, Grunt & Low

cluckbrisket

Cluck, Grunt and Low
362 Bloor Street West
416-962-5050
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.


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Sunday Brunch – Bier Markt King West

bierbread

Bier Markt King West
600 King Street West
416-862 1175
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $46

Our plan on arriving at the King West Bier Market location was obviously to have a breakfast of champions and drink beer with our bacon and eggs. Unfavourably cold weather thwarted that plan and we entered the basement brassiere shivering, trying to form the word “coffee” through chattering teeth.

The neighbourhood of condo towers has not yet discovered that the Bier Markt is offering brunch and the Sunday morning no-man’s land of King West was relatively still and quiet, as was the restaurant as we sat down. A weak bit of November sunshine trickled in through a front window, but the space remains a dark but welcoming grotto with stone walls and marble tables.

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We’re All Family Here

mothersdough

Mother’s Dumplings
79 Huron Street
416-217-2008
Dinner for two with all taxes, tip and soda: $25

I’m not exactly sure how I’ve managed to miss this place for so long. Shortly after Mother’s Dumplings started getting good buzz in the food-loving community, the husband came home with some leftovers from his lunch there and it’s been on my to-do list ever since. Maybe it’s because I tend to gravitate to Spadina when visiting Chinatown, or that I just don’t think of the place when I’m going past, but this week I finally made it to Mother’s Dumplings, and am kicking myself for waiting so long.

At first glance, the basement space seems very much like a hole-in-the-wall kind of deal, as if someone has cleared out the regular furniture in a basement apartment and set up a handful of plastic-covered tables on a spur of the moment whim. But further inspection reveals an amusing wink and nod sense of humour that makes the place feel even more homey and welcoming.

mothersboiledYes, the two-room space feels very much like someone’s low rent apartment. Four tables in the front room and four along the wall by the kitchen are the extent of the seating here, with a television in the front room showing images of soothing scenery. In the back room, the show is all about watching owner and chef Zhen and her staff hand make the dumplings and cook them on a pair of electric 4-burner stoves. Despite a short wicker screen, between the chatting women rolling dough and the cups of hot tea atop the plastic tablecloth, it really does feel as if we’re in someone’s home kitchen instead of a restaurant.

The walls are covered in picture frames plastered with comment cards filled out by past patrons (some of these can be seen on the restaurant’s website) – poetry, artwork and heaps of love and praise for the food here makes this the restaurant equivalent of a child’s artwork stuck to the fridge; another taste of home that gives this place such a great vibe.

And those comment cards don’t offer false praise, they mean every dumpling loving word!

motherscomments

 

Since there’s just the two of us, we stick mostly to dumplings for our meal, although Mother’s also offers noodle dishes, rice and congee, and a couple of stews – and while I’m sure they’re great, we see nothing but the beloved dumplings leave the kitchen while we are there.

mothersonioncakeDumplings are available steamed, boiled or pan-fried, and we choose one of each, plus the much-touted green-onion pancake ($3.25). Approximately 6-inches wide, this fried savoury is fluffy and thick and full of bright green onion chunks with a crispy exterior. Gorgeous.

The boiled dumplings arrive first. We had ordered chicken and mushroom, but they were out and we opted for chicken with dill instead ($6.49/12 dumplings). They’re not beautiful – dumplings aren’t really an especially attractive food – but the flavour has us both groaning with pleasure as the scent of dill wafts through the air with each bite.

Next up, steamed vegetarian dumplings ($5.49/10 dumplings) with bak choy, mushroom and tofu. These are earthy, slightly sweet, and remind me of wandering into a Chinese herbalist shop.

mothersfriedThe fried pork and bak choi dumplings ($5.99/10 dumplings) are our least favourite, as they’re missing the big flavour punch of the other ones we tried, but they’re still pretty darned great, each dumpling full of sweet ground pork inside the crispy wrapper.

We make it about 2/3 of the way through all the food on the table and our server arrives with a knowing smile. “Too much?” she asks, having seen this type of greedy customer before, no doubt. But she is happy to pack up the remainder and I’m just as happy the next day when I reheat the leftovers.

Besides offering two servings sizes in the restaurant, Mother’s Dumplings also offers their product frozen, to take home. Ranging in price from $9.25 to $12.10 for 30 frozen dumplings, it’s definitely worth having some of these on hand for those times when the craving strikes.

motherssteamedFinally, even the bill arrives with a dose of motherly advice and humour, offering proverbs, and a list of celebrity birthdays for the day printed down the side. It’s obvious that someone here “gets it” and is working the mother angle to their advantage, but it doesn’t seem stilted or slickly marketed. Rather, the owners have put a bit of thought into how they want their business to be perceived, while still injecting their own sense of fun and personality into the place. The end result is a charming little restaurant that not only serves up fantastic and inexpensive food, but offers the comfort and warmth of a family home.

It may have taken me a long time to finally check out Mother’s Dumplings, but I can guarantee this visit won’t be the last.

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Sunday Brunch – The Harbord Room

The Harbord Room
89 Harbord Street
416-962-8989
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $43

Restaurateurs spend a lot of money making their places look elegant. Only sometimes is that comfortable elegance actually achieved; more often than not many restaurants feel stilted, contrived and downright inhospitable, which is generally not the original goal. The Harbord Room, despite the best efforts by someone to force elegance upon its customers, manages to be a really lovely spot.

During a recent brunch visit we’re ushered through the main dining room to the patio where umbrellas shade customers from the early autumn sun, and sweet wicker chairs offer comfortable seating for some while a built-in bench seat is hard on the backside of others. Someone’s decision to plant uber-trendy grasses in planters in the back of the bench didn’t account for the fact they do tend to grow, and diners unlucky enough to get bench seats also found themselves fighting off a jungle of fronds every time there was a slight breeze. Of course, the annoying grass was unnecessary, and couldn’t possibly compare to the genuine charm of a gorgeous pear tree whose branches hung overhead, covered in ripening Bartletts.

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