Where To Eat in Toronto on Christmas Day – 2014 Edition

turkeydinner

You crazy kids have been hitting the 2012 edition of this post so much (there wasn’t one last year), my site stats are going to be pitiful come December 26th. But it seems that there are an awful lot of you out there who have no intention of sitting around with the family wearing those silly hats that come in the Christmas crackers, and who instead want to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning for you on the big day.

I have concentrated on downtown Toronto, but if you’re in the burbs, I think David Ort of Post City is planning a list with a wider range. Even though my list is cross-referenced and confirmed, I’d still recommend calling to book a reservation at anything other than the most casual places, and reservations are required for any of the hotel restaurants.

Enjoy!

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Awesome Thing – the Tourtiere at Victor

victor_tortiere

With no family nearby and a great fear and loathing of travelling during peak times, the husband and I typically spend the winter Solstice holidays in Toronto, just the two of us. Over the years we have made up our own traditions, which usually includes going out somewhere for dinner on Christmas Eve. Last year we found ourselves at Victor in the Hotel le Germain (30 Mercer Street) because Chef David Chrystian had put his family’s tourtiere recipe on the menu as a special, and the husband, being of Acadian stock, was jonesing for some. It was fantastic;  rich, flaky pastry (thicker than regular pie crust) and a spicy filling made up of a variety of meats. We made plans to repeat the experience this Christmas.

Turns out, lots of other people liked the tourtiere too, so much so that Chrystian has added it to Victor’s brunch menu. It’s available as a single portion with fries and salad, or as a whole pie for the table.

If you’re not such a fan of tourtiere (which, really, is just crazy talk, but I’ll let it go), there are plenty of other great offerings on Victor’s brunch menu. Chrystian even creates some eggy Toronto-inspired brunch dishes with flavours and ingredients reminiscent of our various neighbourhoods.

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Where to Eat in Toronto on Christmas Day (2012 Edition)

Heya – Updated version of this list for 2014 can be found here.

 

Despite the pervasiveness of the festive season, not everybody gives a damn about turkey and stuffing and sitting around with the family listening to some pop singer butcher the holiday favourites, for a whole variety of reasons. Some folks might want a more low-key celebration (one in which they don’t have to do the washing up) and for others, it’s just, well, Tuesday.

I’ve been putting together a “Christmas Day dining for heathens” list since the first year we ran TasteTO, and it was very popular last year when I was writing for Toronto.com. So here it is again, modified and updated and fact-checked for your dining pleasure. (Parkdalers – the Beaver is closed on Christmas Day this year, so check the list below before heading out!)

As usual, I’ve not included a lot of Chinese restaurants because they are usually open on Christmas Day as a default. However, because Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, and many Chinese-owned businesses are closed on Tuesdays, do yourself a favour and call ahead if you’ve got a favourite spot in mind.

Also, reservations are required for all of the options offered at hotels.

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Sunday Brunch – Beast

Beast Restaurant
96 Tecumseth Street
647-352-6000
brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $57

I’m breaking our ethical policy here. We normally prefer not to “review” places where we know the chef or owners. Just so that if it’s a bad review, nobody is hurt when their pal Sheryl disses their grub. And so that if it’s a good review, we can’t be accused of writing something positive only because we know the chef. But we really wanted to review Beast because Chef Scott Vivian is doing really unique brunch stuff, and in a land of never ending eggs Benedict, unique stuff deserves to be covered. And while I’m not going to be able to use the ideal situation of “anonymous and impartial reviewer”, know that I’m going to be as fair as I can in my assessment.

Like much of the regular menu, brunch at Beast is heavy on the meat. Burgers ($12 – $14) and the signature pig’s head pasta ($12) top the card before the traditional Sunday morning fare appears. Vegetarians have the option of French toast ($10) or yogurt and granola ($6), but if you’re not up for some form of beast, then Beast likely won’t appeal.

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Sunday Brunch – Frida Restaurant

Frida Restaurant
999 Eglinton Avenue West
416-787-2221
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

We know our readers love the brunch reviews, but after a while it can all get a little tedious. Hollandaise sauce now runs in my veins. So we were delighted to head up to Eglinton Avenue and check out the brunch offerings at Frida.

This upscale Mexican restaurant is run by chef Jose Hadad, and besides a really interesting dinner menu, offers a diverse brunch card full of Mexican favourites.

We start with some of Hadad’s famous guacamole and chips ($10) – both made in house and available for sale to take home. Beautifully presented and drizzled with chili oil, it’s easy to see why Hadad’s Mad Mexican line does so well. Our server also brings us each a small dish full of chunks of melon and pineapple, a fruit amuse bouche, which is a lovely touch.

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Sunday Brunch – La Palette

La Palette
492 Queen Street West
416-603-4900
brunch for two with all taxes tip and coffee: $45

La Palette is now considered a Kensington Market landmark, serving up classic French food in an adorable little bistro. So fans were rightly pleased when owners Shamez Amlani and Brook Kavanagh announced they’d be taking over the old Taro location to open a second La Palette.

The space is far more open than during the days of Taro – gone are the heavy booths; wooden tables are draped with pretty fabric and the exposed brick walls are covered in French posters and prints. The back skylight makes up for the lack of a patio, as the room is filled with sunlight.

Our server is friendly and patient, particularly given that I’m visibly upset since I’ve just had a run in with a man on the streetcar who was convinced that everyone attending the Pride parade was going to hell. (No… really. And no, despite my better judgment, I didn’t clock the guy.) Coffee and glasses of water arrive swiftly, and we’re able to settle down and peruse the menu.

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Sunday Brunch – Chuck & Co.

Chuck and Co.
126 Atlantic Avenue
416-533-3500
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Messy. And that’s not a bad thing.

Known for their handmade gourmet burgers, you wouldn’t expect a burger place to do up fancy brunch. And to be fair, the selection of breakfast sandwiches is pretty straightforward. This is more of a “grab a great sandwich on the way home from the farmers’ market” kind of brunch than a leisurely afternoon with scones and mimosas and linen napkins. But sometimes that’s all you want, and the offerings at Chuck and Co are wholly acceptable.

It’s a nice looking space with leather benches, white walls and white-washed floors. It’s empty save for us on both occasions we’re there, and after two visits, we’re now known as regulars, on a first name basis with Chantal, who cheerfully takes our order at the counter at the back.

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Sunday Brunch – The Bloordale Pantry

The Bloordale Pantry
1285 Bloor Street West
416-530-2999
brunch for 2 with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40

A lifetime ago, I lived at Bloor and Lansdowne in an old warehouse space (which is what we called old warehouses before developers renovated them and put in marble counter tops and stainless steel appliances and called them “lofts”). It was a rough neighbourhood, and one of the roughest parts of it was the greasy spoon on the corner where locals bought $2 beer and did their drug deals.

Twenty years later, the corner of Bloor and Lansdowne, while still gritty, is the latest area to see improvements to businesses and services. There’s now a handful of decent restaurants and cool shops, co-existing peacefully with Indian sweet shops and African spice stores.

And that scary diner on the corner that I was never brave enough to set foot in is now a bright, cheery, hip little space with new (retro-looking) decor and a really decent brunch menu.

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Sunday Brunch – Henhouse

Henhouse
1532 Dundas Street West
416-534-5939
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $32

Skinny jeans, plaid shirts, iPhones… when did crusty old Dundas West become the land of the hipster? Or is it because the area is still kind of crusty that the hipsters flock to it? In any case, throughout our entire meal at Henhouse, we are the oldest people there, save for a table with two girls and one of their mothers. This much hipster-ness could be overkill. The bright space is full of old 1950s tables and chairs (mis-matched, of course) and a fabulous selection of kitschy decor, including fun salt and pepper shakers, bunches of flowers on each table and mis-matched dishes. It could scream “look at us, we’re trying SO hard!” but it’s actually fun and comfortable (maybe because I can remember actually having those old tables with the chrome legs as real, non-ironic furniture).

In any case, we arrive just in time (10:30am on a Saturday), because by 11am, the place is packed and people are being turned away. Those of us with tables heave a sigh of relief and lift our bingo-themed coffee cups for another swig of non-ironic Joe ($2).

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Subday Brunch – The Academy of Spherical Arts

The Academy of Spherical Arts
1 Snooker Street
416-532-2782
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $42

I am of the firm belief that no restaurant is worth waiting in a line to get into. That’s not an attitude issue – I’m not saying that I personally am too good to stand in line, but rather the fact that our expectations of a meal rise in direct proportion to the amount of time we are forced to wait for it. So while there are any number of great restaurants in Toronto that serve fantastic food, including brunch, there’s nothing that I’ve come across in my extensive eating career that would be worth standing in line for. You leave me out in the cold for 2 hours, you had darn well be be serving me the meal of a lifetime when I get my ass in a chair.

Down in Liberty Village, both School and Mildred’s Temple Kitchen are fortunate enough to have line-ups at weekend brunch. People will wait an hour or more to be seated. But how many of those people would stand in line if they knew that only a block or so away, there was a place that was spacious, stylish and affordable, offering a really decent brunch?

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Sunday Brunch – Fire on the East Side

Fire on the East Side
6 Gloucester Street
416-960-FIRE
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40

There’s a renewed interest in southern food these days – fried chicken, collard greens and even grits are showing up on restaurant menus. But for the past few years, one restaurant just steps off the Yonge Street strip has been quietly serving up some classic southern-inspired fare. We reviewed dinner at Fire on the East Side a few years ago, back before Chef Adam Baxter took over the stoves, but figured it might be time to stop by for brunch.

Like most Torontonians, we enjoy brunch, and doing a column about brunch means we’re always looking for something out of the ordinary. You can only eat so many omelettes, yanno? So we were pretty delighted to arrive and find a selection of classics with unique southern-flavoured twists.

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Sunday Brunch – Le Select Bistro

Le Select Bistro
432 Wellington Street West
416-596-6405
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $60

I haven’t been to Le Select since they moved to the Wellington Street West location some three years ago. Once a landmark on Queen West, the restaurant there was tiny and narrow. This new space is easily double the size indoors, plus there’s a gorgeous terrace out front (well, it’s probably gorgeous in the summer) and a large garden patio in the back. Slightly off the beaten path for those of us who travel on foot or by TTC, their website reiterates the close proximity to lots of parking, which isn’t actually endearing to me, but apparently is to everyone else who can’t live without their gas-guzzler, because on a recent Sunday morning, Le Select is packed and the parking lot across the street is nearly full, despite the ongoing rain.

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Sunday Brunch – Cowbell

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.

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Sunday Brunch – Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
85 Hanna Avenue
416-588-5695
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

I am a student of the theory of dressing up to go out. Maybe it’s because I work from home and yoga pants and a t-shirt are my regular uniform, but I always find it appropriate, when going out into the world, to make a bit of an effort. Some make-up, a cute outfit, polished shoes. It makes me appreciate a nice place so much more, and there are some restaurants, whether because of the architecture and design, or just the food and service, where it feels that one should dress up.

Not everyone shares my philosophy on this issue, however. So while I’ve pulled together a groovy 60s inspired-outfit to have brunch in the gorgeously cool Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, the rest of the clientele is still arriving in ugly flip-flops and cargo shorts. People in Toronto really don’t dress up for brunch, do they? At the very least, most of the gentlemen wearing hats have the courtesy to remove them when they’re seated – all except for one hipster douchebag who continues to wear a brown wool toque (it’s August, buddy, come on!) throughout the meal. Even the little boy who came in wearing a baseball cap has removed his headgear at the table. Stupid hipsters, making life ugly for the rest of us.

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Sunday Brunch – Boho Bistro

Boho Bistro
392 Roncesvalles Avenue
416-516-7446
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $46

Didn’t this place used to be bigger? The pretty little bistro on Roncesvalles has a bit of a split personality – last year, owner Fergus Munster split the place in two and installed a classic pub called Liver Bird in the back half. The kitchen continues to turn out traditional bistro fare in the front along with some really brilliant gastro pub grub for the back room, and at brunch, it’s a combination of the best of both styles, jazzing up the classic brunch dishes with unique Boho touches.

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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

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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

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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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