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.
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.
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.
96 Tecumseth Street
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.
999 Eglinton Avenue West
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.
492 Queen Street West
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.
Chuck and Co.
126 Atlantic Avenue
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.
The Bloordale Pantry
1285 Bloor Street West
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.
1532 Dundas Street West
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).
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?