Sunday Brunch – Bonjour Brioche

Bonjour Brioche
812 Queen Street East
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
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
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 Free Times Cafe

The Free Times Café
320 College Street
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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Sunday Brunch – The Drake Hotel

The Drake Hotel
1150 Queen Street West
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


Café du Lac
2350 Lakeshore Boulevard West
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


School Bakery and Café
75 Fraser Street
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 – Bier Markt King West


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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Sunday Brunch – The Liberty


The Liberty
25 Liberty Street
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $35

We joke here at TasteTO about the “Restaurant Makeover Death Watch”; the jinx that seems to occur to so many places that participate in this particular Food Network TV show. But the truth is that many restaurants that participate actually go on to do well; not necessarily because of the publicity or even the new décor or menu, but because the process is a rejuvenation of sorts.

Such is the case with The Liberty, the longstanding café in Liberty Village. Already a successful neighbourhood lunch and dinner spot, a revamp of their menu on the show was quickly discarded after the film crews left, and even the renovated décor was tweaked to suit their needs better than the designer was able to.


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Sunday Brunch – Eggspectations


220 Yonge Street
Brunch for two with all taxes and tip plus coffee and juice: $40

Montrealers must really like their eggs. How else to explain the huge popularity of chains like Eggspectations with 7 locations in the Montreal area in addition to the 2 in Ontario, 4 in the US and 2 in India? The Toronto Eaton Centre location is constantly busy, at all times of the day, with a line-up and an average wait of about 10 minutes for a table.


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Sunday Brunch – Boulevard Cafe


Boulevard Café
161 Harbord Street
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

I’m not much of a patio person. Mosquitoes, smokers, glaring sun, smokers, rain, and smokers all make dining al fresco a bit tedious for a curmudgeon like me, but I can genuinely say that I adore the patio at the Boulevard Café. Fully covered, and on the cold rainy Sunday we dined there, heated for our comfort, the pretty space surrounded by flower boxes and manicured trees and graced with linen tablecloths is the rare type of patio where nothing bothers me. It’s completely charming, right down to the small gang of hobo-like sparrows who scour the area for dropped crumbs.


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Sunday Brunch – The Ultimate Cafe


Ultimate Café
293 King Street West
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30


Ultimate is a big claim when it comes to a restaurant. Working with the definition “not to be improved upon or surpassed”, calling yourself the ultimate anything sets the standard of quality pretty darn high. Higher than most places can achieve at Sunday brunch.


The Ultimate Café wasn’t even our ultimate destination – we simply headed out in the rain to the strip of King Street West cafes known as “tourist’s row” to see what was open. Looking like the standard late-90s “Italian restaurant from a kit”, the space boasts an exposed brick wall (check), a yellow-ochre sponge-painted wall (check), some vague prints of impressionist fruit (check), and a whole lot of patterned brocade on the seats (check).


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Sunday Brunch – Easy Restaurant


Easy Restaurant
1645 Queen Street West
brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $42 (cash and debit only)


I was a big fan of Easy for the first few years after they opened back in 2000 or so. It was a favourite brunch spot for me until an unfortunate incident when a really stupid and obnoxious customer chose to change a baby’s shitty diaper on their table while people around them looked on in horror. Despite the fact that the food was always great, and the service was always friendly, the stupid obnoxious customer really ruined Easy for me, and on weekend visits after that, the restaurant always seemed to be full of kids, which really turned me off.


A recent visit reminded me that the food and service is still top-notch, but the stroller brigade continues to maintain a presence, although patrons with kids don’t seem to let their progeny run around like it’s a daycare centre, as is the case with other brunch places in the ‘hood. The childfree should be forewarned of screeching, but there is a considerably lower risk of coming in contact with jammy little hands. And a change table in the loo has hopefully thwarted any potential for a reenactment of “that fateful day”.



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Sunday Brunch – Lula Lounge


Lula Lounge
1585 Dundas Street West
brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $34


“Hey, did you know Lula does brunch?” my husband asked, waving a colourful postcard that he had found on the sidewalk at me. “We should go!” And so we do, because we like brunch and because we’ve always wanted an excuse to go to Lula. As our musical tastes encompass jazz but tend more to west coast swing than salsa, and because we come more from the “unscrew the lightbulb” school of dance than anything so complicated as having to remember steps, there’s never been a really compelling reason to go there. Except – duh – the cooking of Chef Derek Crinson.


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Sunday Brunch – Dunn’s Famous


Dunn’s Famous
284A King Street West
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $34

I’m still looking for a Jewish Grandma. Seriously, there must be some kind-hearted elderly lady out there hoping for someone to drop by and eat their homemade gefilte fish. Call me.

In the meantime, until someone adopts me, I’m forced to find my own latkes and blintzes and rugelach. Which is what led us to Dunn’s for brunch; seeing as they have the best latkes south of Bloor, they’re my go-to place when I get a craving.


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Sunday Brunch – Gayley’s Cafe


Gayley’s Cafe
1424 Dundas Street West
brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $28 (cash only)

The choosing of this brunch review was left up to fate. We’d ride the Dufferin bus north in the drizzle than permeated the city on the Victoria Day Sunday, and if there was a streetcar coming at Dundas, we’d head as far as Ossington and try our luck at the communal table at the Dakota Tavern. If there was no streetcar in sight, we’d cross the street and head to Gayley’s. a local place that we had passed a hundred times but had never been to.

Fate saved me from communal table brunch with jam-handed toddlers (with music for the kids!), but I’m not sure we chose the less frustrating option.


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Sunday Brunch – Rustic Cosmo


Rustic Cosmo
1278 Queen Street West
brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

I am, admittedly, one of those people who go out for brunch specifically because I hate making eggs benedict at home. It’s not that I can’t, but the endeavour inevitably leaves me cranky, covered in hollandaise and left with piles of pots and pans to wash.

But the dish is a favourite of mine, especially from places like Rustic Cosmo where an order of eggs benny comes with options. For out of this tiny open kitchen, customers are offered eggs benny ($9.95) with 6 different toppings, and are allowed to mix and match. Along with the traditional peameal bacon, spinach or smoked salmon, café owner Nicole Crowe also offers mixed grilled vegetables with brie, portobello mushrooms or grilled asparagus. On our most recent visit, I opted for oozing brie atop grilled peppers, eggplant and broccoli, along with lovely green asparagus, grilled al dente.


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Sunday Brunch – The Irish Embassy

irishquicheIrish Embassy Pub & Grill
49 Yonge Street
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and beer: $56

They call it the breakfast of champions, and there was a point when a glass of stout, such as Guinness, was touted as a healthy start to the day. I don’t know if I could do that every morning, but when settling in for brunch at the Irish Embassy, it seemed wrong not to be sipping a glass of Ireland’s favourite beer.

Normally the domain of Bay Street brokers and executives, on an early Sunday, the sun streams through the high south-facing windows of this former bank and the light bounces off the architectural details of the arched ceiling. Never having been to Ireland, I’m not sure if all the locals there are this impressive, but the Irish Embassy is surely one of the most ethereal places I’ve eaten brunch. That may be because it’s not especially busy. This is an odd state and apparently not the norm, but explains why the sharply-dressed and aproned servers outnumber the customers by about 2-to-1.


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Sunday Brunch – Oyster Boy



Oyster Boy
872 Queen Street West
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $55

Walking along Queen West on a sunny morning heading to Oyster Boy, a car passed us blaring a tune that was predominantly accordion music. We couldn’t really tell if it was a Newfoundland jig or some “welcome to the swamp” zydeco music, but fittingly enough, it set the theme of our brunch visit.


Oyster Boy offers a Maritime Pub Lunch on Saturdays and Sundays with a selection of items that are available all day such as fish and chips ($14.95), fish cakes ($11.95), or chowder of the day ($6.95). They also have lunch-specific specials from noon – 4pm with the likes of little jig’s dinner ($14.95) – aka corned beef and cabbage, and omelettes ($10.50).




We started by sharing a serving of clams steamed in white wine with roasted garlic and tomatoes ($14.95). More typical of steamed mussels, this flavour combination actually worked quite well, despite the lack of seawater and a big stretch of beach. A basket of fresh bread came in handy for sopping up the broth left behind after we had devoured the sweet juicy clams.



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Sunday Brunch – By The Way Cafe



By the Way Café
400 Bloor Street West
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee and juice: $43

Over the past twenty years, I’ve eaten at By the Way innumerable times, but have never made it to this Annex landmark for brunch. We arrived early on Easter Sunday to a sparsely populated room that over the course of the next hour filled up fast.


The brunch menu offers a fairly massive selection of items for such a tiny little open kitchen, and all the typical brunch favourites are represented. Omelettes ($7 – $8) come in a variety of options from veggie to smoked salmon or western. Poached eggs ($6 – $7) are offered up as Benedict, Charlotte (smoked salmon) or Florentine (spinach).




bythewayfruitsaladThe heuvos menu (yes, a heuvos menu) offered items such as Rancheros, Divorciados and more ($9). And of course, the typical waffles and French toast were also available, as well as a selection of middle Eastern items such as hummus, tabouleh and falafel (all $5).


We started with coffee ($2) and a fruit salad ($8) to share. This large bowl of mostly out of season fruit was just okay. A selection of pale melon, plus grapes and chunks of banana were large in quantity but pretty bland in flavour. I’m not sure what could have been done to improve this dish, other than to jazz it up with local apples or even some (also out of season) berries.


The apples in my French toast sandwich ($10.95) were mighty fine, however. Sautéed lightly and sprinkled with cinnamon, they got paired with brie and became the filling between two slices of golden eggy challah bread. In retrospect, I should have ordered a side of bacon or ham to go with this for the full-on Paula Deen fry-up experience, especially because more of the same meh fruit salad came with the dish. The sandwich was really great, but bacon would have made it stellar.



Across the table, the husband was heartily enjoying the shakshuka special with poached eggs ($9). This traditional Israeli breakfast can be served scrambled or poached – with the scrambled version also offered on the regular menu. A thick and spicy tomato broth is used to cook the eggs, and then the whole thing is served with pita. Despite the eggs arriving hard-cooked instead of oozing and golden, this was comforting and exciting all at the same time, with slices of jalapeno emerging from the bottom of the bowl.


As the room filled up, we started to feel a bit cramped – my only real complaint about the space any time I’ve been there. The main room is small and when it’s busy, everyone feels a little jammed in. Speedy and friendly service makes up for this however, and our server kept the coffee coming and even got my Paula Deen reference.


With an opening time of 9am daily, plus a menu that includes not just the traditional brunch favourites but lots of really interesting and unique dishes, if I lived in the Annex, it would definitely be my go-to breakfast and brunch destination. I’ll have to settle for trying my hand at the shakshuka at home, and remembering that By the Way offers more than just lunch and dinner.

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