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Toronto’s Top Brunch

It’s no secret I’m a tad obsessive about brunch.

All my life, breakfast and the foods that go with have been one of my favourite parts of the day.

Now, I’m the type of person who needs to eat the second I open my eyes in the morning. Before moving to Toronto I hated eating out for breakfast because I’d feel sick from being so hungry in the morning. I couldn’t wait.

But the best thing about specialty brunch places are the hours from 10 to 3. All I’d need is a little snack to keep me going till 10. Or just wait and eat breakfast food for lunch. Then I’d have the rest of the day to work off said brunch ;)

Toronto is a big city filled with tons of restaurants. Ten thousand to be exact. Eating at every place that serves brunch would probably be a decade’s worth of work. And a solid 30 lbs. While I didn’t have the chance to try every place while I was there, I do like to think I got to try some of the best. Places known around the city as well as some of the lesser known gems.

I haven’t done this by myself either. For you, dear reader, have been along for the ride the whole time! Here with me as I write about my adventures brunching around the city. People always ask me what my favourite places are or how they shape up against one another.

It is with this that I bring you my Top 5 Toronto Brunches.

1. Mitzi’s on College

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Home of the best pancake I ever ate. I was so awed the first time eating it, that in a rare occurrence I went back a second time and ordered the exact same thing.

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A thick oatmeal buttermilk pancake topped with something different every time. It’s like the cornbread of pancakes, made with hearty oatmeal in a thick skillet.

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Mitzi’s on College is a cool little spot in Little Italy. Bonus points for having a waiting room instead of forcing hungry brunchers to line up out the door on weekends. They also had the best coffee of any brunch place. Not to mention, an outstanding menu outside of the famous pancake.

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2. Bonjour Brioche

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Located on the cusp of Leslieville and the Riverdale District, Bonjour Brioche is mainly a bakery that fills to the brim with brunchers on the weekend.

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I came here with my sister who thankfully wanted to split something sweet and savoury. The best of both worlds! We split a croque madam made with toasted brioche, ham, gruyere and a fried egg. The bread was obviously the best part.

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The real reason why this place captures the number two spot is the french toast. Hands down, the best I’ve ever had.

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Made with day old pastries. Every person gets a different kind of french toast based on whatever they have around. We happened to get some kind of flaky chocolate bread. Soaked in eggs and topped with maple syrup, it was even better than bread pudding.

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3. Toast Restaurant

Another Leslieville location. Not surprising, seeing as my neighbourhood in Toronto had the highest brunch-per-person ratio.

Honestly, Toast was not originally on my brunch radar. But my roommate seemed pretty excited to try it out and I’m never one to turn down brunch. The place was super cute, sort of like a “classy but relaxed” pub vibe.

I ordered the Monte Cristo, with shaved black forest ham and Swiss cheese on challah. It came with a potato hash instead of the usual home fries, which I loved!

Any place that does french toast on challah is automatically good in my book. The portions sizes here were huge, with tons of ham and cheese piled into my “sandwich.”

4. School Bakery & Cafe

School Bakery & Cafe

School was an afterthought before leaving Toronto. I’m so glad I made it there!

School Bakery & Cafe

Themed to remind you of all aspects of going to school, right down to the menu that comes on looseleaf. It’s in a brick institutional building on the outskirts of Liberty Village. It’s expensive, and we waited for a long time to both be seated and served. But in the end, it was still worth it.

School Bakery & Cafe

The menu is divided into sweet & savoury, featuring tons of original french toast, pancake and eggs benedict ideas. I ended up with the Spiced Benni on a Cheddar Chive biscuit. Even though I don’t like hollandaise, I still enjoyed the spicy kind that came with.

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The best part though was the biscuit the benni came on. Perfectly soft and spicy without falling apart under the runny eggs.

Bonus points to School for also making a mean Nutella Scone.

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‘Nuff said.

5. Free Times Cafe

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This was one of my first places to brunch in Toronto, as recommended my by sister at the time. I later came to know Free Times on College & Spadina as a bar. But I continued to yammer on about their unique brunch to anyone who’d listen every time we were there.

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Featuring live Klezmer music, Free Times offers up a “traditional Jewish brunch” buffet on Sundays. It’s not cheap, but worth it once just for the experience.

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I tried lots from the buffet, including challah french toast, smoked salmon scrambled eggs, potato latkes with apple sauce, blintzes, pickles and beets.

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Round two included in-house smoked fish, bread, cheese, smoked salmon cream cheese and a beet salad. All “my kind of food.”

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And what’s breakfast without dessert?

Years from now when I look back on my time in Toronto, I will always fondly remember the time I spent eating brunch. Researching brunch. Discussing brunch. And basically just loving and living through some of the best food the city has to offer. Even though I tout a “healthy lifestyle” on this blog, I think letting go and truly enjoying the food in that city was probably one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done.

Okay, and it was pretty damn fun too. All in the name of research, right?

The Burger, The Croissant and The Cookie

First things first, here’s what my elbow is looking like today:

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I need to get another surgery in about six months to take out that bottom screw. They put a big one in there to make sure it held, but it will hit my other bone once I’m able to move my arm again.

To quote my surgeon: “Your elbow is holding together well given the likelihood it could fall apart.” Awesome.

I’ll have to continue regular follow-ups with a surgeon in Moncton to ensure that it indeed does not fall apart.

I also need to step up the physio and work on moving it more. Which I’ve only been doing gently so far because it’s so painful to do.

Overall, I didn’t leave the appointment feeling great. But there’s also nothing I can do to make it magically better. Just gotta wait it out I guess!

Anyways, in order to start fresh in New Brunswick next week (!!!) I have a few more “bloggables” from the Tee Dot I’m going to handily wrap up all in one post.

Three places: A burger place, a bakery, and a Holy experience. Let’s get started, shall we?

1. The Burger

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You may remember back in December when my roommie and I checked out The Burger’s Priest. A teeny tiny burger joint in the East End that has burger enthusiasts foaming at the mouth. I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love it. I feel like I still needed to find “my” burger in Toronto. 

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Great Burger Kitchen at Gerrard and Jones is supposedly also one of the best. Megan and I came here on a whim one Sunday evening because that’s what we did when we had spare time and no recipes to be made at home.

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We may have gone home after and watched Rockstar Supernova circa 2006. We may have re-watched the whole Rockstar INXS series at one point too. Watching old reality TV shows is fun. You feel like you’re from the future.

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Anyways, GBK. It looked like they had great poutines. I can’t confirm this as I was after the meat only.

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I had the classic burger which comes with lettuce, tomato, red onion, ketchup, mustard and pickles.

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Made with all natural Ontario beef served on a bun from the well known local joint Brick Street Bakery.

First, the patty. Flavour-wise it was all there. I loved how thick it was, compared to the thin and salty patties at The Burger’s Priest. It was however a touch too dry for my tastes.

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Also, the patty-to-bun ratio borderlines absurd. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the bun. Actually, it was probably the best hamburger bun I’ve ever had. White, fluffy, but sturdy enough not to crumble in the presence of the burger. But it was twice the size of the patty. I’d say half my bites were easily bun only and contained no meat.

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FYI: eating giant hamburgers with one hand is tricky business. I could probably teach a class on eating with one hand by this point.

2. The Croissant.

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Right. So y’all know I have this undeterred fondness for pastry wrapped in butter. I never specifically set out to find the best croissant in Toronto. Amazing croissants are the kind of thing that find you, ya know?

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But again, in my intense foodie research, I found that Clafouti on Queen West was consistently praised for their croissants.

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I walked in on a late Sunday morning after brunch not sure of what goodies would be left.

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Roommie Megan snatched up the Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Croissant. Ohyes. But I had my eyes on something else.

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An almond croissant. I feel like apart from chocolate and butter, almond croissants are about as “classic” as you can get. And I’ve never had one!

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I tucked it away in my purse, having just scarfed down brunch and all, and gingerly pulled it out come dinnertime. Okay, I only made it till 4pm.

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The croissant easily broke in half, each side coated with a sweet almond paste. Nothing like the marzipan found in chocolates. This was a like a nutty, sugary, dreamy spread.

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The centre of the croissant was soft, but dense! And a little tough on the outsides. I’m not sure if all almond croissants are this thick. I’m better versed in the airy, flaky, greasy sorts. Overall though, it was a damn good croissant. I polished it off with an apple and called it a balanced meal.

3. The Cookie.

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Remember when my sister took me to Le Gourmand at Queen & Spadina?

She actually brought me there for croissants, which I will say were quite good. But I spotted these trays of cookies and knew they were mine. Walking past there the other day I popped in to get the cookie that’s been calling my name ever since. They only had chocolate chip and chocolate chip walnut. I went with the latter.

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I brought it home and immediately broke a piece off to taste. An inch thick and almost the size of my hand, one cookie is actually equal to about four. It was SO soft. With the perfect sized little chocolate chips. I thought about it for the rest of the night.

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The next morning I took another piece at zapped it in the microwave. It was at that point I melted into a giant puddle in the middle of my kitchen floor. Just like Alex Mack. I was in confectionary heaven.

So that ends my torrid tales of foodie adventures in Toronto. Just in time too, because my last pair of jeans are starting to get tight. Now it’s time shape up and get cooking in my brand new kitchen. Which you’ll have to wait till Sunday to see. Have a great weekend!

“The Slump” and My Saving Grace

I have something of a confession.

Before the accident that broke my arm, I was going through a bit of a “workout” slump.

I know this is a pretty common occurrence, but what made mine notable is that it lasted for almost a year.

Ever since leaving my much loved gym in Fredericton last April, working out has been a challenge. More of a challenge than it was in the past. Before, I legitimately loved exercise. Working out was my favourite time of day. I had to consciously limit my workouts to 60-90 minutes, otherwise I’d just want to keep going. I had the proverbial fire in my belly about exercise. I mean, it’s why I quit my blossoming career as a radio reporter to become a personal trainer.

And then it just went away. After leaving Fredericton, I stayed with my mom in Moncton for a month. I felt like I was dragging myself to the gym for mediocre workouts every day. I blamed it on my newfound unemployment making me lazy. Or the fact that the gym there didn’t have my favourite classes or lifting equipment.

When I arrived in Toronto in July, I immediately found work as a personal trainer. This had to get me excited about exercise again… right?

Wrong.

It turned it into work. I’m not talking about my sessions with clients, but about my own personal fitness. After a long day of training, the last thing I wanted to do was stay at the gym an hour longer to get my own workout in. Training on the same equipment I worked on made it feel less fun. Not to mention, the gym was far away from where I lived, and getting there was a real hassle when I wasn’t getting paid for it. I hardly ever went to the group fitness classes at my gym because peak class hours coincided with peak training hours.

When I injured my arm six weeks ago, I admit, I was a little relieved by the prospect of not feeling pressured to work out. The only reason why I have consistently exercised during this extended “slump” is to maintain my health and fitness. Because that’s what a personal trainer is expected to do.

It has been 10 months of bored workouts + 6 weeks of complete rest and I am finally, finally, starting to feel enthusiastic about it again. I feel like setting fitness goals again. Like following a training program. Jeez, I could even sign up for a race! I’m starting to get a bit of a smoulder in my belly again. I know it will be a while yet until I’m back in my full fighting form. But I have a lot of hopes for things I’ll be able to do this summer. Activities I’ll be able to do outdoors in the Maritimes – even with my rehabbing arm. First step is getting the okay to run again. I’m going to bug my surgeon about it again tomorrow!

Anyways, it is with this that I bring you my final Toronto brunch.

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I only just heard of Saving Grace after it made the #3 spot in BlogTO’s latest Best Brunch in Toronto list. I’d already tried the one and two spots, so I had to round out the top three!

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Saving Grace is this reeeeeally small place in Little Portugal. So small they make you wait outside for a table because there’s no room for people to stand in the doorway. It wasn’t that big of a deal on the spring-like day we were there. But that’s not cool in the dead of winter.

We arrived there at 10:30am not knowing it opens at 10am. We had to wait for the first round of brunchers to finish up before we were seated. Rookie mistake!

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I of course ordered a coffee right away as my eyes glazed over considering both the brunch menus.

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Gah! Fish tacos? Savoury french toast? Poached eggs on lentils? ROSEMARY MAYO??

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Roomie Megan went for that last one. More specifically the Old White Cheddar Sandwich: tomato, avocado, lettuce, rosemary mayo, toasted whole wheat raisin bread w/ greens & potatoes.

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Roommie Jocelyn went for the two poached eggs with toast, potatoes and greens.

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Me? After gathering my wits, I decided on the Corn Pancakes with blueberry maple syrup & breakfast sausages.

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Real bits of corn! These were actually very light and not too sweet. Nothing like the dense cornbread I’m used to. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet.

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I did love the combo of corn + blueberries. The maple syrup with cooked blueberries was divine.

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And breakfast sausage!! I love breakfast links. Preferably when smothered in a healthy dose of ketchup.

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I ate the whole darn thing and didn’t even feel that full. Perhaps it speaks to how light the pancakes were. Or maybe it’s just that I’m ready to go pro with brunching ;)

I’m working on a personal Best Of Brunch list and a Best Of Toronto list for next week. But you can always find a list of restaurants visited under the Restaurants tab!

See ya tomorrow with a doc update and some sweet treats ;)

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