The 20 best dishes to try right now
You’d be forgiven for thinking Toronto’s love affair with brunch has cooled. Most of the newest and hippest spots in town, it seems, would rather stay open until the wee hours and capitalize on booze-fiending crowds than open up at the crack of dawn to soothe their hangovers with eggs and flapjacks.
But those who do – and do it well – are still rewarded, week in and week out, with queues of diners patiently waiting for their hollandaise fix. A lot of things help determine those lineups (atmosphere, prices, service speed, stumbling distance from your apartment), but having a stellar signature dish doesn’t hurt.
Here are 20 of Toronto’s best brunches.
Barque’s smoked duck pancakes
The eternal brunch conundrum: do you go for meats or sweets? Roncy’s favourite smokehouse eliminates the decision-making process by parking a generous helping of pulled BBQ duck legs on top of a tall stack of flapjacks. Blueberry compote brings a little sweetness, while a heaping spoonful of tart chèvre adds another dimension to all that richness. In short, it’s got everything you could want in your brunch (except, maybe, for a mimosa).
Also try Bennies with pulled pork, salmon or brisket on cornbread brie-apple-ginger French toast.
Farmhouse tavern’s mother and child reunion
Brunch as an institution just isn’t macabre enough. It also sorely lacks Paul Simon references. Farmhouse Tavern has been holding it down on both counts for years with their Mother And Child Reunion, though the beloved dish recently underwent a revamp. They still serve a whole panko-crusted duck egg with a serving of mama bird – but instead of a few spare slices of honey-drizzled prosciutto, they send the dish out with hefty leg of duck confit drizzled with blueberry compote. Fruit paired with meat? Bigger portion sizes? We’re in!
Also try The Barnyard Burger crowned with bacon, goat cheese and a duck egg (ee-i-ee-i-o).
Saving Grace’s caramelized banana french toast
A rep for long lines and sometimes-spotty service (in fairness, the former almost certainly affects the latter) dogs this brunch spot, but the breakfasts are their… well, you know. A good deal of that traffic probably has to do with the signature French toast. The kitchen cleverly keeps the super-thick, golden-fried slices a touch dry in the middle – all the better for them to stand up against super-sweet banana, plenty of syrup, and icing sugar to boot.
Also try The Eggs Rajasthan scramble with chickpea masala, “espressado” (avocado/espresso) smoothies.
White Brick Kitchen’s Banana Bread French Toast
Brunch is technically served only on Sundays at ex-Stockyards chef Stephen Howell’s café, but his signature brunch dish appears on the Tuesday-through-Friday lunch menu as well. A wise decision, that: the combo of chocolate-chip-studded banana bread, banana slices and a generous drizzle of salted caramel has almost certainly helped the low-key Kitchen develop its cult following among the denizens of Koreatown.
Also try Rarebit smothered in pimento cheese, or veggie-friendly “Scotch-ish” eggs coated in a panko crust and doused with hollandaise.
The Stockyards’ chicken and waffles
Chicken and waffles aren’t technically a brunch dish – if you’re Southern that’s a meal any time of day – but it’s still arguably the biggest draw at this St. Clair “smokehouse and larder.” Chef Tom Davis layers his buttermilk-brined chicken atop a fluffy, not-too-sweet waffle, then tops the whole thing with a knockout hot-and-sour maple-chili-citrus glaze.
Also try The biscuits with peppery sausage gravy – or the formidable Dirty Bird, which combines chicken ‘n’ waffles with that gravy, plus a poached egg.
Chicken Schnitzel Double Down
This behemoth of a sandwich, an unholy marriage of moist breaded chicken, cheddar, bacon and duck-fat-saturated grilled challah (plus a little sprinkling of cabbage slaw) appears on both the dinner menu and the brunch menu at this quirkily named spot. It remains an incredibly flavourful start to a day in Cabbagetown, even if you’ll probably want to go right back to bed after eating it.
Also try Massive pancakes dripping with berry-pear-ginger compote.
Takht-e Tavoos’s paneer boroshteh
Most of what we think of as brunch – which generally encompasses eggs, bread, fatty meats and every application for butter you can think of – privileges richness over actual flavour. Thank god for Takht-e Tavoos (or just “Tavoos”), an Iranian breakfast spot with a menu liberally infused with rose, cardamom, garlic, olives and pomegranate. This dish is the house fave, with good reason: halloumi cubes are browned with tons of garlic and butter, then fried right into the whites of two sunny-side-up eggs. You’ll wipe your plate clean with the supplied flatbread, then have a really, really hard time going back to plain scrambles next weekend.
Also try The Kalleh Pacheh, a standout soup of sheep’s head and hooves, plus tons of garlic and lemon, that gets richer with every bite. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Rose & Sons’ PLB special melt
Anthony Rose’s signature resto lives in the sweet spot of homey comfort food and meaty excess – so, naturally, its signature brunch dish is like what would happen if an eastern European grandma got drunk and tried to invent a breakfast sandwich. The PLB teams a kielbasa (no breakfast sausage here!) with a slab of “bacon” that’s really pork belly, plus cheddar and an egg, finished off with the strange but successful combo of pickles, caramelized onions and sour cherry jam. You can’t eat it with your hands, but luckily, it comes stabbed through with a steak knife. Rose & Sons’ kitchen subscribes to the Rambo school of plating.
Also try Ultra-thick pancakes topped with a big dollop of ricotta and a scattering of sour cherries.
Zach Slootsky’s brunch spot/bar on Dundas West is coolly understated but full of surprises, much like its signature brunch dish. The Eggs Federal sounds like a regular Benedict on the menu – eggs, bacon, an English muffin. But what sets it apart is a generous pour of meaty, earthy mushrooms swathed in tarragon cream, with the yolk of that steaming-hot egg running through and the English muffin below soaking it all in.
Also try The “Four Guys” burger.
Lady Marmalade’s cheddar spinach waffles
The Benedicts are ostensibly the thing to get at this always-rammed Leslieville kitchen, but the Lady will forever have my heart for her magnificent savoury waffles. First they griddle a cheese-and-spinach-laced batter, then they smother the resulting mini-stack of waffles in a zippy roasted-tomato cream sauce. The whole thing gets topped off with crunchy bacon strips or avocado slices – and if you’re feeling really sassy that day, they’ll pop a poached egg on there for you, too.
Also try Those Bennies – cochinita pibil and citrusy onions, brie-avocado-bacon, tomato with pesto and cream cheese.
Café Fiorentina’s eggs benedict
I’ve lived near this spot since it opened in 2012 and somehow didn’t catch wind of its stellar brunch until recently, but I might just be living under a rock: On a recent visit, the place was insta-rammed the second the clock struck 11. Tina Leckie and Alex Chong’s brunch roster rotates regularly, but the Benedict is a reliable standout, piled with flawlessly poached duck eggs, super-lemony hollandaise and a fluffy little bun that soaks up all the richness. If you’re lucky, the featured topping will be a hefty hunk of smoked and braised beef cheek that’s reminiscent of an ultra-tender Montreal smoked meat.
Also try Daily quiches and super-hearty omelettes.
Buca Yorkville’s Uova cacio e pepe
Italians don’t really do brunch, but the newest member of the Buca famiglia does some high-concept reimagining of regional Italian classics for the weekend crowd. Take, for example, this Benedict-style interpretation of Rome’s municipal dish. The classic combo of pecorino and black pepper adds sharpness to a thick lid of cheesy fonduta that smothers poached duck eggs on ciabatta, but what really makes the plate is the generous helping of roasted cherry tomatoes that burst with the touch of a fork. Pro tip: Smash a few, then slide your ciabatta on top.
Also try Castagnole donuts oozing with dulce de leche Milanese rabbit with prosciutto and egg.
Bonjour Brioche’s baked french toast
Naturally, the namesake bread of this Riverside bakery/bruncherie is prominently featured in the French toast – as are the stellar croissants, and pretty much every other sweet treat in the bakery case. The pastries are sandwiched together, soaked and baked in slices for a moist, bread-pudding-like texture. A swirl of cinnamon and little bits of baked fruit add flavour generous doses of maple syrup and icing sugar add even more. No wonder this place is still the hottest weekend destination this side of Degrassi.
Also try The cheesy-crusty croque madame the Provençal omelette with tomato, scallion, black olive and Gruyère.
The Queen And Beaver’s maple butter pancakes
The Queen and Beaver’s calling card: pub food that’s dead simple on paper but stuns on the plate (and the taste buds). Its pancakes, served four to a stack, are a perfect happy medium – not too thick or thin, not too tough or cakey. They’re infused with maple butter, drowned in real tree syrup and topped with a generous scoop of stupendously rich maple-peanut-butter ice cream that, magically, doesn’t melt until you’ve finished smushing it into the last of your flapjacks with the flat of your knife.
Also try The proper English fry-up, complete with baked beans and tomato a dead-simple breakfast sandwich with a fried egg and heaps of bacon on a sesame-seed roll.
Bivy’s breakfast sandwich
This French-accented café offers a full brunch menu on weekends, but for my money, you can’t top its breakfast sandwich, available as a grab-and-go dish before noon. On a crusty Portuguese bun, they pile a fried egg, cheddar and Dijon mayo, as well as your choice of meat. (Go for the heavenly house-cured gravlax – those who don’t think dairy and fish should mix should just trust me on this one.) This’ll cure your case of the Mondays tout de suite.
Also try The rich, gooey croque monsieur.
Maha’s cairo classic
Brunch like an Egyptian at this minuscule family-run spot on the fringe of Little India – if you can get a seat. The Cairo Classic, its signature platter, doubles as a handy primer on Egyptian eating. A bed of rich, creamy ful (fava bean stew with tomato and onions) blankets the plate, topped with a sliced boiled egg, a minty spring-green fava-bean falafel and a hearty dollop of yogurt-like house-made Egyptian feta. Pile bits and bobs of each onto a grill-charred slice of baladi bread (a delicious middle ground between pita and injera) and be spirited away.
Also try The savoury Basturma scramble, eggs with cured beef date-stuffed grilled cheese a puréed lentil soup that’s absolutely game-changing, even if it isn’t brunch.
Easy’s huevos divorciados
There are an awful lot of options on Easy’s lengthy brunch menu, from breakfast burritos and Benedicts to toast soldiers and vegan scrambles. And they’re all available until at least 4 pm every single day at two different locations – huzzah! But their signature is a take on a popular Mexican breakfast dish, which means, you guessed it, “divorced eggs.” Two sunny-side-up huevos get plonked onto a fried tortilla and surrounded by a fiesta of toppings – guac, tomato and tomatillo salsas, black beans, spicy-sweet ancho preserves – plus some golden-toasted baguette strips to scoop it all up.
Also try The “non-huevos,” which sub sautéed mushrooms for eggs. Also, Mexican hot chocolate!
Karelia Kitchen’s smokehouse platter
Does your belt feel tighter just reading about all this fried-chicken-topped, panko-covered, duck-fat-smothered heaviness? To that, I say, you said a mouthful. Researching this feature probably took two or three days off my life. Don’t rage-quit yet, light eaters – there’s still Karelia, Toronto’s premier Scandinavian brunch spot. Their smokehouse platter is a shareable smorgasbord of Swedish goodness: bites of rainbow trout, chicken and house-smoked Atlantic salmon, plus gently pickled veggies, preserves and crispy crackers for stacking.
Also try Potato pancakes with hot-smoked trout and gravlax French toast made with Finnish cardamom bread, plus stone-fruit compote and bacon.
Aunties And Uncles’ breakfast tacos
What’s the signature dish at this ramshackle, always rammed diner at College and Bathurst? Is it the breakfast pocket stuffed with peameal, flanked by Dijon potato salad? The squishy-sweet banana oatmeal pancakes? The ever-changing but always satisfying omelettes and butter-drenched challah toast? You can’t really go wrong, so I’ll just tell you my fave: the breakfast tacos, which layer smooth scrambled egg, thick ground chorizo and a refreshing cilantro crema atop corn tortillas. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that stand out most.
Also try See above.
Emma’s Country Kitchen’s eggs benedict
If biscuits are your thing, you probably know all about this adorably quaint diner on St. Clair West where the fresh, flaky little numbers are served à la carte or as a base for their above-average Benny. Running with the all-homemade theme, the kitchen layers on house-smoked peameal, then poached eggs, then mousseline sauce (a whipped-cream-infused hollandaise), plus a serving of griddled red-skin home fries.
Also try The I Know What You Did Last Night, aka a Hangover Helper burger with a sage-dusted sausage patty, bacon, cheddar and frites. See, this place does have an edge!