After a decade on Queen, Leslieville’s favourite brunch joint gets a jaw-dropping modern makeover
Lady Marmalade (265 Broadview, at Dundas, 647-351-7645) spent nearly 10 years as the undisputed – if you consider the presence of lineups a reliable metric – reigning brunch queen of Leslieville. Week in and week out, sun or sleet, the faithful would assume their posts outside, vying for a bite of cheddar waffles and cochinita pibil Benedicts.
In terms of audience appeal, the food outmatched the look of the room, which was pretty typical, low-key café stuff: mismatched retro chairs and crockery, screaming-green walls and tight aisleways where wait staff, patrons and strollers jockeyed for position.
It’s safe to say the Lady, which officially reopened in new digs on Broadview last week, is no longer the unassuming wallflower we’re used to. The restaurant’s new home, the product of a two-year gut renovation process, is pretty much guaranteed to get one reaction out of everyone who crosses its blonde wood-panelled threshold: “This is a brunch place?”
Set inside a 19th-century former home, the new Lady Marmalade is a two-floor space swathed in 5,000 square feet of Baltic birch, which forms walls that jut out to create benches and counter space. Skylights and massive windows let natural light pour into the spare, modern room, while suspended bulbs and more than 100 hanging plants add character.
“Every decision was very well thought out – it’s one the reasons this was a two-year process,” says Natalia Simachkevitch, who co-owns the spot with husband David Cherry.
“This is our permanent home. This is our forever home. This is, Lady Marmalade is not moving again.”
The decision to move was based on a desire to find a space they could own, Simachkevitch says, adding that they looked at locations on Gerrard before settling on the Broadview space. “We knew we wanted to stay close to their location, because we wanted to keep the neighbourhood happy. This is about a 10-minute walk. When we saw this building, we really fell in love with the history and character of it.”
The building was originally meant to be converted into luxury apartments by the previous owner but had been left midway through the process in a gutted state. “It seemed really like a simple thing to just put a restaurant in it,” Simachkevitch deadpans.
“It didn’t have running water. It didn’t have heat. We had to bring in insulation. The running water is on the other side of Broadview, so we had to tunnel under the streetcar tracks to bring it over.”
But they saw potential – as did Omar Gandhi (of the eponymous Halifax-based firm Omar Gandhi Architect), who took on the build for the firm’s first Toronto project.
“Omar was like, ‘How do we open it up? How do we get lots of natural light in here?” says Stephanie Hosein, who led the design process. “It’s more of a process of subtraction, with, obviously, a new structure to make sure we could keep the walls up. As soon as the skylights went in, it became such a bright space.”
Simachkevitch hopes that the new space – which, at 54 seats, boasts almost 50 per cent more space than the original – will help add a sense of serenity to the coziness of the old Lady Marmalade.
Lady Marmalade’s bread pudding ($13.50).
“Sometimes that space on weekends could get very hectic and intense,” she says. “I think this will provide people with more of a leisurely brunch experience. You’ll still be able to get in and out as quickly as you want, but if you want to just get a latte and chill, you can.”
The coffee (and the vintage CorningWare mugs it’s served in) is just as you remember it, as is the majority of the menu.
“We change the menu every couple of months anyway. We’ll update it, we have specials. But you’ll still be able to get your old favourites,” says Simachkevitch, who personally guarantees that the cheesy waffles will not be going anywhere.
The usual all-day brunch schedule will remain, and though Cherry and Simachkevitch have no immediate plans to extend Lady Marmalade’s hours into the evening, they do plan to rent the space out for parties and events. Apparently, all that warm birch just glows at sundown.
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