Across the street from Mambo Lounge, the unlikely Old Nick (123 Danforth, at Ellerbeck, 416-461-5546) is packing them in for its weekend organic brunch. We raved about the place last fall when iconoclastic chef Michelle Bellerose , inspired by her interest in homeopathy, created a unique card featuring buckwheat flapjacks draped with wild chanterelle mushrooms and seaweed caviar, and organic scrambled eggs sided with skillet cornbread and white bean hash. As the sticker stuck to the Old Nick's front door attests, NOW named it best brunch in the city. Since then, Bellerose made a preplanned exit in December, and former manager Christine Lukanchoff bought the business. Sadly, that's not the only change. The Old Nick's weekend spread has gone from extraordinary to run-of-the-mill, organic or not.
As before, there are actually two menus: one of typical pub grub, the other now organic pub grub. But the only difference I could discern between the Old Nick's routine version of eggs Benedict ($8.95) and the eco-conscious version ($13) - other than four bucks - is the latter's poached organic eggs ($5.99 a dozen at the Big Carrot down the road) and peameal bacon. Otherwise, the bland, commercial-tasting hollandaise, English muffin, bell pepper-speckled home fries and prepackaged supermarket greens (yes, they're organic, but they cost all of $4.99 for 454 grams at Loblaws, enough for 30 portions at Old Nick) are identical.
"The customers' response has been amazing," says the affable Lukanchoff. "We have been very busy, and every week brings new faces and many return customers."
But what of Bellerose? Last seen cooking Christmas dinner at the East General Detox Centre (!), the former restaurateur has put together a business plan for what she describes as a "rebel kitchen." You'll no doubt read all about it here first once it launches. Until then, she harbours no ill will toward her former employer.
"The Old Nick's only trying to keep that cash cow mooing, as it should," says a realistic Bellerose. "It's a business, after all.
"It took me two days shopping and two nights prepping to get ready for weekend brunch, all on my own time. I was willing to do it because I had faith that if you make an extraordinary effort you get good results.
"Unfortunately, I think I also made it look too easy."