Food File: Breakfast and Brunch Trends

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If the adage is to be believed, you’re supposed to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like pauper. For Canada’s working population a healthy and balanced diet can be difficult to maintain and working shifts or being stuck at a desk for hours at a time may make eating breakfast “like a king” next to impossible.

According to recent findings from Chicago-based Technomic Inc., the breakfast void can provide ample opportunity for Canadian restaurants. With trends focusing on healthful, protein-packed, affordable breakfast options during the week and more decadent, flavourful items for weekend brunches, there are plenty of ways to cash in on this tasty trend.

For limited-service restaurants and cafes, meeting the needs of Canadian consumers means offering affordable breakfast options at non-traditional times and creating on-the-go options that satisfy the demand for locally sourced, healthy ingredients.

This year, McDonald’s Canada introduced its all-day breakfast menu, much to the delight of fast-food aficionados. Adam Grachnik, External Communications manager at McDonald’s Canada, says it’s been the company’s most asked-about menu initiative. “Given the passion people have for our iconic Egg McMuffin, we anticipate this offering will continue being a positive boost to our business. All-Day Breakfast resonates especially well with millennials, who are increasingly dealing with atypical work schedules.”

McDonald’s isn’t the only Canadian chain to expand its offerings to meet the growing breakfast needs of Canadians. A&W also launched its All-Day Breakfast this year. Tim Hortons offers a range of on-the-go breakfast sandwiches as well as healthier options such as oatmeal and yogurt parfaits, while other limited-service establishments are also jumping on the “grab-and-go” bandwagon.

WEEKEND WARRIORS
While consumers may not be opting for sit-down breakfasts during the week, on the weekend they want decadent, exotic and flavourful options for elaborate, lingering meals. Chef Julie Marteleira of Toronto’s Leña says its brunch has become part of a phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing.

“Over the last 10 years, brunch has evolved from going to greasy spoons to this whole experience, [similar to] going out for dinner and going out for a big night. [Leña has] brought in a whole new thing to the city — we serve the classics you crave, but in a completely different way from everything else.”

Averaging 250 brunch covers on a Saturday morning, the trendy Argentinian/South Spanish-inspired eatery offers diners a twist on the classics. Its breakfast empanadas are topped with poached eggs and drizzled with chimichurri ($18) and “The Full Gaucho” ($19) gives a saucy Latin twist to a traditional English breakfast with spiced egg, morcilla (blood sausage) and jamòn.

At The Coastal Café in Halifax, N.S., chef/owner Mark Giffin has been feeding the city’s hungry hordes for 10 years. While there are endless options for quality brunch in Halifax, The Coastal is the firm favourite of the city’s food-loving community. Giffin says it’s all about staying creative and using bold flavours. “We have four staple dishes —The McCoastal ($12.25), The Durty Bird ($13.50), The Elvis ($10.75) and our take on Huevos Rancheros ($12) — that don’t change. Sometimes I get bored, though. Last year I changed the menu once a month for about three months. Mostly, though, we try to do a seasonal menu.”

Halifax may be small, but the brunch trend has hit the city in a big way. “The brunch scene is becoming quite saturated and at some point, it’s going to have to level off,” says Giffin. “Most people are doing a good job and it’s impressive that the city has been able to accommodate all these places. In some ways, it’s a blessing to have other [brunch restaurants] open because we were getting almost too busy.”

Giffin’s menu items tend to go big on flavour and caloric intake — an indulgent combination that is both on-trend and works well for Halifax’s work-hard/play-hard population.

On the West Coast and, more specifically, at Vancouver’s Fable Diner, you’ll find a more balanced approach to breakfast and brunch. “Our restaurant philosophy is based on local and sustainable farming, but it’s a diner, which makes people think of a greasy spoon. We’re trying to change that image and offer healthy choices as well,” says chef de cuisine Chris Oliveira. “In Vancouver, people are adamant about knowing where their food comes from. Our meat and produce come from local farms. It’s important to our customers and we’ve built our brand around it. Having gluten-free/vegan options is important as well. Gluten-free menu items are a massive request from our customers.”

While you’ll still find some indulgent “greasy-spoon” items at Fable Diner (such as the decadent milkshake selection or the “Trucker’s Breakfast” $14), Oliveira maintains that Vancouverites, take healthiness into consideration — even when it comes to a relaxing weekend brunch.

TASTE OF TRADITION
Indeed, all Canadians like to brunch, but just how depends somewhat on geographical and cultural influence. Boulangerie Hof Kelsten is a café and bakery in Montreal’s historic Jewish district that started out baking artisanal bread to supply restaurants and has since morphed into one of the best places for brunch in the city.

Fresh-baked breads and coffee abound and, while regulars come in during the week for a quick sandwich, it’s on Saturday mornings that the café truly comes to life. You’ll find line-ups out the door for chef Jeff Finkelstein’s take on what he describes as “Eastern European Grandma food with Michelin technique.”

“Our food has a historic aspect to it,” he says. “We’re located in an up-and-coming area where there are lots of Jewish eateries. My training is a lot more ‘fine dining’, so, originally, the bakery was bred for fine-dining restaurants. Now, we cater to anyone who wants top-quality bread.”

But Finkelstein only serves brunch on the weekend. “Montreal is a brunch town. It always has been. What we’re doing is really high quality, making everything from scratch and not cutting corners. I hope that continues to be the trend — that people start to appreciate things made from scratch again.”

BRUNCH IN THE PEG
In Winnipeg, The Clementine Café has only been open for a year, but is already considered a favourite among both weekday and weekend crowds.

Since it specializes in breakfast and brunch, its hours are 7a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Co-owner Raya Konrad says the style of food and attitude toward casual dining sets it apart. “

We offer unique, composed dishes, as opposed to offering the traditional bacon-and-eggs breakfast. We also have a high-quality coffee program, so we’re offering excellent coffee to pair with our food. Brunch is fun — it’s lighthearted and casual. We try to have a fun, upbeat, welcoming atmosphere.”

While regional preferences may differ, chefs and restaurateurs agree the obsession with breakfast isn’t going anywhere. Making good use of quality, local ingredients, offering interesting menu items (think ethnic flavours) on the weekend and healthful, on-the-go (or pre-order) options for weekdays will only increase in popularity.

Volume 50, Number 4,
Written by Janine Kennedy