In Charlene Santos’ experience, the brunch crowd often goes to restaurants resolving to eat healthier, but the strongest will is no match for poached eggs quivering under come-hither Hollandaise.
The executive chef at Cornerhouse on Main in Stouffville, Ont., has been enticing brunch goers for four years with her inspiring riffs on the classic Eggs Benedict. One version sees regular bacon swapped for smoked duck with a 14-spice house rub ($18). “The duck bacon is leaner than pork because the skin is rendered down,” she says.
Another variation unites Hollandaise with lobster and avocado ($18) and, in the past, Santos also offered a refreshing caprese version with bocconcini and fresh basil. But diehard traditionalists can always dive into classics made with peameal or smoked salmon ($14). Regardless of which are ordered, instead of English muffins, the eggs rest on house-made scones and are served with apple-cabbage slaw.
“People always come back for our bennys,” enthuses Santos. “We tried the healthy thing — I came up with quinoa oatmeal, a fruit platter and things like that — but when it comes to brunch, people look for starches and eggs,” she says. “You can change the wording on the menu, but people still search for pancakes and French toast.”
The carb-loaded serotonin boosters servers whisk out of Santos’ kitchen make for happy eating: extra-large buttermilk pancakes are studded with candied pecans then doused in Jack Daniels maple syrup ($13) while slabs of cinnamon French toast are treated to apples and granola (to assuage the guilt) or strawberries and chocolate sauce ($12 and $14). Both are topped with whipped cream.
Jason Rosso, a force on the Toronto food scene and a former co-host chef of the Food Network’s Restaurant Makeover, who has held senior positions at the Distillery Restaurant Corporation and Milestones Restaurants Canada, recently set out on his own and opened J. Red & Co. Food + Drink — a 200-seat, 5,000-sq.-ft. casual-urban eatery in Brampton, Ont.
For the brunch menu, Rosso and executive chef Cal Sandford “wanted dishes to be creative, whimsical and to satisfy.” Standouts embrace assertive Mexican flavours, with chipotle appearing in both the ratatouille for the Eggs Diablo that marries manchego cheese and spicy hash browns ($14), as well as in the Hollandaise slathered on the poached egg tostada ($13.50). “Mexican is so hot right now,” Rosso notes, adding, “In my experience over the years, people gravitate to indulgent fare on weekends.”
For that reason, “we don’t do eye-dropper food, but it’s not cowboy-sized either.” Brunch is served on weekends from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, encouraging patrons to linger with mimosas and Caesars. And why not? “Brunch is glamorous, there’s a classy air about it,” says Rosso. “Breakfast — and I love breakfast — is a greasy spoon with bacon and eggs and a dirty hash.”
If there’s one spot where relaxing over omelettes makes sense, it’s at Notch8. The stylish restaurant and bar at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver reveals a decidedly elegant ‘return-to-glamour’ take on brunch.
Dishes by executive chef Cameron Balledine are divided into lofty lists: “Lifestyle” offers a healthy parfait made with organic granola, seasonal berries and honey ($13) while Irish steel-cut oatmeal is loaded with dried sultanas, Marcona almonds and blueberries ($12). “Enhancements” are small bites such as rustic artisanal toast that includes organic sourdough and seven-grain raisin brioche ($6.50) or a dish of breakfast meats with chicken apple sausage and
Omelettes and other heartier offerings carry the designation of being “farm fresh” and “Ocean Wise.” People care about place of origin, emphasizes Travis Christ, Fairmont’s director of Food and Beverage. He notes this is a far cry from previous years, where gimmicky diets reigned — remember Atkins? “The idea of healthy has changed over the past couple of years from calorie and fat counting to organic, local and sustainable,” he says. “Sustainable is a huge focus in Vancouver. Our diners are less concerned with counting calories. They want to know what’s going into their body and how it contributes to their overall health.” For that reason, Balledine uses sustainable and local goods whenever possible. Diners evidently love the focus. Not only does Notch8 attract Fairmont guests, but locals linger, too (a true testament to a hotel-restaurant’s success).
While weekend brunch may be wonderfully lazy, mid-week breakfast, conversely, is a lesson in patience: a harried, race-against-the-clock affair, where kids are perpetual slow pokes and the car keys are always magically MIA. It’s no surprise it’s the most skipped meal of the day. So says Deanna Jordan, managing principal at Chicago-based food research and consulting firm Technomic. “Most people know eating breakfast is associated with health but everyone has hurried weekday mornings and before they know it, it’s 11 a.m. and they’re thinking, ‘Why not hold out until lunch?’” Technomic reports 73 per cent of Canadian breakfast consumers acknowledge it’s unhealthy to skip breakfast, but just 40 per cent say they eat breakfast every day.
Enter quick-service and fast-food players. McDonald’s, which purchases an astounding 120 million eggs from Canadian egg farmers yearly, give or take, has had consistent luck with its iconic Egg McMuffin. “Today, we continue our strong breakfast leadership, having doubled our breakfast business over the past five years,” says Adam Grachnik, a communications specialist at McDonald’s Canada.
Though the Egg McMuffin has been around since the Bee Gees were on rotation on the radio, McDonald’s is always evolving its breakfast offering, says Grachnik. The franchise recently introduced two “More-Ning” McWraps. “The kale and feta and the sausage and hash brown are wrapped with freshly scrambled eggs and made on our grills every morning,” he says, which along with the fact that they’re quick and portable, perhaps accounts for their popularity.
So, who’s grabbing a quick breakfast? “The younger demographic uses foodservice more often,” says Jordan, noting on average consumers source breakfast away from home one day a week and interestingly, where people once ate between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., they are now having breakfast a little later. These results are aligned with U.S. data, says Jordan, where breakfast is becoming more of a destination, experiential meal (booking a meeting over toast, perhaps?) rather than a quick, convenient affair. “Breakfast food has an opportunity to expand to new dayparts,” she says.
They would also be smart to incorporate Greek yogurt into a dish, especially if their restaurant caters to the 24- to 34-year-old crowd. Technomic reports 42 per cent of that age group prefers Greek yogurt to the regular variety, up 11 per cent from 2014. Additionally, the age group gravitates to proteins, with 58 per cent of the group more likely to order a high-in-protein breakfast item.
Whichever way an operator goes — all day or part of the day — it’s important not to skip breakfast or brunch on the menu. After all, it is the most important meal of the day in more ways than one and for a foodservice operation, it could boost the bottom line.
Volume 49, Number 1
Written By: Iris Benaroia