Aunties and Uncles
I hadn’t realized how serious people in Toronto were about their brunch until I’d spent a few weekends here. The totally innocent question “Which is your favorite brunch place?” can spark off passionate debates that might never reach a satisfying conclusion – but a steaming plate of Eggs Benedict can definitely bring it to a screeching halt. Brunch happens to be my favorite meal – it evokes a sense of holiday and dreamy languidness as you chat with good friends over eggs and pancakes and French toast, or as you sit with a wonderful book on a sunny patio trying to read but getting distracted by all the people-watching (and if you’re in Toronto – dog-watching). If it’s not the above, it’s not brunch. It’s just an I-missed-breakfast-and-am-making-up-for-it-now meal.
Thankfully, there are dozens of great brunch places in Toronto and yes, I do have a favorite but let me get it out of the way first – this is not it. (I promise to fill you in on that one just as soon as I stop getting distracted by the food long enough to click some decent pictures.) The thing that attracted me to this place was its name – Aunties and Uncles – pleasantly quaint and charmingly quirky. But the thing that held me back was the hype surrounding it. Any place that is supposed to have the best brunch in Toronto (not without debate of course) has a lot of living up to do.
I would never have visited the place, since standing in a queue for 45 minutes (this is apparently the average wait time to snag a table here on a weekend) to get eggs and pancakes that I could whip up at home in the same time is not my idea of fun. However, my friend A recently visited me in Toronto and I took a day off work on a Friday (which kept screwing with my head because I kept calculating subway fares and restaurant timings and such myriad things thinking it was a Saturday). I was proudly showing A around the city (I do love it) and our travels took us out to College Street. A Friday noon on a grey, gloomy day (9⁰C in May!?) seemed to be the perfect time to avoid the usual lineups and enjoy a quiet brunch.
Easiest way to spot the place when you reach the street? Look for an unremarkable side building with a crowd in the front! It had a fair number of people waiting even on a Friday noon on a grey, gloomy day, but the restaurant Gods were smiling upon us as we snagged a prime table by the window only after about a 5-minute wait. The restaurant (it seems too casual to be called that) is cozy, with a room cluttered with vintage stuff you might find in your great-uncle’s (or aunt’s) attic – an old radio, white formica tables, vintage ad posters, a menu advertising donuts for 5 cents (unfortunately, this was not their current menu). The place had a comfortable retro charm that quickly won me over – yes, I’m a pushover that way.
Conversation bubbled around us, people greeted each other on the patio; it was evident that this was a familiar and well-loved place. We sat happily catching up, sipping our drinks – coffee (excellent!) for me and hot chocolate (not so much) for A. After much mulling over the menu (I so love this part), A ordered the breakfast pocket and I got the banana oatmeal pancakes. Both the dishes arrived steaming. The pocket sandwich was bursting with the goodness of fluffy scrambled eggs, caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, gooey cheese and peameal bacon. The saltiness of the soft eggs and the crisp bacon played perfectly with the sweetness of the golden onions and ripe tomatoes. With a side of potato salad spiked with notes of dill, what’s not to love? It tasted as good as it sounds and I know this because A was kind enough to share (and patient enough to let me photograph it all first, much to the amusement of our waiter who couldn’t help ribbing me about it – It’s just a sandwich!)
My pancakes were fluffy and light, with the oatmeal providing a nice contrast in texture, but I was especially in love with the side of poached pears, even though I would have liked it to be more cinnamony (I am very recently in love with this spice). Drench all that in butter and maple syrup and I was a very happy gal. Were they the best pancakes I have eaten – a few days ago I would have to think about this but now I can say – No, but more on that later (I do apologize for teasing you like this but I have some permission-asking and recipe-testing to do before I share that story).
We left the place with full bellies and smiling faces – a good brunch and lazy conversations with old friends can do that to you. So, was it worth the hype? Let me put it this way – I wouldn’t drive or wait in a queue for hours just to eat here, but if I was in the neighborhood on a weekday looking for a warm, friendly place with delicious food, I’d certainly drop by.