“Want to go for brunch on Sunday??” I get or send that text message every week, typically sometime between Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning. Usually it’s to and from my friends Matt and Dawn. Brunch is one of those meals where you recap the week and make plans for the next so you have to be in good company either because you need someone to laugh with (hopefully not at) and occasionally a shoulder to cry on. Knowing I was in good company, it was time to send the all-important follow up, “Where do you want to eat?” That’s not a tricky question normally, except when one goes out for brunch every weekend and then where do you go avoid gastro-boredom?
Then I remembered the Against the Grain Urban Tavern, a restaurant in Leaside I had watched being built over the winter months. I suppose being stuck in traffic caused by the road construction on Laird Avenue could be looked at as a bad thing by local businesses, but on the other hand it’s free advertising because what else do people do when they’re stopped in their car, but look around. So why not? Let’s give this place a shot and see what they’ve got for brunch.
I hopped online, looked up Against the Grain and made a reservation using Open Table for holiday Monday. Located at Leaside Village Plaza on Laird Avenue, parking was plentiful and easy. We arrived at 11:30 am and found the restaurant to be on the quiet side – it was less than 25% full. I didn’t mind since that meant we wouldn’t have to shout back and forth to one another. Against the Grain is more of an upscale eatery than a pub, and lacking the pretentiousness found at many similar places. The interior of the restaurant had a rustic but modern feel to it – lots of warm contrasting colors, wood tables with leather banquette seating at the booths; the atmosphere felt quite relaxed and inviting. I loved the amount of natural light that was allowed into the restaurant – I preferred that over some of darker interiors of the local pubs. There were tables on the main floor, as well as a spacious area for the bar and a patio on the second floor. The hostess greeted us promptly and seated us at one of the booths on the main floor.
We were given a brunch menu as well as their regular lunch menu to order from. The brunch menu was limited compared to their lunch menu however it covered a range of items from savoury to sweet and included traditional items such as bacon and eggs, French toast as well as some slightly more adventurous items like a duck egg frittata and brisket ‘n’ egg. I debated over the duck egg frittata and the French toast but sweet always trumps savory for me and I ordered the French toast. Besides, I figured it if was good, I’d come back for the frittata or something else.
Service was initially a bit slow – there only seemed to be one waiter on the main floor. Perhaps he was solo because it was a holiday, I’m not sure. It felt like they could have used a second waiter or at least a table runner to help out. The coffee seemed to take a long time and it was only after we had spoken to the waiter that he explained that it was still in the process of brewing. The long wait made it seem as though we had been forgotten; had he let us know initially, we would have been less anxious. However, the hostesses were good about coming by our table to check on us and to assure us that things were on the way. The food arrived about 15 minutes after we had placed our orders. I had ordered Fred’s Bread Raisin French Toast ($14), Dawn chose The Urban Classic ($10) while Matt opted for the ATG Burger ($17).
My dish was beautifully plated and didn’t seem to be an ordinary French toast dish. The raisin bread was cut into 2.5” rectangular slices, topped with a small dollop of orange flavored mascarpone cheese, while the plate was drizzled with a good amount of maple syrup. There were bits of a crispy almond crumble that had a meringue-like texture and several slices of fresh banana – loved that these weren’t overripe or mushy. The exterior of the French toast had a nice crunch to it while the inside of the bread stayed warm and soft. The orange flavored mascarpone cheese was my favorite and I enjoyed the creamy citrus flavor. I’m not sure how the “bananas foster” played into the dish – there was no ice cream or rum to speak of; just banana pieces scattered on the plate. Regardless, I still enjoyed my french toast very much.
Although I didn’t get a bite of the ATG burger, it looked mouthwateringly good! I figured if Matt liked it, I would make a return trip for dinner or lunch. The burger was served with a giant onion ring, Sriracha aioli, thick cut bacon and cheddar cheese along with sides of coleslaw and sweet potato fries. Matt’s only complaint was that the bacon was a bit chewy and difficult to eat. I managed to sneak a sweet potato fry which was still wonderfully crunchy, even at the end of our meal.
Finally, the Urban Classic – the traditional breakfast dish of eggs, potatoes, toast and sausage. It was a generous plate and I loved that the eggs weren’t browned by the kitchen – that’s a personal pet peeve of mine. Dawn’s only complaint was that the potatoes were over-salted but everything else seemed spot on.
I was impressed with Against the Grain’s farm to table concept – the use of seasonal produce and locally grown foods. I was also happy to see that they used antibiotic-free and growth hormone-free meats. I was impressed enough to make a return trip to try out the lunch or dinner menu. Brunch for three came to $46.33, we were not charged for the coffee or tea (possibly be because of the delay). For more information on Against the Grain Urban Tavern, check out their website.