Thursday, February 24, 2011

not all breakfasts are created equal

I love to brunch. To me, this delightful meal has gone beyond the status of mere noun and become a verb, i.e. "Hello dear fried. What are you doing next Sunday? Would you and your partner care to come brunching with us?" Eggs, hollandaise, wilted spinach, orange slices, veggie lasagna, smoked salmon, mimosas, endless coffee... that is my idea of culinary paradise. No matter where I am, whether at home or away visiting friends, I am perpetually drawn to the allure of a long, lingering late breakfast. I have my favourite places in my adopted cities of Ottawa and Montreal. I also know the best quiches, french toast, and breakfast sandwiches here in Edmonton. Recently, Vue Weekly did a feature on brunching in E-town and reviewed a number of my favourite haunts as well as exciting new restos that have opened in the past year or so. You can check out that article as well as other restaurant write-ups here. I make it my mission to try them all out. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on breakfast and the lazy hours drawing into the afternoons over friends, coffee, and conversation.

The new Urban Diner, southside
8715 109 St Tel. 780-437-7275
This was an odd experience. I had wanted to try this place out earlier, but when I showed up with a girlfriend shortly after 10 on a Wednesday morning, we found the door was locked with the hours printed on the glass stating that they didn't open until 11. What kind of breakfast place doesn't serve breakfast during breakfast time? Already this put me a bit on edge. When I returned another time with J on a Saturday we walked in to the busy dining room and were immediately informed that the lot we parked in right next to the restaurant was not for restaurant patrons and J was told he had to move his car to the customer parking in the back. There was no parking in the back. Whatever few stalls belonged to the restaurant were already occupied. Once he came back in out of the cold he had to register his vehicle with the hostess. Not a good start to brunch. Inside the restaurant patrons chatted and laughed boistrously. The din was actually so loud that J and I could hardly hear each other. I think the high ceilings and skylights, though lovely as far as ambiance goes, actually did a disservice to the place in terms of the noise level and ability to really enjoy the surroundings.

The food itself was quite good. I had the smoked salmon bennie - prepared with basil pesto, roasted bell pepper, spinach, and smothered in cheddar sauce and served on a grilled french bread with diner potatoes. It was decent. A rather large helping of potatoes with sweet potatoes mixed in was a nice surprise. J had the quiche of the day. This was definitely the highlight. J and I are on a mission to learn a foolproof, flawless quiche recipe and serve it up to our friends in our new place. This one leads the pack of samples as the most innovative. Rather than cooking the egg mixture in a flaky pastry crust this quiche was baked inside a starburst of puff pastry. The filling was ham, broccoli, and 3 cheeses.
My poached eggs were not overcooked. I hate it when cooks overdo poached eggs. Whats the point? I was, however, disappointed by the cheddar sauce and would have preferred a more traditional hollandaise, maybe with some dill or cheese mixed in. All told the sauce was actually rather bland. I don't think we'll be back here any time soon. If for no other reason than because as we walked back to J's car we noticed something yellow waving like a flag under the driver's side wiper. The poor guy got a parking ticket anyway.

A couple of weeks later, J and I were out house hunting with our friend Mel, who with her dog, Ollie, will be living with us. She and her partner Tony met us at the first house for around 9:45 on a Saturday. The place was great and we all got such a good vibe from the warm interior. The quaint little kitchen and attached dining room was my favourite part. J loved the working wood fireplace and we all got a kick out of the 70's reno job on the bathroom: diagonal cedar wood wall panelling, a skylight, and an original claw-foot bathtub. house hunting was off to a good start but we had a couple of hours to kill before our next viewing. Good thing we were all thinking breakfast.

Route 99 Diner has been around forever. Right on 99th street, it's unchanging retro diner interior is comforting and quirky. The waitresses are all no-nonsense women who never need to write orders down. Old records line the walls and the red vinyl booths are a strange comfort. Strange only because I never lived through this era and yet I feel so attached to the aesthetic appeal of this type of place. This is the kind of place I wish I knew about in highschool. It would have been a much better place to ditch school as opposed to the Humpty's across the street that we always ended up at. Don't get me wrong, I have immense fondness for that Humpty's in its own right. I got a stack of pancakes with breakfast sausages. I think I finished about half of my plate. I passed the rest over to J who had no problem finishing my meal as well as his omelette and hashbrowns. Mel, true to form, got chicken finger with hash browns instead of fries, which they happily accommodated. Tony got bacon and eggs. I sometimes hesitate over the choice between bacon and sausage in breakfast joints because I've had too many strips of limp, mostly fat, greasy bacon. Not so here. Hers were crisp with an equal ration of meat to fat.

Maybe I'm biased, but simple really is better sometimes. Route 99 has been hitting it out of the park for years by staying true to their formula. Straight forward, no frills food served fresh and hot without any pretension.

Route 99 Diner
8820 99 St. Tel. 780-432-0968

Of course, there are also those spots that serve exactly what you want to eat, breakfast, lunch, and diner. The Sugarbowl was Edmonton's saving grace when I was first adjusting to the though of leaving Ottawa and Montreal and returning to my hometown. The thought of 8 months of remorseless winter and what I thought was a veritable culinary wasteland was depressing to say the least. But my memories of summer days on the patio drinking Blanche de Chambly on tap and frosty winter nights ensconced in scintillating conversation over smoked paprika popcorn and applewood smoked cheddar mac and cheese saved me from my worst food nightmares. Coming home I rediscovered the Sugarbowl and came to love it for morning breakfast catchup dates with girlfriends studying at the university down the road. Especially their Huevos Rancheros... I've had them before and been unable to finish more than about half of my plate. So thinking ahead, this time I got a half order. And it was so tasty looking that I forgot to get a shot of it before I dug in. Poached egg, black and white beans, cilantro, and homemade salsa all atop a fried corn tortilla accompanied by more salsa as well as guacamole and sour cream. This dish is a pleasant escape from the frigid temperatures outside. Memories of a much warmer climate and the sound of distant waves wash over me with every bite. I'm hesitant to share.

The Sugarbowl
10922 88th Ave. Tel. 780-433-8369

The atmosphere here is one of its greatest draws. A little bit industrial with exposed red brick walks and air ducts, and little bit offbeat with mismatched wooden tables, and very grounded in the Edmonton food and art scene with local artists' work lining the walls and local ingredients figuring prominently in the daily specials. I love The Sugarbowl. At breakfast, lunch, or dinner or straddling multiple mealtimes. I can easily while away my days here with free wireless that let's me update my blog and plan tonight's dinner. FYI - chicken chorizo sausage in a spicy tomato sauce with pene pasta and a feta and dill green salad. Possibly flourless chocolate cake if I have time.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, we signed the lease on the cute little house with the fireplace last week. Keep your eyes peeled for posts from my new kitchen coming soon!


  1. yay sugarbowl! always a favourite!

  2. Danielle, i need to tell you about my most recent wonderful breakfast experience. It certainly wasn't one of those lazy brunches - it was served promptly at 6:30am! but I'm getting ahead of myself.
    So for our last couple days in Haiti Mike and I went on a little adventure through mountains. W took a tap-tap and a moto up as high as we could go in the hills south of Port au Prince, to a cute tiny village called Furcy. It's actually cold up here, and the pine trees everywhere make it feel more like Canada than Haiti. We spent the night at this huge lodge style hotel, that was probably really busy at some point, but now seemed kind of sad. It was still a beautiful setting to spend a romantic night, and we reveled in actually being cold enough to take a hot shower before bed. we woke up super early for our 8 hour hike through the mountains to the beaches on the other side. Breakfast was included in the (somewhat steep) price of the hotel, and it made it all worth it.

    First came coffee. I'm not even a coffee drinker but it smelled so good - and with Haitian sugar and real milk (almost unheard of around here) - I had a couple cups. Then came watermelon and papaya, coated in sugar as always, but they really didn't need it. Then little toasted bagette rounds, with some jams, and the local favorite, spicy peanut butter. Then omelets, filled with the works (tout bagay!), and tall glasses of fresh grapefruit juice (a little heavy on the sugar too).
    Really, as far as breakfasts go, the food itself wasn't exceptional, but the combination and presentation of it all, and mostly the unexpected location of it all - in a country where the standard breakfast fare is spaghetti with hotdogs - made it a breakfast to remember. You would have loved it!

  3. you forgot Barb & Ernie's on 99th street! not the most ideal location, but my (and andrew's) favourite homestyle Edmo breakfast spot. oh, the hollandaise... and lovely sides of fresh fruit!

    of course, when we were too lazy or hungover, a quick stroll around the corner to Route 99 won us over!

    i see you've broken out to the southside? yay!