S.I.L. defines brunch in this city – but who in their right mind wants to Stand In Line on a chilly weekend morning? Sadly, plenty. Hogtowners waiting for brunch is a Toronto phenom and I feel like the Luckiest Girl in Town when I sidle up to the entrance of Lady Marmalade (898 Queen Street East) or Bonjour Brioche (812 Queen Street East) and there’s no one standing there before me, huffing and gasping un-caffeinated breaths of frustration.
I thought things might improve if I went west. A few weekends ago, I crawled out of my lower Riverdale comfort zone and set my dream compass for Vancouver, where they’ve been bragging about tulips and cherry blossoms for months. But reality set in. I was stuck in my SUV, desperate and grumpy with hunger and reached no further than Bathurst and College, land of graffiti-splashed laneways and more cyclists than our mayor can wave a coke pipe at.
Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott Street, at College) is a veritable temple to the dawn-time repast. My Designated Eater and I were both blinded with culinary visions of A&U’s garlicky hash browns ensconced in bacon fat and their soft and pudgy breakfast tacos spiked with chorizo, spilling at the seams with scrambled eggs, pinto beans, cheddar cheese, cilantro and sour cream. But a large crowd of cell-phone-enabled twenty-somethings were already milling about, filling up their outdoor patio like a menacing swarm of tattooed wasps. We knew we were beat.
So we went east again, two blocks, our eyes now fixed on the newly-opened-for-brunch Windup Bird Cafe (382 College Street at Borden). Hail! The entrance contained not a soul – save for a young, pretty server, who rushed up to offer us the unbelievable: one of two free brunch tables on a Sunday in Toronto.
Loaded with windows, Windup Bird Cafe makes morning feel full of promise. While the spring sun streamed in, we felt caressed by the brunch gods and ordered the basics: Eggs Bennie and simple scrambled eggs. Both broke from the mould, featuring an emerald-green pile of lightly sautéed Swiss chard and kale. (Okay, greens are not everyone’s thing but you-know-who scarfed down one and a half portions long before my third-refill of rich, brewed coffee.)
Our table was wobbly, which our server recognized immediately, sending owner Sang Kim to repair. He came armed with a stack of bookmarks to slip beneath the offending leg. But first, he doled out two of them, leading us to discover that Sang is not only handy, but an award-winning Canadian-Korean fiction author who has collaborated with Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and dozens of other Toronto literary heads in The Stories That Are Great Within Us, recently published by Exile Editions.
Sang has been described as a serial restauranteur. Windup Bird is his seventh restaurant and he’s consulted on the opening of 27 others. He presently presides over three – sort of. Seoul Food Co and Yakitori Bar (1 Baldwin Street) is a “two-in-one” resto serving up modern Korean and Japanese food. At “the Bird”, his chef Yumiko Kobayashi focuses on locally-sourced international cuisine and the lunch and dinner menu changes with the seasons. Like brunch, the emphasis is more on local and healthy, versus highfalutin cuisine. Plates are stacked high with my favourite thing – veggies – and every table contains different and very dainty china and silverware. These vintage settings contrast nicely with the mod, lime-green and orange upholstered booths on the second level. It’s an airy, bright spot warmed up with shiny wood floors and patches of exposed brick.
But back to the food: Sang sources his smoky bacon from Metzger Meat products in Hensall, Ontario and buys his bread from the hottest new artisanal bakery in town: Blackbird, which just opened its retail doors in a vacated Cob’s Bakery at 172 Baldwin Street in Kensington. The bread was sublime: a slice of airy, moist Toronto sourdough and a slice of flaxseed and sesame sourdough containing a mystery herb: Oregano, is that you?
I’ll happily windup my birds and fly back to this cafe soon. And if you, my dear readers, concur, I have essentially committed brunch hari kari. Chances are this spot will be Lineup City the next time I have a hankering for eggs.