Sunday, September 21, 2014

Adventures in Toronto: Brunch at Whitlocks in The Beaches

Whitlocks Sunday Brunch
It was a splendid September late Sunday morning and I felt rather peckish for a fine brunch. Winking at me rather roguishly, Nina said, “I know just the place, Toulouse! Besides, ‘Life’s the Beaches’.”
“You mean ‘Life’s a Beach’,” I corrected her, stressing the singular.

“No, I mean THE BEACHES,” she returned—rather forcefully, I thought. “Come on, you’ll see,” she added and grabbed the ignition crystal to my ToulouseMobile. She dropped it in my paw. “Let’s go!”

I guess she was feeling peckish too. I grabbed my beret and sunglasses.

Never argue with a hungry woman.
Serving Sunday Brunch at Whitlocks

The drive down Toronto’s Queen Street is itself a sight-seeing trip. This commercial street runs east-west through many ethnic neighbourhoods, reflecting international influences of funk and glam with old and new architecture and original niche-style shops and cafes. We headed east on Queen through Leslieville then eventually into ‘The Beaches’. Where I had a little epiphany. Ah…. THE BEACHES… meow…

The Beaches is, in fact, a bohemian-style neighbourhood in Toronto’s East end. Dominated by tree-lined streets and turn of the Century Victorian/Edwardian houses turned into cafes and shops, The Beaches is a popular destination for locals and tourists like me. It gets its name from the expansive sandy beaches that line Lake Ontario just south of Queen Street.

Nina directed us to Whitlocks Restaurant on the south side of the street, just across from a very inviting pub-style bistro called Lion on the Beach (I took note for another time).

Patio of Whitlocks
Whitlocks invited with its side patio dining and original historical turn of the century storefront. Wood-framed windows opened up Italian-style to the breeze, providing indoor-eating with an intimate link to the outdoors. One set of windows had been converted into a buffet-style serving area for an elaborate brunch. Two chefs prepared savory custom omelets to a bevy of customers milling on the street and holding out their plates in anticipation.

We entered and seated ourselves in the outdoor patio beneath the blue and white awning, where Jose our friendly and attentive waiter took our order. He directed us through the restaurant to where the buffet spread out all the way to the front. There, we stepped back onto the street to order our custom omelets from Kunam and Suthan through the window. Kunam was pretty handy with the pan as he flipped his freshly made omelet into the air for a customer with the panache of a seasoned chef (I think he was showing off in front of us)…
Kunam and Suthan serving hot Brunch

Whitlocks serves its Sunday Harvest Brunch Buffet between 9 and 3 pm. For $20 you get all you can eat (kids half price), which includes a rich variety of delicious savories, meats, egg dishes and sweets that vary from week to week. Today Whitlocks offered: shepherd’s pie, eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine, custom omelet, roast beef, mussels, mixed vegetable rice, sausage, pancakes, tasty home fries, and renowned waffles, complete with fruit sauces and real whipped cream. And that was just the beginning! They also served Greek salad, chick pea salad, potato salad, coleslaw, fresh fruit, aromatic fresh-baked brownies, banana bread, and oh-so-exquisite tiramisu. Juice and coffee were included.  The food was tastefully cooked to perfection. And it filled my little belly to perfection too!

Kunum showing us the art of omelet-flipping
Sitting in the patio, I leaned back and drank the richly brewed coffee over my Tiramisu and watched the trees rustle in the invigorating wind. Within a few minutes, it began to rain. A typical Toronto thunderstorm was brewing. The rain swiftly turned into a deluge and pelted down hard, pounding the awning and umbrellas like a drum roll. The wind gusted and the rain decided to fall sideways, soaking patrons who laughed gleefully—we were in The Beaches, after all! Jose ushered us inside out of the misbehaving rain. Nina giggled and pointed to one young couple, who were crawling inside through the open window, plates of food precariously balanced in their outstretched hands.
We rescued our desserts and settled inside with a view of the refreshing downpour, and glad to be dry. The wood and brick walls and funky 1960’s lamps of Whitlock’s high ceilings provides a relaxed and cozy atmosphere inviting friendly chats over coffee or a main meal.
Whitlocks interior

The building remains close to its original form when Philip Whitelocks, a clergyman from England, constructed it in 1891. The clergyman ran a grocery store and post office in the front and a Baptist church in the back. In 1925 it became the first Black Diamond Cheese Factory. Then in 1985 it grew a “Famous Nose” and ten years later it drew the attention of Dimitri Panayiotou, son of master chef Yianni, of the late King Farouk. The current owner, Radha from Sri Lanka, is also Whitlock’s main chef (“The Peoples Chef”), cooking up a storm of wonderful international dishes to an equally international clientele. During the short time that I was there, I recognized French, German and Italian, among more exotic languages spoken among the patrons. Whitlock’s serves quality food and drink with an international menu of soups, appetizers and main dishes, complete with friendly service and a relaxed cosmopolitan atmosphere, conducive to lingering.

I was reminded of Ramsis Café on the World in Louisville, KY, another bistro-style restaurant that showcases international cuisine of impeccable quality.

Whitlocks: go for the brunch; linger for the dinner.
Contact: 1961 Queen Street East, The Beaches (Toronto); 647-260-0604

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