Monday, November 9, 2009

School Bakery and Cafe, Toronto ON Canada

Monday breakfast in Toronto is a bit tricky – much like dinner on a Sunday it seems that most places are closed. Having already tried Aunties and Uncles as well as Bonjour Brioche a quick browse of the Toronto e-magazines led me to “School” – a restaurant decidedly far away from my friend’s place on King East, but seemingly worth the trip given the hours, online menu, and my enjoyment of long morning walks in the city. Having eaten plenty the previous day I got up early, showered, and prepared for the 8 mile walk with Toronto’s workday crowd beginning yet another week.

Arriving shortly after 8:30am the restaurant was largely empty with only 4 other groups divided between the two main rooms. Having walked through the rather redundant collection of condos, coffee shops, and gas stations en route I honestly had to wonder how people ever even decided to come to School given its location. Browsing around the small main room I eyed the bakery counter as a tall, thin man yelled from across the room “you can sit anywhere ya like.” Taking a seat in the middle of the dining room I browsed around at the kitschy concept – clocks, apples, chalkboards, bookshelves – and waited nearly 5 minutes before finally deciding to get up and help myself to a menu – a single piece of paper attached to a clipboard.

Browsing the “all week brunch” menu I instantly felt the bait-and-switch at play – the menu was approximately 1/3 the size of the online menu and lacked three of the items I’d considered ordering. What was left on the menu, aside from oddly high prices given the lack of high-end ingredients, was admittedly interesting and as such I decided to sample two of the more unique choices. With my decisions made easily 10 minutes before my sleepy-eyed (and questionably hung over) waiter made his way to my table I picked up a copy of the newspaper and entertained myself by reading about the Leafs, the HHoF inductions, and the game I’d been at the day before.

When my server finally arrived I placed my order for a coffee and two items – the coffee was Illy and was as good as expected – finally, a decent coffee at a brunch spot – unfortunately the selection of artificial sweeteners was “nutrasweet only, bro.” Returning to my newspaper and listening to the awful children-singing-crappy-music soundtrack of the restaurant I next watched my server flirt with a young lady who’d entered only 1 minute ago, filling her coffee eagerly and taking her order for a parfait within 3 minutes of her sitting down.

Waiting only approximately 15 minutes before my pair of dishes was delivered my server brought the dishes to me and asked if I wanted a refill – assenting to this offer I set down my paper and settled in to enjoy. Beginning first with the hot option, Orange Cinnamon French Toast with Valrhona Drizzle I was instantly displeased – the bread was essentially an undercooked (IE, doughy inside) thick white bread with minimal flavor, the oranges were no better than those sold at the local Wal-mart (No-Frills for the Canada crowd,) and there was so little chocolate sauce (note, the menu calls it “sauce” while I prefer drizzle) that I wondered how it could even be counted as an ingredient. After many great breakfasts on previous trips I can undoubtedly state that this was the worst French Toast I’ve had in years.

Fairing somewhat better than the bread was my second dish - Toblerone and Banana with Frozen Nougat. Essentially a whipped caramel-milk parfait topped with perhaps an ounce of Toblerone and 1/4 of a fresh banana the dish ate like a light ice-cream and was plenty sweet. Tasting this early in the meal and being so bored with the “toast” I actually spooned nearly 1/2 of the nougat atop the French toast – the combination of the two, at $18, was actually pretty good – albeit lukewarm.

Thoroughly unimpressed with the service and food I requested another cup of coffee to go and having heard from a friend that their cupcakes were excellent decided to take a chance – selecting a Viva Puff and a Peanut Butter Banana to go. Paying the bill I left a better-than-deserved tip and made my way out to the streets, saving the cupcakes for later. Wandering up to Sonic Boom to pick up a few CDs I’d been eyeing the day before I decided to stop into the Green Beanery for a coffee (an excellent Ethiopian blend) and to try out the cupcakes. While the Peanut Butter Banana was heavy and dull with a frosting that tasted largely of sugar crystals, banana flavoring, and an oiliness reminiscent of Crisco, the Viva Puff was actually quite superb with the fluffy marshmallow topping complimenting the deep chocolate cake well. An additional surprise of the Viva Puff occurred on further mastication when a bite released a large pocket of delicious raspberry filling that made a mess of my hands, but a great memory on my tongue.

Overall I cannot imagine a single intelligent reason why one would go to School for breakfast unless perhaps they were a young female who only wanted a parfait (I mean, can anyone screw up a parfait?) While the cupcake was good and it was nice to finally find a diner/restaurant with good coffee, the service, scene, music, and food was vastly below average and the location obscure at best. While Monday breakfasts in Toronto do appear to be few and far between, I personally think that even Tim Horton’s is a more educated choice than School.

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