A Cavalier Attitude Toward the Most Important Meal of the Day

There seems to be something about offering breakfast in a hotel.  I’ve stayed in numerous hotel across Canada and the United States and can make a few  general observations about the most important meal of the day:

1. Free breakfast usually involves a large common room populated with sports teams, messy haired kids wearing butterfly wings and hungover parents.  Some will settle for a cold boiled egg and plain bread because the line up for the waffle machine and the toaster is too long.  If you do get the the waffles, it’s a complex process of pour, fill, rotate and wait.  While waiting, you look around and make conversation with a family member, a stranger or the orange juice carafe  in an effort to avoid the jeers and dirty looks of the 15 people in line waiting for Belgian deliciousness. Kids are allowed to have free reign at the breakfast apparatus confirmed by the crunch of fruit loops beneath the feet of morning zombies.

2.  For those who prefer to eat a croissant while blow drying their hair, there is the room service option.  Fifteen bucks will get you a choice of baked goods (with preserves of course), a shot glass of orange juice, a carafe of house coffee and a individual tub of Activia yougurt delivered sometime between 6:45-7:00.  An extra 10 dollars will get you a “hot” breakfast with some eggs supposedly kept warm by the use of a plastic cover.  Either way, the tray ends up on the floor outside door and the faint smell of ketchup fills the halls along the walk to the elevator.

3.  For those adventurous enough to leave their quarters, breakfast at the hotel restaurant is a third option.  Similar to an amusement park, the convenience of proximal eating comes at a premium.   The biggest decision is the choice between the $30 buffet which allows for the dried fruit and nuts as well as the bacon, the $15 continental buffet which the excludes pork products and the premade eggs benny or the a la carte menu which frequently involves a double take at the prices.  That said, at least there’s free refills on the coffee.

Attached to the Hotel Zetta in San Francisco, the Cavalier offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Intrigued by it’s honorable mention in this years James Beard nominations, I wanted to experience at least one meal so I went for breakfast, especially given its proximity to the convention centre. It is constructed to look like a high end pub one may frequent after a game of polo or a fox hunt.  It’s a small menu with 4 or 5 standard morning items.  I opted for the breakfast sandwich consisting of eggs, crisp bacon, pepper cress and a mustard dressing for $13.  I was promised the crispy potatoes  were worth it so I added them for another $6.  I finished off the order with a $4 stumptown decaf coffee. The sandwich was delicious; all the components from the bun to the red onion, cress and mustard condiments hit the mark.  The potatoes, as promised, complemented the sandwich and the coffee was probably the best I had in San Francisco.  That said, it ended up being a $23 breakfast.


The breakfast Sandwich ($13) with fried potatoes ($6) and Stumptown coffee ($4)
The breakfast Sandwich ($13) with fried potatoes ($6) and Stumptown coffee ($4)

My Take 

I’m not saying that I expect to get a breakfast sandwich combo at a hotel for the price of an egg McMuffin combo.  Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious and the service was pleasant but $23 is a little steep.  I would have liked to try lunch of dinner to assess the vibe (it was a bit dull and sleepy during the morning hours), but one can only hit so many places while in town. Maybe James Beard wasn’t  a morning person but hell, at  least there were free refills.

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Review:Toronto:King West:Beast

There are many dichotomies that exist in the world.  Numerous works of literature have been penned which attempt to paint a picture of such polarity.  Charles Dickens tells us a tale of two cities.  Robert Louis Stevenson  describes Dr. Jeckyl and Mr Hyde.  It is no wonder that this concept has crept its way into the culinary world.

Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain have traveled across North America on their Good vs  Evil Tour, embarking on friendly discussions of the triumphs and perils of the culinary culture.  Chef Ripert  is a distinguished chef and a poster boy of the cliché French chef with his frosty hair, pristine chef’s coat and seductive accent.   10 Arts, his restaurant in Philadelphia, is an example of his  simple, clean cooking style with probably the best octopus I have ever had.  Anthony, on the other hand, is a pop culture icon, traveler, author and a celebrity more than he is a chef.  He’s a bone-sucking, bug chewing son of a bitch who tells off food critics and television executives at will.  They are sort of the Beauty and the Beast of the culinary world.

It’s no surprise that Beast, the King West Bistro, was a sponsor of the Good vs Evil tour’s recent stop to Toronto.   It boasts the same premise; good and evil wrapped into one. Other examples include the art, which showcase nubile figures with animalistic heads.  With brunch,  you are offered sweet ketchup together with fiery, housemade hot sauce.  During brunch, you can get a fresh French pressed coffee with a  cherry, coconut donut or one of the filthiest breakfast sandwich in the GTA.  Even the name, Beast, leads one to picture either a noble and majestic animal roaming a grassy plain or flaming soul stealing Lucifer.

I rarely eat brunch and I’m rarely in Toronto with my kids. The mention of a breakfast joint with donuts closed the deal.  They offer a platter of 4 for $10. On this day, there was maple bacon, cherry coconut, a Jack Daniels twist and a Kahlua filled cream donut. Watching two kids fighting for a maraschino cherry is always a blast (in this regard my daughter is good, my son is evil).  They were sinful and quite divine, reminiscent of old school donuts before Tim Horton’s redefined them with their current, par-baked, flimsy version. The finishing touch was a number made to order french press coffee options served with a timer for optimal brewing time.

Array of Donuts (4 for $10)
Array of Donuts (4 for $10)

Beast takes advantage of puffy brunch prices with a $12 bacon and eggs but with a twist…a bottle of Labatt  50 (a testament to the fact that hipsters still can’t let go of beer their fathers and grandfathers drank).  Since my daughter is not a fan of 50 (and the fact she is 13), we opted for the good version (booze free) for $10.  She did get a non-alcoholic ginger beer, which was an aggressively powered elixir which was a bit over the top for a teen palate.  I finished it off and she went with a safer freshly squeezed OJ. As the breakfast, it was an average bacon and eggs, with crisp bacon and slightly soggy potatoes.

Labatt 50 Breakfast $12 ($10 without 50)
Labatt 50 Breakfast $12 ($10 without 50)

The progression from good to evil finished with the beastwich.  Touted as one of the best and nastiest breakfast sandwiches in town, I longed to to see why. The equation is as follows…biscuit, fried chicken, cheese, egg and sausage gravy.  I am a bit biased having a love affair with a similar dish at Lucky’s in Cleveland.    The biscuit was fluffy, the chicken was spot on, I wished for a little more yolkiness with the egg and the gravy was a little less complex than it could have been.  That being said, it held its own and can be considered a leader in GTA breakfast sandwich supremacy. The potatoes could be a bit better and it would be nice to see that void on the plate filled with some grapes, strawberries or another acidic fruit which could tear into the richness of the sandwich. Is $14 worth it?  I’ll let you decide.

Beastwich $14
Beastwich (with remnants of ginger beer)  $14

My Take

Beast offers a fascinating brunch, offering everything from fried pickles to poutine to pork hock.  Even naming their chorizo after Luis Suarez, one of the sweetest yet beastly strikers currently in the English premier league, is an example of the ongoing  theme of polarity.   Don’t expect fluffy pancakes and delicate crepes here; most of the dishes are evil, savory and beast heavy.  The combination of the menu variety and the decent food makes this a place I would come back to again for brunch or dinner…but I would need to be feeling much more Bourdain than I would Ripert.

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