I named The Drake Hotel as my favourite brunch spot in my roundup restaurant post for 2009. This post has been in the works for quite a while and this weekend’s brunch gave me the push I needed to finish it.
At the Drake the best brunch tables are in the lounge on the elevated platform that looks out onto Queen Street. Sandwiched between the sunny view of a slowly awakening Queen West and the lounge which is more familiar in semi-darkness gives these spots a pleasantly surreal air. These tables also seem more removed–at least in a psychological sense if not in an auditory one–from the stroller-equipped large groups that fill the rest of the lounge and the back dining room on busy mornings. I find diners in the (bright and sunny) cafe can be forgotten by their servers and the back dining room’s dark intimacy is much better suited for dinner–even with the adequately distracting, backlit forest scene.
Service at brunch is good if a bit inconsistent. Always friendly in a brunch-calibrated way the tone is carefully set starting at the reception desk. I get the sense that servers do a great job of calibrating the pace and amount of contact needed by the various brunch customers. When we brunched on a soon-to-expire gift certificate our server was happy to join us in our quest to make sure we spent it all right up to taking us across the lobby and suggesting options from the cafe’s baked goods.
On the negative side, perhaps inspired by this friendly casualness, our server who accidentally brought a double Bloody Caesar (instead of the ordered singled) to shrug it off as what she “always need for brunch” instead of offering to fix her mistake. We’ve also hit the “oh I’ll just find your server” snag more than once even when the room is almost empty and in reply to simple requests for more coffee or forgotten cutlery. I understand the reasons for assigning a set number of tables to a certain server but it seems like it would be just as easy to say “table eight needs more water/a fork/their bill” as “you should probably head over to table eight and see what they want.”
In my review of the Rebel House brunch I touched on the fact that eggs in restaurants were never really my thing. For this reason, I always appreciate a brunch menu that includes options that lean more towards lunch. The Drake definitely does this, but first a few words about what they cutely refer to as “Munch-y Things” and “Breakfast-y Things”.
On one visit I started with the smoked salmon bagel ($9). Smoked salmon for brunch (or just about anytime including a cured version straight out of my own fridge at midnight) is a favourite of mine. The dish here is executed very well. Bagel is well-toasted, cream cheese is generous, salmon is right on but I don’t understand why a slippery, out-of-season tomato has impinged between the fish and cheese. Taste- and texture-wise it adds nothing. Also why can’t the capers go directly on the cream cheese where they’ll stay put instead of sliding around on top of the salmon?
The scones–that carry a positive Amy Pataki endorsement right on the menu–are a great balance between baked good and accompaniments and perfect for sharing.
Sadly, the really great huevos rancheros have been dropped from the menu. This was an egg dish that even I could rely on but luckily the eggs benedict ($12) are a triple to the rancheros’s home run. Perfectly-poached eggs and the nice touch of house-smoked pork loin instead of ordinary peameal bacon are the definite high points. The BBQ fries have a just-right spiciness that cuts the richness of the eggs and hollandaise as well as the fogginess and cotton mouth of hangovers. These fries are a big part of what pulls the Drake into the top-tier of brunch experiences in Toronto.
Chicken and waffles ($14) sit in the breakfast section of the menu even though half of the duo is quite obviously savoury. A simple presentation that uses only maple syrup and cherry jam as garnish keeps this combination of unhealthiness from seeming over-indulgent. I was baffled that on one occasion this order came out from the kitchen chicken-less but the situation was quickly and gracefully corrected.
Venturing still further into the lunch part of the menu we come upon one of the City’s best best burgers, The Drake Burger ($12). This option has gained a deserved reputation as, in the words of a wise gentleman at a neighbouring table, “that famous burger of yours”. After putting to rest his concerns that it might be “previously frozen or overcooked” his server even offered to have the kitchen cook it to his requested level of doneness and revealed that it is the exact same burger that goes for sixteen bucks on the dinner menu. At a 25% discount I’m happy to take on for the team and have a burger at brunch.
The Cobb Salad ($12) is my go-to option on more clear-headed mornings when I am trying to balance the previous night’s dietary sins rather than liquid indulgences. The bacon is crispy, the chicken is obviously not an after-thought and the Benedictine blue cheese is really delicious. There is something godly about the cobb salad concept that combines so many of my favourite foods and slaps a healthy label on it. The portion of perfectly-ripe, nutty avocado has slipped recently, it seems, and I would be wiling to bear a price hike if it meant more than a quarter of one in my salad.
As it should be brunch at the Drake is very much about the good food. The trip to one of the pleasantly sunny tables in the lounge–whether by subway or just down the stairs from one of the Drake’s excellent crash pads–is still high on my recommended list.