Grand Opening of the New Swissbaker’s Stohr-front

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Four days after the biggest red carpet show of the year, a different red carpet was rolled out in Allston. The Stohr family opened their second Swissbaker’s location with a grand celebration and I was honored to walk the red carpet (no, that’s not me pictured below).

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After attending a pre-opening tour with the Boston Brunchers, I had to return for the big event to get my pretzel fix. The Stohr family’s hospitality is as notorious as Swiss engineering. Unlike the strictly business-oriented food spots around Boston, Swissbakers opened their doors to the public like they would guests in their own home. Employees, or rather “guest huggers” as Thomas Stohr likes to call them, greeted guests with a genuine smile and  ushered their way through the crowd with trays of fresh baked goods. Anxious guests helped themselves to an abundance of free food, free drinks and exciting prizes. I sank with disappointment as I watched a 9 year old boy walk away with a supreme Lindt gift package. But, it wasn’t long before pretzel baguettes and choco weggli’s (buttery rolls laced with chocolate chips) lifted my spirits once again.

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Along with some fantastic ham and Swiss croissants, and chewy Leckerli (honey cookies) packed with flavor,  there was a counter filled with tempting Berliners. These are not your standard jelly doughnuts! Golden, doughy shells cover a fluffy interior where only a touch of home-made filling rounds out this delightful dessert. Go for the Apple Berliner!

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And if you’ve had your fill of baked goods, try heading over to their hot counter where you can order Swiss-style meals. My next order will undoubtedly be the Rösti potatoes with smoked salmon- a phenomenal breakfast dish that should make its way onto more menus. And although the location isn’t too glamorous, it is definitely worth stopping into the Swissbakers for a snack, a sweet and a smile.

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Brunch Report: See you on the Back Deck

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Where do Boston Brunchers go to eat when the weather finally hits below 0 (Celsius that is)?

…An outdoor patio!

Picture your favorite outdoor patio, filled with rich wooden tables, an abundance of greenery,  a protruding octagon bar and, of course, a massive grill. Now add four walls and roof, and you have our most recent complimentary brunch destination: Back Deck. So I lied. It wasn’t outdoors but, in the best possible way, it sure felt like it.

The décor here is great.  Everything about this place screams outdoors, especially the grill-heavy menu.  Grilling is exactly the way to go when deciding what to order. Start with the grilled grapefruit:  a sweet and refreshing start to the meal, which should start finding its way into more brunch menus.  Honey and heat do wonders for the sometimes too tart grapefruit, helping mellow out some of the acidity and while easing up some of the juices.  Your eyes will thank you.

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Other starters are borrowed, a little too heavily, from a lunch or dinner menu with items ranging from grilled chicken livers to grilled hot wings. If deciding, go with the butternut squash soup. It’s creamy, rich and has a good balance of fall flavors and delightful textures.

For the heartier meals, there are a lot of creative comforts to choose from: Grilled three-cheese sandwich, a selection of beef, turkey or veggie Backyard burgers, and even a Lamb Kefta Roll-up.  But, if you’re looking for a slew of morning sweets, you won’t find much here. There is only one oversized French toast dish that is well worth ordering, but pancakes and crepes are nowhere to be found.

Let’s get to the most important part- the eggs.  The menu sports five solid egg-centered items.  The salmon benedict was a solid dish. Nicely poached eggs with a runny yolk that blended well with the subtle, yet tasty hollandaise, decent home fries complete with grilled onions and peppers, and a good portion of salmon. The smoked salmon here is not your typical thin-sliced, silky fish but more of a chunky piece of flesh that resembles a flaked, poached salmon. Although I appreciate the variation in my benedict, the salt that usually comes with the classic thin-sliced salmon was missing from the larger cut and the texture was a bit dry.

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The Eggs Diablo and Sweet Potato Hash were substantial but slightly unbalanced in spice. While some bits were well-blended, a few were over-spiced and others completely flavorless. That aside, these meals are fresh, simple and a great portion size. No matter what you order, be sure to pair your meals with the Back Deck Lemonade. Fresh, sunny and not-too-sweet, this drink is ideal!

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Of course, we couldn’t resist taking a peak at the dessert menu. Thank goodness we did because out came a delicious peanut butter s’mores with truly exceptional graham crackers. The mess of chocolate and sticky marshmallows are sensational with the thick crunch of the salty-sweet cookie. The true winner is the Drunken Three Musketeers Ice-cream. Drenched in boozy goodness, this ice-cream has a big hit of flavor that brings out the summer in this patio setting. Next time, I’d even add a dollop in my coffee for a real rise and shine.

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Brunch Report: Look for the Lone Star

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Who likes hot breakfasts? No, I mean spicy hot…

Well, let me start by saying I normally don’t. I like my morning meals to ease me into the day instead of jerking me into hyper-alertness. My roommate would strongly disagree. Straight from Bombay, India, she insists that spicy breakfasts get the mind, body and bowels going. That they do.

Today the Boston Brunchers and I made the trip over to Deep Ellum’s younger, spicier, yet equally liquored up sister, and one of my favorite Allston taco bars- Lone Star. Being Canadian, I was never exposed to the fresh and exciting tacos my West Coast friends always seem to rave about (although the taco revolution is now rapidly emerging in Toronto with hot spots such as Grand Electric and La Perla). So, with my minimal taco knowledge and an ignorant disinterest for all things corn, I was pleasantly surprised when I took a bite out of my very first Baja Fish Taco at Lone Star. A moist and malleable soft taco shell wrapped perfectly around a crisp, beer-battered strip of tender white fish is truly the star of this Taco joint. The “fish of the day” taco is layered with pickled, purple cabbage and a sweet-heat mango chili aioli. It’s a two-bit taco so you’ll want to order at least three.

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Fish Tacos are not exactly on the top of everyone’s list for morning eats, so here are some of the more breakfast appropriate menu items the Brunchers got to snack on, compliments of Lone Star. Firstly, the coffee is surprisingly good. A solid cup of mild grounds is a great way to begin your meal here, but with the jumble of fiery flavors and rich sauces, I found myself craving a beer instead of a cup of joe. Although it is nothing compared to the Baja fish, the breakfast taco is a simple and easy option. Scrambled eggs combined with avocado crema, just-salty-enough cheese, and mild salsa is satisfying and tasty.

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The Huevos Rancheros offers a tasty tomato-rich sauce with an ample amount of house beans, eggs and slightly soggy tortillas to soak up all the flavors. This is perhaps one of the largest dishes on the brunch menu so it’s a good choice for the hungry visitor.

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Jalapeño Corn Cakes are good for sharing. Drizzled with syrup, the warm and dense cakes are a nice alternative to the boring pancake, but they do serve up quite the kick so don’t expect them to cool down your palate from the spicy homemade hot sauces. And yes, you will want to drench your dishes in the delicious sweet potato, habanero or tomatillo, agave and jalapeño liquid accompaniments.

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As much as I enjoyed the breakfast side of the menu, i was most impressed by the regular items which make an appearance even after the 4pm brunch cut off. If there is one item that you absolutely must try, it is the ceviche. The Brunchers and I couldn’t get enough of this seafood treat. Complete with impeccably fresh tuna, this dish has  just the right amount of tangy citrus, crisp bites of cucumber and juicy strips of sweet mango to cut the acidity. It is exceptional and one of the most vibrant and cooling dishes on the menu. Overall, Lone Star definitely knows how to heat up the morning, but my favorites flavors  lye with the softer and more refreshing items on the menu.

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Brunch Report: A Good Find @ Foundry

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The choice to switch to a buffet for any meal, for any consumer, at any restaurant, is just plain dangerous. Customers fear overindulging and low-quality fare. The price is either incredibly high- forcing consumers to “want their money’s worth” and slavishly fill their plates with more than they can consume, or the price is cheap mirroring the ingredients and selection. The restaurant risks serving immense amounts of food which, while sweating in life-less steel domes, becomes cold, soggy, and stale.

Luckily, Boston Brunchers got to experience a whole new kind of buffet this past weekend. Davis Square’s Foundry on Elm offered us a complimentary breakfast, which included a sample of their newly introduced brunch buffet and items off of their consistently popular menu. Whether selecting the buffet or traditional menu, every breakfast should start with an order of Foundry’s French Beignets served with a surprisingly scrumptious lemon curd, that offered a much cleaner flavor than the typically overly-tart or sickeningly sweet contenders.

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The buffet consists of all the requirements needed to satisfy a breakfast-lover’s cravings. The benedict manages to have a creamy, runny yoke, the bacon still crispy, and the scrambled eggs are fluffy and warm.  The prize goes to the Pain Perdu Pudding with roasted apples and “please-may-I-have-some-more” pecan caramel sauce. Its dense, custard-like texture and vanilla-spice flavor is a soothing delight that will make you favor your spoon over your fork.  Also available for brunch buffet is an abundance of sausage, home fries, a plate full of fresh fruits (including grapefruit halves, which I think should make more of an appearance in the breakfast fruit tray family), and petite jams to smother over the assortment of fresh tarts and pastries.

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The apple Dutch Baby is pleasant, but take the Pain Perdu if deciding between the two. The steak and eggs are an excellent option from the menu. A tender cut of flat iron steak, farm eggs (whichever way you like them) and descent home fries make for a hearty and satisfying breakfast. But, if you’re looking for more than satisfaction move your finger down two rows until you hit the Vol-au-Vent. Don’t worry about pronouncing it, just point to it as soon as your waiter comes by. This decadent puff pastry filled with creamy spinach and bacon beautifully soaks up the combination of sapphire spilling yolk from the poached egg and the indulgent Mornay sauce drizzled around the plate. Sprinkled with chives and layered with savory flavors, this dish is unbelievably heavy, but absolutely worth it.

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The buffet brunch here is definitely not the afternoon tea affair you might expect from other all-you-can-eat brunch places like The Blue Room or Henrietta’s Table. But the sufficiently sized self-serve spread is well thought out and tasty… but most importantly affordable. The Buffet is only $15.00! Foundry gives you the best of both worlds, a simplified top-notch menu and a simple, yet filling buffet option.  So go ahead, fill up your plates!

Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Good Night: An Introduction

Twenty years ago, I cracked my very first egg into a Pyrex glass mixing bowl. The jagged shell tore the yolk open as it splashed into the bowl; shards from one half of the shell floated around and the other half slipped out of my hand and crashed over the rest of the liquid.  It was incredible.

Five years ago, at 6 in the morning, I cracked an egg on my very own flat top on the opening day of my franchise restaurant. In 2008 I opened the 7th Sunset Grill- a popular breakfast franchise in the Greater Toronto Area. Knowing next to nothing about opening a business, having barely-descent cooking skills and far too much confidence, I decided to take on the restaurant world. With my semi-retired, heavily accented father by my side, I began one of the greatest and most gut-wrenching experiences of my life.  In the first six months I became a complete insomniac, suffered a minor heart-attack, cut and burned my hands, ruined several relationships, gained 20 pounds, hated everything, hated everyone, and worst of all…began to hate myself. No one will deny that the restaurant world is tough, but when it is a reflection of you, every broken plate, broken egg and broken customer relationship cuts a little deeper.

Perhaps at 23  I wasn’t entirely ready to open a restaurant. Who am I kidding? I was definitely NOT ready, but I was ready to learn the valuable lessons that came my way. As time passed, I began to develop meaningful relationships with my staff and customers. The kitchen crew was made up of four Sri-Lankan line cooks who cared as much about the restaurant as I did, the servers always had smiles on their faces, the cashiers were sweet high school girls who were eager to please, and my father…an impeccable mathematician and highly acclaimed financial advisor, cleaned tables and washed dishes. He never smiled- not because he didn’t want to, but because, I am convinced, Russian dads just don’t know how.  But I knew every time he spilled ketchup on his black shirt or slipped on the puddle of water that formed beneath the washing station, he was just happy trying to help. To him, hard work is hard work, and for that lesson, I am forever indebted to him.

Following a rocky first year, the restaurant finally began to run smoothly and we all felt like we could take a breath. We were met with friendly familiar faces in the morning, nearby shop owners would continuously come by for cups of coffee, corporate companies held morning meetings over specialty breakfast spreads, families celebrated birthdays and holidays on the crowded patio and I began to fall in love with this world. Eventually, Sunset Grill was THE neighborhood restaurant. We held charity events, raising money for cancer research and the World Wildlife Fund, and hosted community celebrations for Easter, Christmas and Mother’s Day. I was eager to create new specials and whip up seasonal soups from scratch. Our regulars helped me regain faith in the human race.  I loved Sunset Grill and we grew together.

After nearly three years of ups-and-downs, I finally decided I needed a change in my life. I loved what I was doing, but felt…tired and old. After getting accepted into the Gastronomy Graduate program at Boston University, without a second thought, I sold three years of my life and moved to a new city. I regained my passion for food and knowledge and am forever grateful for the incredible experiences I had at Sunset Grill. I do miss it…well some of it.

One thing I will never forget is the incessant questions I received about the name of the restaurant. “Why ‘Sunset’ and not ‘Sunrise’?” people would ask. Honestly, I don’t really know. I do know that there is something undeniably special about breakfast. It nourishes the day, strikes inspiration, drives the body and sharpens the mind. To be without breakfast is to start the day empty. Breakfast is the greatest meal of the day and greatness should be served at all hours.

Natalie

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