A Misguided Brunch at Ramona’s Kitchen

Ramona's KitchenLocation: 7355 Bayview Avenue, Thornhill
Websitehttp://www.ramonaskitchen.ca/

I should note a couple of things up front: Ramona’s Kitchen is popular.  I showed up with a group of four at around 11:30 on a Saturday, and the place was absolutely packed, with a full restaurant and a bunch of people waiting around for tables.  It took a solid half hour to sit down.  So people obviously like the place.

And everyone I was with really liked the food.  A lot.

Ramona's Kitchen

That being said?  I ordered the breakfast poutine, and it was kind of shocking how bad it was.

The dish consists of hash browns (which they call “tri-coloured potatoes” for the three types of potatoes they use), hollandaise sauce, cheese curds, and a poached egg.

The individual components were all decent — the potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the hollandaise was rich and creamy, and the poached egg had a perfectly runny yolk.

Ramona's Kitchen

But the whole thing was just off.

It was served in a tall, narrow bucket, which I guess is a fun presentation, but really awkward to eat out of.

And while most of the components were good, the curds were a bit too salty and tasted stale (fresh curds should squeak when you bite into them; these did not).  And though the potatoes were hot and fresh, the hollandaise was only warm, which didn’t provide enough heat to get the curds even vaguely melty.

Ramona's Kitchen

Also (I sure have a lot of complaints about these cheese curds, don’t I?), the majority of the pieces were tiny little curd fragments, and since they were cold and unmelted, the whole thing was unappealingly cottage-cheese-esque.

The hollandaise was quite good, though, as were the potatoes, so you’d think that alone would be enough to make this delicious.  I mean, crispy potatoes?  Delicious.  Hollandaise?  Also delicious.  But if there was ever a case of “too much of a good thing,” this is clearly it.  The entire bucket was absolutely swimming in heavy, creamy hollandaise, and it’s just overkill.  It’s like hollandaise pudding with potatoes.  It’s off-putting.

Ramona's Kitchen

That’s not to mention that, by the bottom of the bucket, the hollandaise had started to congeal, making it even thicker and richer, with a gluey, mayonnaise-like consistency.

But again: I think this is a good restaurant?  Just don’t order the breakfast poutine unless you really, really like hollandaise (and I do!  But not as much as I thought, apparently).

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Cheesy Fried Goodness at the Cracker Barrel in Buffalo

Location: 6643 Transit Road, Buffalo, NY
Websitehttps://www.crackerbarrel.com/

When I was a kid, my family and I used to go to Florida every summer.  We’d always drive there, and a stop at the Cracker Barrel was a must.  It’s not exactly gourmet, but if you’re craving greasy southern comfort food, it nicely fits the bill.

Their current special is something called Southern Bowls; I went with the Sausage, Grits Cakes n’ Green Tomato Gravy Bowl, which I couldn’t resist.  I mean, read this description from their menu and tell me you don’t immediately want to eat it:

Enjoy a fresh take on Southern flavors with two deep-fried stone ground pimento cheese grits cakes and our Sweet Pepper n’ Red Skin Hash topped with sausage patties, two scrambled eggs, and shredded Colby cheese all smothered in our green tomato gravy with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Yeah.

Cracker Barrel

And it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think it would be from that description.  None of the individual components stand out as being particularly great, but they all kind of meld together into one cheesy, creamy, delicious mess.  In particular, the zingy green tomato gravy does a great job of adding a pop of vibrant flavour, and cutting through the richness of the eggs and the cheese and the grits.

Eggs Benedict (?) at Smash Kitchen

Smash KitchenLocation: 4261 Highway 7, Unionville
Websitehttp://www.smashkitchen.com/

Is eggs benedict still eggs benedict if you don’t include the hollandaise sauce?  Traditionally, that dish consists of an english muffin topped with meat (usually ham or bacon), a poached egg, and hollandaise.

That’s four things; the hollandaise is 25 percent of the dish.   How far can you change something until it’s no longer that thing?  Is it still spaghetti and meatballs if you replace the tomato sauce with alfredo?  Probably not!

Which is to say that I just ordered the Smash Benedict from Smash Kitchen, and they replaced the hollandaise with gravy.  To be fair, they also have a traditional eggs benedict on the menu, so that does kinda give them license to mess around with it in their other offerings.

The problem is, I missed the hollandaise.  This particular benedict featured an english muffin topped with pulled pork, cheese, the standard poached egg, and the aforementioned gravy.  The pulled pork was tossed in a very vinegary barbecue sauce that, while tasty, absolutely dominated the dish.

A heaping serving of creamy hollandaise might have helped to cut the vinegary sharpness of the pork, but the gravy was completely lost.  It may as well have not even been there.  I had to eat most of this with some hash browns to help mellow out that strong barbecue sauce flavour.

Still, it certainly wasn’t bad, and the crispy fried hash browns were a very tasty accompaniment.  But if I came back, I’d probably just stick with the classic benedict (there was also a crab cake benedict that looked tasty, and yes — that one had hollandaise on it).

The Diner House 29

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, OntarioI watch a ridiculous amount of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  It isn’t often that I go to a restaurant that feels like it would fit in on that show (we just don’t seem to have a lot of restaurants like that in the GTA).  But Guy would be right at home at the Diner House 29 in St. Catherines.

There were a few things on the menu that caught my eye, but I went with Porky’s Revenge: “Roasted Pork Belly on a Toasted Bagel Bun with 2 Fried Eggs, House-made Onion Chutney,  Niagara-Peach Mayo & Monterey Jack.”

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, Ontario

Pork belly is one of those trendy ingredients that’s popped up on pretty much every menu over the last several years.  But I still have a hard time saying no to it.

And the version here is good.  I have a friend who teases me over the use of the word “unctuous,” because it’s one of those words that really isn’t in a normal person’s vocabulary.  It’s pretty much exclusive to food nerds/writers/bloggers (see also: mouthfeel).

That being said, this sandwich was unctuous AF.  Between the rich, fatty pork belly, the runny yolk from the eggs, the mayo, and the gooey cheese, the sandwich screams unctuous.  There’s really no other word to describe it.

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, Ontario

And yet it wasn’t too rich.  The sweet chutney helps to balance things out, and the flavours all work so well together that it never seems one-note.

The bagel bun was quite dense, with a very crispy exterior.  It would have been too much for your average sandwich, but there was so much going on here that the hearty bun was just right.

My biggest issue is that the sandwich is so overstuffed and slippery that as soon as I picked it up, it immediately started to fall apart.  I panicked, took a quick bite, then set the sandwich down and proceeded to eat the rest with a fork and knife.

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, Ontario

The sandwich comes with a salad, soup, or potatoes on the side.  I got the rice, beans, and pesto soup; it was absolutely crammed with stuff and had a satisfying pesto flavour.  It was hearty and tasty.