James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

In Appreciation of Predictable Omelets

In Appreciation of Predictable Omelets

Brunch in Toronto

Toronto doesn’t have much of a breakfast culture that couldn’t be found in New York or San Francisco: trendy foods, brunch fetishism, and juice bars. You’d be hard-pressed to find a brunch menu without chicken and waffles, or a spot on Queen Street West without a 40-minute wait on Sunday mornings. I happily participate in these rituals, too: who doesn’t love a great pulled-pork eggs Benedict?

But after I graduated from university last spring and started spending more weekday mornings at home, my mom and I started searching for a breakfast spot suitable for a 57-year-old mama with no tolerance for pretension, truffled scrambled eggs or brunch mixologists.

What we found was Cora. Featuring paper placemats adorned with pastel-hued cartoons and gleeful reminders about the importance of breakfast, Cora is a Canadian breakfast chain that began in Montreal in 1987. Our local Cora is across Highway 401, the bustling artery that connects the center of the city to our sizable suburban outpost.

To be sure, Cora is insistently un-hip. The fare sticks pretty close to the diner script: waffles topped with whipped cream and fruit, eggs with toast and sausage, predictable omelets and unsurprising Benedicts. Even the pointedly Canadian additions like breakfast poutine are unglamorous. Plus, it’s all presented in a conspicuously Canadian tone: fair, wholesome, and well-intentioned as hell.

In this tiny corner of the world, a 23-year-old waitress becomes a fast friend, recommending side dishes in a soft accent. The manager asks about your day every time he sees you, without fail. A recently remarried middle-aged woman proudly introduces her infant grandson to the entire establishment; a chorus of delighted “Aww!” follows.

Chains like this are dismissed as indistinguishable replicas of master marketing plans, staffed with broke teenagers and frequented by bored families desperate for something to do on weekends. But here, the structure of the franchise isn’t oppressive. Our little, local Cora has accomplished what almost every overly stylized spot in this city has failed to do: establish a sense of community. And for the times I’m still craving a $15 pulled-pork eggs Benedict, I know I have options.

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