Best Bet for Brunch at Universal Grill

French toast

To describe the simplicity and beauty of brunch, I don’t need to look any further than The Simpsons. In one of my favourite episodes, a disingenuous Homer buys Marge a bowling ball for her birthday, and an enraged Marge decides to keep it and take lessons. Her suave, flirtatious French bowling instructor, Jacques, defines brunch as “not quite breakfast, not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end.”

Universal Grill, often listed as one of the best places for brunch in Toronto, is a little out of the way at Dupont and Shaw, but very much worth the journey. The retro mid-century style diner, with its bright turquoise and yellow colour scheme, checkered linoleum floors, Formica counters and large booths is a feast for the eyes. As the relatively affordable Ossington neighborhood is a haven for students, hungover 20-somethings quickly fill the patio seats around us, silently entertaining us with their studied nonchalance and ironic t-shirts.

Unlike Jacques’ pronouncement, my cantaloupe comes, not as a slice, but as bite-sized chunks mixed with melon and grapes, topped with real whipped cream and served on the side of my massive order of French toast ($9). The French toast is thick, slightly crispy and cooked properly all the way through, which delights me, as it end my streak of bad luck and soggy French toast at a myriad of other brunch places. The only thing marring the perfection is the overly acidic raspberry compote. I don’t like it sweet, but this is a little too tart for my tastebuds, so I opt for the maple syrup delivered with my meal instead.

Grilled chorizoCheesy scrambled eggs, spuds and toast ($7.50), with a side of grilled chorizo ($3.50) make for nice light brunch items on this surprisingly hot September Saturday. Simple and homey, the cheddar cheese oozes from each forkful of eggs, the roasted spuds are plump and fluffy to the bite, the rye toast buttered lightly and served with an impressive assortment of jams as well as peanut butter – a rare item according to the husband, who is into peanut butter and notices such things. The grilled chorizo, which we fight over, is a little charred, spicy and not too fatty. Ostensibly a garnish, a small slice of ripe, deep red Campari tomato also disappears quickly.

Friendly quick service from drink order to bill payment have us on our way, refreshed and ready to head back downtown. This seems like the kind of place that Jacques might take his female bowling students for a quiet rendezvous.

Universal Grill
1071 Shaw Street

Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Originally published on Taste T.O.