Emma's Country Kitchen
Emma's Country Kitchen has been open just 3 weeks on St. Clair West, but gauging by the warm-toned and casually decorated interior, and the families that spill in around lunchtime, you'd expect it to already be a neighbourhood mainstay.
The homestyle and comfort food-oriented spot sees Rachel Pellett (who previously ran The Stockyards) in the kitchen, and her long-time friend Heather Mee manning the front of house.
The interior is a throwback and loving tribute to country diners, with its long counter, speckled black marble bar tables, and glossed, blonde wood tables and chairs. A haphazard array of family heirlooms line the walls. The space as a whole is a homage to Rachel's grandmother, who ran the original Emma's Country Kitchen for 20 years, and many of her tried-and-true recipes have found their way onto the menu.
The restaurant is open 9 am-4 pm currently (with no plans to serve dinner), and serves a rotating selection of breakfast and lunch classics on weekdays, and a full, elaborate brunch on weekends. When asked how she'd describe the food, Rachel doesn't hesitate. "Really simple. We're not trying to change how food is done, we're just going back to basics. We bake the bread, we cure the meats, and we're just trying to do things the best we can."
On an early Thursday morning, we start with Reunion Island coffee ($2, with free refills). Heather explains that their bakery offerings--such as cookies, squares and loaves--are baked fresh daily, and are available as a quick take-out snack. They also have Boylan's sodas ($3), juices and teas.
From the menu, we choose the breakfast sandwich ($4.50) to start. Sound boring? How wrong you are. It arrives plated with orange slices and plump strawberries, and we quickly realize it's a counterintuitive knife and fork dish. A sunnyside-up egg and aged cheddar are placed on a buttermilk biscuit, and it can be paired with sausage or bacon ($1).
Take note: always choose the bacon--the thick, succulent strips are smoked in-house, and eye-puffingly salty. They're the no-contest star of the dish, although the house-made (and already garnering something of a local following) buttermilk biscuits put up a fight. The biscuits are fluffy, soft, and suffer only for falling slightly on the plain side.
Next comes the quiche ($11), served with a choice of fries, greens or soup. We opt for soup--a pureed and perfectly spiced blend of roasted root vegetables--and a small salad composed of mixed greens, cucumbers, yellow baby tomatoes, and a dijon poppyseed vinaigrette. The quiche itself blends broccoli and cheddar, although the particular flavours rotate from day to day. For me, the crust is among the most telltale signs of a successful quiche, and this one is flaky, soft, and not the least bit singed.
The soup is complex, and would be a great complement for the early days of fall. It's lightly spiced and crowned with parsnip chips, and each spoonful yields black pepper and a full bouquet of flavours, with sweet potato lingering. As for the salad, it's simple. The vinaigrette is its saving grace, and I would've preferred it to come drizzled on arugula.
We're full, but the Lazy Susan oatmeal cake ($2 per generous slice) has been calling out from its glassed pedestal on the counter. It's presented simply and without flourish on the plate, and served cool. "It's moist enough," Rachel tells me, with a sly smile.
One bite, and I'm convinced. It has the lush, buttery signature of home-baking in spades, due largely to its topping--a fragrant blend of brown sugar, butter, coconut and walnuts. The texture is reminiscent of a coffee cake, courtesy of the oatmeal, with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. It's a great finish to the meal, but for its size, would've honestly sufficed as a meal itself.
Fans of the dishes (and there are sure to be many) will be happy to learn that their freezer section stocks freshly-made soups, sauces, pies, and savoury prepared meals, and their bread (also baked in-house) is available for purchase at the front.
Photos by Jesse Milns