Toronto bars are teaming up for a takeout brunch menu where everything is under $10
Everything is under $10 on a new takeout menu that's the result of a collaboration between staff at two neighbourhood bars.
The Grand Trunk in Parkdale recently introduced a "Brunchables" menu of tricked-out breakfast sandwiches, made using bread produced by the currently closed The Mezz which is not far away.
They now have four brunch items regularly in rotation, plus specials. Sandwiches are panini-pressed and topped with Grand Trunk seasoning spice, and most are also spread with a house spiced maple butter.
Daily specials can all be made vegetarian, and they also do $5 Caesars and mimosas.
On any given day limited quantities are available of, say, breakfast hot dogs on Eggo waffle buns, BBQ chicken tender sandwiches with bacon and a fried egg, pizza sandwiches with a fried egg and tomato parm sauce, or even poutine breakfast sandwiches with cheese curds, a hash brown patty, gravy and a fried egg.
"Really it's Sean supporting me," says Grand Trunk owner Alison Barrie of her collab with Mezz owner Sean McLellan.
"He's practicing his baking talents and has decided to help me with my specials by providing delicious breads and promoting our creations to his own followers and regulars. It's a real collaboration. Parkdale is really about community and not competition."
"With so many places closing, RIP Pete's, we felt like there was a gap to be filled. I want to offer cheap menu items, everything will be under $10 before tax, and provide fun and delicious breakfasts. I've always been a night person, usually my day doesn't start until 4 p.m. so this is new."
In fact, all sandwiches are well under $10, hovering around $6 or $7, and specials are made using local bread produced by McLellan. So far he says he's "mastered" plain white and whole wheat sandwich bread, ciabatta, baguette and "excellent pizza dough."
"I, along with half the population, took up baking bread at the beginning of the first lockdown in March. Having zero experience it was trial and error for the first while and in fact, still is," says McLellan.
"When I saw via social media that Alison was offering a take out menu it occurred to me that perhaps I could help to keep her costs down and educate myself further in the process."
Since The Mezz closed voluntarily about 10 days before the current lockdown orders came into effect, McLellan is baking bread in the bar's kitchen with only the help of a small commercial stand mixer he invested in "so I can keep supporting my suppliers and take advantage of bulk pricing."
It's a similarly skeletal operation over at Grand Trunk, where the bread is incorporated into their brunch sandwiches.
"We are first and foremost a bar. A local tavern. Our focus has always been on providing the experience of being with your friends, being a neighbourhood institution. A Parkdale Cheers. A friendly face and a kind ear, always ready with a drink and a shot," says Barrie.
"But to protect everyone's safety, health and well-being, we just can't operate like we are used to. We don't have a full kitchen so I am pivoting our service to what I can do with a couple hot plates, a panini press and a toaster oven. I've always been a creative cook and I'm really enjoying the challenge of creating new and exciting sandwiches."
The brunch items should be available every day from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., but Grand Trunk remains open past that with a full menu and bottle shop offerings until 9 p.m., meaning Barrie is stretching herself to the full extent of her resources. However, for both bar owners, it's a labour of love.
"It's definitely a long day. It's tough out there but I gotta put in the work," says Barrie. "It makes my heart happy to make people's tummies happy."
"There is no financial incentive for The Mezz but I began my hospitality career in 1971, punching fries and doing dishes at a fish n' chip shop on Roncesvalles and have tried to continue my education ever since," says McLellan.
Fortunately for the two of them, it would seem the community is as passionate about supporting these bars as the owners are about staying open safely in order to survive.
"We survive by the grace of our regulars. We truly are a neighborhood pub. We have had such a warm response so far with our local friends tweeting, posting Insta stories, and posting on Facebook," says Barrie.
"It's been a slow start which has let me get some practice in. I've been a bartender for 18 years but never a line cook. This is new and it's definitely a skill! I admire our back of house friends and their ability to manage this job for such long hours under such pressure."
"I'm also a firm believer that beyond following and/or exceeding public health protocols, coming together and supporting each other as a community is our best way out of the current crisis ... as opposed to say demanding one's rights to consume BBQ brisket," says McLellan.
The Grand Trunk
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