With the popularity of these enormous franchised breakfast restaurants popping up in every neighborhood of our city, the task of finding a truly good spot for brunch or breakfast on the weekend becomes more and more diluted. People line up, sometimes over a half hour, for mediocre bacon and eggs in large noisy dining rooms. Babies crying, tables crammed in one on top of the other, waitresses scurrying about often in a complete state of confusion forgetting about their tables. Meanwhile, the growing lineup of impatient people at the door stare at you and your plate as if to say "hurry up, can't you see people are waiting for that table"? The idea of brunch is supposed to be a leisurely meal with engaging conversation over coffee and freshly squeezed juice (maybe with a little booze in it) and an often sizable meal that you justify by saying "well, it's really two meals in one". Somewhere along the line, Montreal settled for quasi-omelettes with half melted cheese for breakfast and forgot about how nice a proper brunch is.
Lately, we've been dodging the monotony of the omnipresent breakfast chains in search of some diversity. We found ourselves addicted to dim sum for a little while, but the atmosphere is just as crazy there - if not more so. The food is terrific and fun but there's only so many times a month you can eat short ribs and shrimp dumplings for breakfast. So the hunt for a truly quality brunch spot was on. The first thing we realized was that there's really no escaping the lineups regardless of where you go, and unfortunately the food rarely merits the wait.
Last weekend our search brought us to Lawrence on the corner of St Laurent and Fairmount, they are not exclusively a brunch restaurant but they do offer it on weekends. We entered to find a relaxed dining room. A family was sitting on a small couch with a coffee table near the entrance, they were reading the paper and had coffee served to them while they waited to be seated. A well dressed and polite gentleman greeted us and asked us if we would like to be put on the waiting list. Initially we were confused because it had seemed like only the family on the couch was ahead of us but he proceeded to explain that although they do not accept reservations, people come by to leave their cell phone numbers and are called back as tables become available. In the meantime they take a walk, perhaps do a little shopping, and liberate the entrance of an impatient line of restless customers. We agree to wait but choose to stay because it was a little cold out that morning for a walk. Luckily, what we were told might be a 30-40 minute wait quickly became a 15 minute wait when one of the people on the callback list didn't answer their phone leaving us in the right place at the right time.
The menu at Lawrence changes daily showcasing market fresh ingredients always at their peak. The menu is published usually within hours of service for brunch Sat-Sun, lunch Wed-Fri & dinner Wed-Sat on their twitter account, the link to the menu on their website redirects you to the twitter account as well. We sat down at the bar, ordered a few lattes and a hot buttered crumpet with jam to start. Nothing ruins a morning meal like bad coffee, thankfully the lattes were exemplary, and beautiful as well; the girl behind the bar running the coffee machine finished both cups with beautiful designs in the foam. The crumpet arrived hot and plentifully buttered on a pretty little plate with a side of jam, it was awesome and we probably should have ordered one each, which is what we'll do next time.
Lattes - 3.50$/ch.
Buttered Crumpet & Jam - 3$
Our brunch continued with two outstanding mains. First, English breakfast which consisted of breakfast sausage, bacon, blood pudding, a fried egg, grilled tomato, bubble & squeak and toast. Everything in this amalgamation was excellent, you know how sometimes you set aside your favorite part of your breakfast (usually the bacon) "saving the best for last"? Well this dish caused a dilemma when attempting that strategy because it was hard to determine which part was our favorite, they were all delicious. Each of the individual items were served in small portions (except the sausage) but all the parts combined created a very respectable sized plate as a whole. The bacon and sausage were far beyond average grocery store variety quality, and we were really looking forward to the blood pudding which turned out to be very good, we only wished there was a bit more of it on the plate. The bubble & squeak was terrific, we've had versions of this preparation elsewhere before but never as successful as this one, not at all greasy and with far more depth than simple breakfast spuds, it hands-down put our favorite hash-browned potatoes to shame. The runny sunny side up egg in the bottom begged to be soaked up with the crusty toast and the tomato, well.. it was a tomato.
English Breakfast - 16$
Our second main was fried egg, ham and tomme on toast. The pungent tomme cheese took center stage in the dish asserting itself unabashed, which we loved. The ham was very good, it was substantially more white in color than the usual pink hued, cured variety of ham that's full of nitrites. It was more like actual pork than griddled deli-meat; it's flavor was more subtle and less salty but it certainly added substance and backbone to the mix. The dish was served in a sort-of open faced sandwich form with a gratuitous pile of simply dressed arugula in oil, salt and pepper placed on top, we didn't mind it being there but to be honest it didn't add anything but color or do much more than make the dish look nice.
Ham, Fried Egg & Tomme on Toast - 14$
As we were finishing up our mains we noticed a nearby couple order the doughnuts. The waitress behind the bar noticed us ask one another whether we should order some too and thankfully convinced us with one assuring nod that it was without question, a good move. We ordered the chocolate doughnuts (they're also offered in lemon) and boy were we happy, like Richard Simmons happy, or the happy you feel when the "we are now beginning our descent" announcement comes on over the PA system in the airplane. Ok seriously though, these doughnuts were magnificent. If you haven't tried them yet we urge you to do so, we promise they're worth it. They arrive on a small ornate saucer warm, soft, and ideally sized with just the right amount of chocolate to dough ratio. If you're looking for a good doughnut, look no further, these are without question the best we've found in Montreal to date.
Chocolate Doughnuts - 5$
We don't say it often, but our meal at Lawrence was truly flawless. The calm atmosphere, reasonable price, and impeccable quality of everything from the breakfast meats right down to the coffee was spot-on. Considering that you'll more than likely wait in line no matter where you visit for brunch or breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning it might as well be worth the wait, at Lawrence - it is. We will unquestionably return shortly for brunch again, and our positive experience has left us enthusiastic about trying their dinner menu sometime soon as well.
5201 Blvd St. Laurent, corner Fairmount