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Food

Quaintness and Excess: Brunch at Maison Publique

Posted by Adriana / March 30, 2013

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"There was no brunch during World War II, or when we built the railroads, or when we went to the moon. People got up in the morning, had a breakfast, and then did things."

I remember reading this humourously misanthropic diatribe by a New York Daily reporter against the apparently over-indulgent weekend dining ritual, surprised to see that there are those who believe that the indolent semi-meal of brunch should be abolished. They complain about these happy lingerers, sipping on the dregs of bloody Ceasars long after polite conversation has already worn thin, waiting to foot the bill for their expensive eggs, and trying to delay the dawning march of the imminent work week for just a little longer.

But what a wholly inaccurate picture of what brunch could, and should be!

Brunch should be an event. A weekend luxury. A thing to savour and over which to linger. A break from the usual rote breaking of the morning fast, a skittish/hurried/frantic affair depending what time your alarm chimes before the sun's rise, when even at 26 you might find yourself, on more days than you'd like to proudly count, bolting down a couple of thawed Eggos before bolting yourself through the door in a morning maelstrom.

Though whether you err on either side of the brunch debate, I am fairly certain that there would be no contesting the experience at Maison Publique, a place where brunch can easily become a glorious event, between conquering hefty English breakfasts and lugeing bone marrow whiskey shots...but more on that later.

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Many are familiar with Maison Publique for its "Jamie Oliver Connection": owner Dereck Dammann's previous work-related associations with the cele-brit chef who is now a business partner in this establishment. It's tucked away quietly on a pleasantly residential street corner, with unobtrusive signage of a proud cock&coat of arms signaling the entrance. The restaurant interior is long and narrow, and the beautiful bar extends a lengthy front-row seat to the bright open kitchen, framed like a vintage stage show. The restaurant is bedecked in charming curios: a cabinet full of mason jarred preserves and assortments of glass casks and baubles in the back seating area, twin blades hang, sheathed, on a wall peg, a stuffed stag head and various animal skulls mounted hide-and-seek over richly printed baroque wallpaper.

If you are familiar with Sparrow and Lawrence, you will ease cozily right into Maison Publique. The place and food are at once traditional and sophisticated, edgy and comforting. Thankfully, in my two visits thus far, my trips were also minus the excess waiting times of those aforementioned popular brunch spots, perhaps owing to MP's location slightly clandestine (read: not directly off the Main) location. Here, even if you are made to wait a little while, you can sip a coffee and hover around the bar, or a chunky wooden kitchen block on which is perched a "proper football" (that'd be a soccer ball) for company. A pleasant experience that surely beats doing laps around the Mile End as you wait for that precious text message beckon to trumpet the readiness of your table!

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There were other small and cutely quirky details to be found once we were seated. The utensils are secreted away in hidden drawers at the tables, eliciting little expressions of surprise and delight as country-style checkerboard cloth napkins are spread across laps. The menu is idly scrawled on the back of a cash receipt to save you the crick in your neck from craning to contemplate the posted menu board up on the wall. (It's actually quite hard to find much menu information online, besides diners' instagrammed snaps of the paper cards tacked to the board!) Variable special items on the list can range anywhere from baked oysters to veal schnitzel to a MP-style egg McMuffin.

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As we waited for another friend to join our little group, we munched on apple chaussons (in a sweet gesture the waiter threw in a second one gratis to more easily and evenly split amongst the four of us). They had a crisp coat of glazed sugar, and innumerable beautifully buttery layers that flaked onto the tongue with each bite. Be sure to remember to brush off the delicate mess of sprinkled pastry that will inevitably remain dusted across your lips, well worth it.

Homemade nutella, seemingly a brunchy trend of late, filled a round little bomb of a brioche that we also sampled, more creamy and hazelnut-hinted than one I had also recently tried at another east-end breakfast bistro.

And, of course there are the inventive cocktails, debatably appropriate depending on time of day. The Ponce Frette was a bright and wakeful mix of Hydromiel (mead, or honey wine), arctic rose, and lemon served whimsically in jars shaped like cheeky bears smiling back up at us. We couldn't quite accurately sort out the nostalgia factor in deciding whether they were throwback containers of either a certain old brand of honey or peanut butter.

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Now, I'm not sure the English invented brunch, but I'm prepared to say they do it best. Getting the set English breakfast (here: brunch) for 2 clocks in at $40, but considering the amount and array of protein factored into the dish, it's nothing to shy away from. Yes, it's expensive, but it's also a spectacle. My first attempt to conquer it all saw me having to take home a remaining pork chop in a doggybag. In fact, the waitress may express wry disappointment if you don't quite completely finish the meal to fully expose the lovely English countryside pictorial on the china dish beneath!

Pork chops, sausages, boudin, bacon, and the aforementioned marrow bones crown the plate- X certainly marks the spot! Alongside comes a terrine of baked beans with yes, more meat, this time cubes of chorizo, and a mound of Bubble & Squeak: chubby potatoes and cabbage lightly browned, this typical British dish gets it's name from the sound it makes while frying away in the pan. A sunny happy egg and thick cut white toast (MP bakes all their own bread) almost seem like an afterthought! The best part was by far the boudin- exceptionally airy and light, nutty and studded with cubes of lardons, for many already having a languidly lazy Sunday, I'm certain this late-afternoon meal would send them straight back to bed in satisfied fullness!

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That same waitress' gamely expression might have waned slightly had she seen the creative use of two Jameson shots ordered by one of my dining companions with the express aim of using the now picked-clean marrow bones for a wholey different purpose- using it as a vessel to luge the liquid down the hollow canal of the bone! Much to the bemusement of the surrounding diners, the enjoyment of the marrow bone didn't simply end with the consumption of its lovely silky flesh sprinkled lightly with springs of rosemary and salt spread eagerly over toast, but instead became the set-piece to a gleeful and convivial (alright, and admittedly, a little messy) affair. Make the most of your meal, hm?

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If you are looking to something a bit more conservatively minded to the waistline yet none less tasty, The MP Reuben is also excellent. Served with a creamy, dense dipping sauce of homemade Russian dressing, the bread was drenched lightly in egg and gently grilled, like a very pillowy and savory french toast, perfectly embracing the juicy and succulent meat and tang of the hand-made sauerkraut.

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The Pancakes & Bacon are another favorite and menu constant. The stack alternates between layers of puffy pancakes and weaves of just-the-right-level thick bacon, beautifully marbled and perfectly balanced between that point of crisp and soft. The syrup is jeweled with rounds of little red chili peppers, adding a surprising additional dimension and edgey kick to cut through the expected sweetness. The most delightful part was the dab of whipped and creamy butter gently melting over the top, hinting each bite with a sweet orchard-y infusion of pear.

I thoroughly enjoy every visit I make to Maison Publique. From the beautiful space to the enjoyable food, it is exactly the type of charming experience I want my mid-day weekend meal to be.

So to those like that ornery NY journalist I say, in Montreal, people do get up and do things. They're called brunch. And they do it right.



Maison Publique

4720 Marquette street (Laurier metro)
(514) 507-0555

(Brunch) Saturday-Sunday: 10:30 am - 2:00 pm

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