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45 King Street West
Kitchener, ON N2G 1A1
The idea — and ideal — of brunch is that it gives families especially a chance to pause, sit together and share a meal. That, it seems, is a rare commodity. Just talk to folks about “time” and its fleeting nature in their lives.
It’s also the thinking of chef and co-owner Jonathan Gushue at The Berlin. Four weeks into a new Sunday brunch feature and Gushue is pleasantly surprised with the buzz around and popularity of the meal, served 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., in the downtown Kitchener restaurant.
“We thought about the brunch as what we wanted to eat on a Sunday. The whole purpose of brunch is focussed on bringing in families. But we also wanted to attract people from the (culinary) industry too,” Gushue says.
As he tweaks the restaurant, just over a year old now, Gushue has realigned resources to Sunday brunch and dinner instead of a weekly lunch service. They are also very busy with catering events both small and large. A good restaurant is one that evolves.
The all-you-can-eat brunch menu evolves regularly too — it costs $24 per person and $10 for children — and can include up to 30 items broken down into about half-a-dozen beverages, “harvest table” items, and a half-dozen small-plate dishes “Fresh from the Kitchen.” It’s a remarkable amount of food to eat, it’s remarkably good and the price includes a cocktail which could be a mimosa, a tequila mojito, a Caesar, a spiked coffee or a brunch punch.
The harvest table is a hook that attracts people and makes the meal comfortable, relaxed and “approachable,” as Gushue describes it. “When people walk in, they see the food and know what they’re getting.”
The general public is their primary demographic, but he says they are seeing other food and beverage and restaurant people (he says they can’t get to restaurants during the week) as well as The Berlin’s farmers and producers. Gushue says that it makes for a unique community around our food. “That’s what we want here.”
Fast is important too, he adds, with a strategic menu designed to get people out quickly if they need. “But just as often, we frequently have people sitting for a couple of hours, and that’s great,” says Gushue.
The first three Berlin brunches have been sold out — if you don’t make a reservation, you’re out of luck. Walk-ins sat at the bar until a table opened up for them when I last visited. The traffic has obviously please Gushue and Berlin staff.
It’s the same principle for The Berlin’s Sunday dinner: $29 gets you a soup, a choice of three main courses and three side dishes that are brought to the table for family-style sharing, followed by three desserts.
At brunch, it would likely be impossible to sample all of the menu items. The “monkey bread” is a sticky bread, an agglomeration, it would seem, akin to the inner contents of a cinnamon roll: it’s excellent. Little rugelach, the Israeli sweet, is equally good as are the cookies.
On the savoury side, leeks (Gushue loves leeks) and goat’s cheese frittata is at once substantial and light. The cured salmon is delicious with sweet and slightly tangy and a grainy mustard is a superb garnish. Three salads — the roasted beets and toasted seeds are superlative — are hearty and similarly substantial: fennel in buttermilk is inspired, the yellow turnip and apple slaw with candied walnuts is nearly a meal in itself.
The bottom third of the menu comes from the kitchen: make sure you try to have (at least) one of each. When the runny yolk of a poached egg oozes onto the lentils, it blends with the earthy, grassy and seasoned lentils. The overnight oats (Gushue says that if he calls it muesli, it doesn’t sell) are unique and unlike “oatmeal” served slightly chewy in a small rustic jar with fruit, pumpkin seeds and yogurt. The peameal sandwich doubles down on richness with the back bacon and butter on a home-made whole wheat English muffin. It’s so simple, yet so good.
That sums it up: simplicity and goodness melds for a delicious experience in the energized atmosphere of the busy dining room. And with pastries, German and Danish breads, quiche, honeyed apricots, tarts, flans, lots of sweets and cured meats and fish, it captures the imagination of anyone who loves good and proper food. “Again,” says Gushue, “it’s what we would like to eat at brunch with our families.”
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