What really disappointment me with Fabarnak was how badly I wanted to love it. The pitch was great. The design and branding is colourful and crisp, and the menu reads like something out of my warmest gourmand fantasies. The price was also shockingly low on things with quality, often local-organic-gluten-free ingredients! Most alluringly, their heart is so in the right place.
Fabarnak is located in the Church Street Community Centre, 519 Church Street. One of the reasons I wanted to go there was because I wanted to contribute some traffic, some awareness, especially since I suspect people would hesitate to go out of their way to dine in a community centre (though after going inside, this place is BEAUTIFUL! They nailed the interior decorating, so cute). The tips get donated to the centre, as do the profits. The staff are people who may otherwise have difficulty finding work (I thought the service was quite fine). It's a beautiful idea.
If only the chefs were as skilled as the menu writer, if only their cuisine reflected that vision!
As with any breakfast brunch thing, my friend Abe and I started with coffee. We were getting a pretty late start, our date happening at 2. What I hadn't realized until the day before was that Fabarnak has shorter hours on the weekend, and would be closing at 3. There was fewer pastries than I had hoped for, as I looked across the counter while waiting. photo's show that the cupcakes here could be delicious, but there was none to try. The coffee was bitter and not very strong. I think the espresso based drinks are better, made with illy.
I was very excited after my initial research of their online menu. Finally, after all the horror and the majesty I'd heard about grits, I could try them! It's another of those love-hate foods I've been hoping to try...the menu touts the dish as this glorious thing garnished with shrimp and sausage, eggs, greens, molasses and shaved toscana cheese.
So, naturally, it had run out.
Now, I will concede the point that we had arrived close to the finish here, and the dish was unashamedly the most interesting and therefore tempting thing on the menu. Alas, my disappointment didn't take me to the grave, there were consolation pancakes to eat.
The idea of yeast leavened pancakes was a draw. Would they be fluffier? Would they have a beerishness to them? Toss in some rosemary whipped cream, and I'm sold on what I was hoping would be a savoury-sweet stroke of genius. What arrived? Two soggy pancakes more akin to bread pudding in texture than the boastfully fluffy griddlecakes I love. Everything was pooled together in the middle of the plate, the whipped cream all over the (dull, grey) peameal bacon and cakes. I was giving this a lot of thought after the fact, and I think one of the biggest shortcomings of this adorable, underwhelming cafe is presentation. The people working the kitchen need to learn to plate. It's not unlike making beautiful hand-lettering. You have to give the letters room to breathe! Let things sit with space between then on the plate.
Dear chefs: go to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Looks at the abstract paintings. Now, plate something beautiful.
The portion was reasonable, and I DO think the food was good for what we paid (under 15$ each after tip), but my expectations were so high. Their menu reads so well. The pear that came with my pancakes was nice, but I couldn't taste a lick of maple in the whole dish.
I'd like to say that Abe fared better. He certainly seemed satisfied! With big eyes and a big stomach, the full monty sounded like a meal and a half. Picture a triple decker, but instead of toast you have savoury french toast, and in the layers are smoked fontina and peameal bacon. The spread described as garnish for the sandwich made me think of it would totally unique: plum and beet jam with dijon! Though I didn't only try one bite, so this may be a fair assessment, I couldn't taste it. The bacon was not as plentiful on this sandwich as I personally would have hoped, and it really needed something tart or sweet to make it unique. I was underwhelmed, and again, everything had just been stacked in the middle of a giant, white, rectangular plate.
After all this, I want to come back. I want to go to Fabarnak for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, and have them wow me. I still want this menu to taste as good as it sounds, to be more than just 'Okay'. I want to be able to say something great about a place that is trying to do something great.