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    Categories: Lifestyle

Is St. Albert a brunch town?

Chef Doreen Prei offers an interactive pop-up brunch Saturday's at Get Cooking in Edmonton.

There’s a slight difference between a late breakfast and an actual brunch, but most hungry diners on a Sunday morning don’t care. In St. Albert, favourite breakfast spots, like Socrates Restaurant (which wins awards for their morning fare year after year) serve bacon, eggs, toast, and pancake-style favourites all day long, bustling with customers weekday mornings and with families pushing that meal to lunch hour and beyond on weekends. It doesn’t matter if it’s called a brunch or you’re having a late breakfast, the place is packed with those enjoying that leisurely weekend meal – bring a jug of coffee and keep it coming, please.

Up the trail at 12 Acres Restaurant, owner Nate Henry has hosted a Saturday and Sunday morning to mid-afternoon feast for a number of years, previously under the River House Grill brand and now with 12 Acres. Especially on summer days, the location can’t be beat, with an outdoor patio overlooking the Sturgeon River – “the best brunch and best spot in town” boasts the busy entrepreneur. Henry said customers pack the place for the not-in-a-hurry vibe that brunches exude, and the delicious farm-to-table, ever-changing offerings – though eggs Benedict is standard fare on the morning or midday menu.

The fresh-from-the-farm concept – local, organic, knowing where your food comes from and how it’s grown – is a dining trend embraced by 12 Acres, as evidenced by the restaurant’s relationship with Morinville-area grain farmer/miller John Schneider of Gold Forest Grains. Certified organic since 2007, the grain grower stone-mills heritage grains like Red Fife, Park wheat and spelt on 300 acres, offering heirloom flour product to bakeries, restaurants and farmers’ market customers.

For the last year, Toast breakfast and lunch, an Irish-family owned-and-operated spot tucked inconspicuously between Grandin Bakery and London Drugs, has served hearty breakfast/lunch fare seven days a week, but weekends are especially busy with families and folks who like to linger. “People are lined up out the door for our four types of eggs Benedict and full Irish/English breakfast,” said restaurant owner Ann Brady. “And customers like the authentic imported bacon, black and white sausage, pudding, Irish soda bread – the works. It’s a favourite.”

The line-ups prove that local restaurant brunches are in demand, but there’s more even further afield in Edmonton, from new and funky small spots to established favourites.

Here’s an interactive option: there’s no wait staff, and brunch-goers can take a selfie with the chef, or sit at the kitchen island and glean breakfast-making tips from the expert. The new Get Cooking pop-up brunch – held in the teaching kitchen at MacEwan Residence in Oliver – is a cool, relaxed meal/tutorial that organizers hope will catch on with brunch lovers.

“It’s low key – I’ll cook whatever’s fresh, local and interesting,” said award-winning chef Doreen Prei, who created the ongoing Saturday morning event with Get Cooking founder Kathryn Joel. “I started doing pop ups five years ago, and now they’re everywhere. This is how I grew up in Europe – sharing the communal table and experience – teaching while I cook.”

A cold table of breads, cheese and charcuterie (coffee, tea and cocktails too) leads into a 90-minute, made-while-you-watch, three-course brunch. “It’ll change every week. We had toast with bacon, shallot and egg; potato gratin and a dessert strudel last week – next week we have an oyster bar,” said Joel. “It’s intimate (20-24 per sitting) but people can move around and mingle, or watch Chef at work on the big TV screens.”

“The new battle to fill vacant seats in Edmonton (and area) is over brunch. There was a time not that long ago where your only consistent brunch options were at The Hotel Mac or a handful of small restaurants. As an avid diner I appreciate a city that offers me a diverse range of choices,” said local hospitality consultant Charlie Rothman. “Edmonton is not known to be a late night town – most restaurants still close their kitchens by 10 p.m., even on weekends. It’s of no surprise to me that many want to take advantage of more daytime business to make up for a lack of late night diners.”

Rothman points to Daravara (Southwestern/Latin-influenced brunch), The Workshop Eatery (“Paul Shufelt is rocking brunch in the deep south”), and The Local Omnivore on 120 St. (“every dish is unique and outstanding”) as those doing it their own way, and doing it well.

“My wife and I recently had brunch there and enjoyed the “Fraulien,” a bacon schnitzel grilled cheese topped with a fried egg and house hollandaise served on Russian rye. The bacon schnitzel was a revelation for me,” said Rothman. “If you’re super hungry following a late night don’t miss the “Broke Back Breakfast,” a hearty selection of five of their house meats with eggs, refried beans, toast and fries. All meats are made, cured and smoked in-house including their bacon.”

Lucy Haines: Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.