Grandma-approved food at a new café and bakery at St. Clair and Dufferin.
It’s been just over two weeks since longtime friends Rachel Pellett and Heather Mee opened Emma’s Country Kitchen, a sleepy place where busy moms pick up frozen chicken potpie for dinner and retirees pore over newspapers. As another day of service ends, Mee brings in the sandwich board from the sidewalk while Pellett, the cook, switches the music from Motown to a The xx–Tupac mash-up. Pellett hopes to leave early, at 6 p.m., making her workday a mere 12 hours.
Save for the server and dishwasher who help out during weekend brunch, it’s just the two women working seven days a week at this breakfast/lunch/bakery/prepared-food shop (although they did close on Simcoe Day). Pellett, who left the kitchen of nearby barbecue hub The Stockyards last year to focus on the opening, sometimes comes in as early as 3 a.m. She’ll grate frozen butter to make buttermilk biscuits, bake honey-wheat loaves, and figure out what buns she’ll whip up for that day’s sandwiches. It takes a lot of work to make the café seem so laid back.
“We want you to feel like you’re in our home or our grandmothers’ homes,” says Mee, who’s 26 and a graduate of Ryerson’s hospitality program. She’s referring specifically to the Cheltenham, Ontario, household of Pellett’s 88-year-old grandmother, Emma, whose home-baking business they modelled the place after.
“We ran with her concept of mostly baked goods,” says Pellett, 27. “The recipes we use in the bakery are my grandma’s. Heather grew up on the East Coast, so some of the recipes in the freezer section are from her. We’re not trying to break the mold here; we’re just trying to do everything well.” There are a dozen or so small tables—each topped with a Mason jar that holds a single daisy—spaced out with enough room for a stroller to weave through. A framed photo of Emma hangs on the wall so that Pellett can see it from the kitchen.
The duo has created the ideal neighbourhood lunch spot. There’s a small menu with half a dozen specials each day, like chicken salad or flank steak sandwiches, all around the $7 mark. The daily quiche slice (such as spinach, caramelized onions, and mushrooms) is fluffy, airy, and as large as a slab of birthday cake. The portion is enough to fill you up, but it’s hard to skip Pellett’s sweet potato and house-cured bacon salad.
Egg and cheddar on grandma Emma’s buttermilk biscuit ($4.50) is a staple. Perfectly flaky and moist, the biscuits are available for purchase in the front bakery ($2.50 each) and appear on the weekend brunch menu, replacing the traditional English muffin in the eggs Benny ($13). Less grandmotherly are the brunch poutine ($9), slathered with bacon lardons, cheddar cheese, a deep-fried poached egg, and brown-butter Hollandaise, and the bags of irresistible bacon-almond brittle ($5) at the register. There’s also The Hangover Helper sandwich ($12), a sage-and-onion sausage patty with bacon and fries.
“Everything here is from scratch, and we’re not slinging dishes out like at a diner. We want to show that you can have good quality bread and ingredients for a reasonable price,” says Pellett. “My body’s tired, but I’m energized by what we’re doing, so it’s all worth it.”
1108 St. Clair W., #COR 416-652-3662, emmascountrykitchen.com.