I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Every now and again, I like to go to a person’s tagged photos and press the “left” button, thereby unlocking a world of giggles and guffawing. I am, of course, laughing with them and not at them, as I’m sure they’d be doing the same if they were to see such ridiculous photographs from perhaps a more simpler time. Regardless, every ounce of our history establishes who we are, so it is always nice to rekindle lines of communication that may have begun to be carried away the steady breeze of time. It was on such an occasion that I first visited Cafe Medina with a Big Beeg.
Renowned for their brunch menu, Medina dubs itself as the diurnal counterpart to its neighbouring sister, Chambar. As a departure from the classic bacon (bacon!) n’ eggs, the restaurant features quite the eclectic mix of bistro-inspired food. Of course, such creations are offered to those who are willing to wait their turn to indulge. This is attributable to the smaller size of the restaurant, which could be a testament to the bistro motif at work here. For me, the wait-times have lasted in the neighbourhood of 20-30 minutes. Sadly, this is between going at a weekday at around 12:30pm and going on a Saturday at 2:45pm. Needless to say, go with only a sweetie from your past and wear some comfortable shoe.
During my first visit, Big Beeg and I were seated at a secluded corner table in the back of the restaurant that is presumably more often used to accomodate a party of 3 or 4. For drinks, she started off with an organic orange juice ($3.50). As an aside, this led to a confusion between the words samosa and mimosa due to their linguistic similarities. Luckily, she did not attempt to order the former here.
I, on the other hand, definitely needed my coffee, and I am very glad I did. Diverging from my usual black drip coffees, I opted for an Americano ($2.41). Y’all, I could probably assert that this is the best Americano I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. Cafe Medina uses beans acquired from a local favourite, 49th Parallel Roasters. Their heavy aroma was prominent while still making for a smooth, perfectly balanced Americano. There was just the right amount of both water and coffee to lend it a flavour that was neither too dilute or too strong and was, instead, just right. This baby bear was satisfied. It is served with a small jug of cream and a packet of sugar, and I would only recommend pouring just a hint of the former to make this concoction even richer.
After sipping on our beverages for awhile, the long-awaited food finally arrived. I ordered Les Boulettes ($15), aptly named for the spicy Moroccan lamb and beef meatballs served alongside 2 poached eggs, cilantro, houmus, and raita. The meatballs were incredibly tender and easily separable. They packed quite a bit of heat in them, even when soaked in their surroundings. In spite of this, there was still but a hint of the gamey lamb flavour. This was, however, hardly detectable and may have served to diversify the flavours at work here.
Ah, runny yolk is beautiful to me. The poached eggs were firm enough to warrant a bit of effort to access the treasure inside. In this case, its flavour mixed well with the meatball and the rest of the tomato broth.
Big Beeg likes her sausage, so she ordered the tagine ($14), featuring two eggs, spicy tomato stew, merguez sausage, sun-dried black olives, cilantro, and grilled foccaccia on the side. While they’re normally poached, she had her eggs well done instead. She certainly seemed to be satisfied by this dish.
Incidentally, on my second visit with Janice, I ended up ordering this dish, poached eggs and all. The sausage gave quite the saltier taste, with a prominent enough kick to amplify its flavour. The eggs were delightfully poached and helped to soften the much stronger taste of the tomato stew, which I found to be too much at times.
Janice went for the Fricasse ($16), 2 fried eggs, braised short ribs, roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, watercress, and smoked applewood. A bite of the short rib again gave quite the rich flavour and a very tender texture. She greatly enjoyed her dish.
All the meals here are served with a side of grilled foccaccia, a flat, oven-baked bread of Italian origin that serves as a welcome source of carbs. Like any bread, it is relatively plain on its own. It is crisp on the outside and soft enough on the inside, offering up a bit of resistance when chewed. Given the various stews and broths that most of the dishes are immersed in, perhaps the best utilization of this bread would be in a hot tomato dip-fest.
If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, some dishes also come with a small dish of houmus. I personally found this to be surprisingly creamy, which unfortunately masked any indication that this was once chickpeas.
Aside from good coffee and dishes served in skillets, Medina is also distinctive for their Belgian waffles ($3.15), which can be accompanied with a topping on the side for an additional $1.50 each. On my first visit, I opted for the mixed berry compote. The waffle itself has a subtler sweet flavour with a firmer texture that was still soft enough to consume easily. As for the compote, it was incredibly sour, but the waffle diluted it nicely and permitted the taste of both to work together. As for Big Beeg, she went with the milk chocolate, which was incredibly rich without being overbearing in terms of sweetness.
On my visit with Janice, we ended up splitting one with the salted caramel topping. Unlike the milk chocolate, the caramel simply exuded sweetness. As a result, the countering saltiness was hardly detectable, although the natural hint of savouriness present within the waffle brought it out a bit more. Interestingly enough, during my initial visit, the waffle was brought out at the end of the meal. With Janice, however, the waffle was given to us in the beginning of the meal. Perhaps Janice and I looked hungrier while awaiting our first meal of the day at 3pm.
After two separate visits there, I regard Cafe Medina to be a bit of a treat. Although the entrees are indeed unique, they tend to be overshadowed by the promise of good coffee and Belgian waffles. As for the service, I have always found it to be amiable, if distant. In spite of the shoddier reports of rude servers and the prospect of longer line-ups, the environment and the novelty are certainly there. In fact, waiting seems to be part of the fun, as both visits did seem to take quite a bit of time. While this was beneficial for the continuation of pleasant conversation, sitting at a cramped table did get tiring after about an hour, but I find it worth it for a taste of Medina. After all, what’s more fance than a legitimate brunch?
Conclusion: Andy ate a lot.
556 Beatty St.