Let’s face it. Breakfast feels great at any hour, but it sounds better by calling it brunch. Whatever you call the desire for a morning meal between sunrise and mid-afternoon they’ve got you covered over at Ben & Florentine.
Since 2009, B & F restaurants have been rolling out across Quebec and other parts of Canada. Last November they opened their 50th store in Pincourt. They are renowned for perfectly seasoned, diced P.E.I. potatoes that adorn so many of their dishes. With their crispy exterior and their soft chewy interior they are perfectly cooked just like an oven baked potato. Their famous old-fashioned skillets are also a hit.
Brand Leader Brandon Knecht says that the success in Quebec bodes well for expansion across Ontario, expected over the new few years. Knecht describes the B & F restaurants as being different from the competition by virtue of the quality of their food, singling out the high grade potatoes cooked in customized spice as well as thickly sliced, fresher bacon. Another feature is the innovative menu offerings, specially the skillet and avocado toast offerings.
Knecht describes breakfasts as affordable and quick, on the way to work, noting they often see groups of workers meeting up daily to take advantage of the early bird specials at less than $7.
Our visit to the Mansfield Street location downtown was an experience in arousing aromas and bright rich colours. The restaurant is well located in the heart of downtown, just steps off the bustle of Sainte Catherine Street, across from Place Ville Marie. The venue is wide open and airy, including the kitchen, allowing the sensational, mouth-watering smells to waft across the floor. Our brunch experience began before my friends and I had a chance to open the bustling 15 page menu that was well formatted with photos of smiling customers who tagged B & F on Instagram. Fun!
We were welcomed in by franchisee Karl Forget, whose pride in his restaurant, clientèle and staff was evident from “Welcome”.
Karl spent about 13 years at McDonald’s in corporate offices and franchise locations, providing just the management training he needed to take off on his own – actually, it’s a family affair, he’s in business with his dad. He quickly was impressed with the Ben & Florentine concept and its market expansion.
It’s not just a livelihood for Karl. He’s passionate about growing the business and developing a connection with his customers by seeking out staff with great personalities. In Karl’s restaurant it’s important for everyone to get along, and he seems to be doing quite well in building his team.
Karl introduced us to Laurent, a seasoned professional server for some three decades, including several years at the well-known chain, Madison’s, and the upscale, iconic Gibby’s Restaurant. Laurent starts his day at 5:30 each morning after a short walk to the restaurant. He loves the familiarity and routine of his customers, many who come in each morning and at lunchtime. Laurent notes that his clients even became familiar with one another. Sounds like Cheers to me!
I started with a “Detox” Smoothie: Pineapple, banana, spinach, oats and orange juice. Now this wasn’t your mother’s plain mix of fruit and vanilla yogurt. The first sip was a party in my mouth. If this will detoxify me I want one every day! There are at least six different choices of B & F smoothies.
I ordered the Grilled Chicken Avocado club sandwich. The rye bread was fresh and tasty and tightly held iceberg lettuce that was cold and crispy, a thick slice of tomato and grilled chicken breast. Punchy chipotle sauce was served up on the side along with crispy French Fries. A great choice for a late brunch.
While one friend was served the sizzling hot Three Meats skillet specialty including egg, bacon, ham, sausages, red onions and cheddar the other selected a bowl of freshly cooked oatmeal with brown sugar, strawberries and bananas followed by a fluffy spinach and avocado omelet with a splash of goat cheese. A small bowl of apple sauce accompanied his meal. The smile on my brunch bunch was ear to ear. Serving sizes were plentiful and there was no chance of leaving the table hungry.
But just in case, Karl made sure to order up a second meal for each of us, giving me an gastronomical opportunity to snap some foodie shots and take more notes as I sampled each plate. The Avocado Toast dish with a side of mixed fruit along with a sunny side up egg is another B & F classic. I could see and taste why from the first bite.
Then came the French Toast smothered in Nutella. Now, you can spread Nutella on just about anything and start a stampede. This dish was sensational. If that wasn’t good enough, I next cozied up to the CRISPY FRENCH TOAST & CARAMELIZED APPLES. B & F’s signature sweet tooth sensation came smothered in almonds, caramel and raspberry coulis. Truth be told, it smelled great even before Laurent reached the table.
With barely any room left for another bite I couldn’t resist the temptation of the “Philly”, a generous serving of Philly steak, Yellow Ribbon cheese, portobello mushrooms and caramelized onions served with Hollandaise sauce, their famous home fries and applesauce all on an English muffin. Oh, yum!
Still want more? There’s a lunch menu including hamburgers and sandwiches, quesadillas, tuna melts, bagels and cream cheese and lots of avocado choices. A kids menu of eggs, pancakes, waffles, crepes and grilled cheese is also available. Kids meals are served with a choice of a small juice or milk in a B & F take-home kids’ cup. Children must be 10 years old or younger.
Of course the coffee crowd will be well taken care of with cappuccino, espresso, mochaccino, café au lait and iced coffee selections not to mention juices, milk and hot chocolate.
And – just in case – you’re still wanting more there’s poutine, baked beans, potato pancakes with sour creme, side options of bacon, ham, sausages and… the list goes on.
The B & F slogan is: “It’s about the food”. There’s no doubt about it.
I can’t wait to work off this fantastic brunch and head back with my friends to try so much more.
B & F is open from 6AM to 3PM daily and to keep things interesting and exciting the tantalizing menu changes every four months. Always a new experience.
Visit BenAndFlorentine.com for a location near you and to view the menu
By Glenn J. Nashen