The Anti-Cora’s: De Dutch

As much as I slag Edmonton’s lack of a brunch culture, in many ways, all it takes is a visit to Cora’s on a weekend to realize that actually, it is alive and well. Cora’s, the popular Quebec-based chain arrived in Edmonton back in 2009 with much fanfare. Those who had been to Cora’s were thrilled to have a familiar comfort in the city, while others were quick converts to the restaurant’s fresh fruit servings. Now with six locations in Edmonton, Cora’s has had pretty measured growth, though I’m certain the market could bear even more branches.

Preceding a matinee screening, Mack and I took Grandma Male for brunch late on a Sunday morning in November. We had chosen Cora’s for its proximity to the theatres in Sherwood Park, but in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the ideal option for us. The de facto waiting area was sardine packed and standing room only – a few chairs would have been nice for Grandma Male and others who weren’t comfortable on their feet.

Thankfully, we only had to wait about twenty minutes for a table – if Cora’s is anything, it’s efficient, with a constant stream of patrons heading in and out. That said, our meal on this occasion did feel a bit perfunctory, that we were a part of this great revolving door of weekend tables. While our server was nice enough (and did swing by to make sure our coffee was topped up), we weren’t wholly impressed with the food. Our toast was burnt and the fruit did not appear to be washed, and while my ham and swiss crepomelette ($13.55) was all right, it on the dry side. Mack’s Bobby Button crepe sandwich ($14.45) could have easily fed two people, but was nothing special.

Cora's

Ham and swiss crepomelette

Cora's

Bobby Button crepe sandwich

After that meal at Cora’s, I was even more looking forward to breakfast at De Dutch. Perhaps this Vancouver-based chain could offer a viable alternative to the stress and inconsistency of Cora’s?

While the owners of the local franchise may not want any comparisons drawn to Cora’s, their similarities make it difficult not to do so. Both are open only for breakfast and lunch, with expansive, family-friendly menus at a reasonable price point. And while De Dutch may appear more attractive at first because of its novelty, after my recent meal there, I think it is more than that – polished, professional and relaxed, De Dutch is the mature sibling to the juvenile Cora’s.

The décor of De Dutch is bright without being glaring, with a pleasant pastel colour scheme and a fireplace separating the two dining spaces. I particularly liked the cartoon maps of the Netherlands in the rear dining area. That Friday afternoon, the restaurant was a little more than half full.

De Dutch

Interior

There was one minor blip in service – some confusion upon arrival as to seating, as no one was at the hostess station and I had to flag down a server in the back room to request a table. The server did offer me a table at that time, but left me without a menu for a few minutes. It was fine, as I was waiting for my sister to join me anyway, but perhaps some better coordination is needed at the front of house.

The rest of our visit was smooth sailing though (and perhaps because of the initial glitch, we were treated to even more attentive service, with plenty of coffee refills and check ins). The menu at De Dutch is overwhelming, with scrambles, eggs benedicts, French toast, omelettes, burgers, and sandwiches in addition to their pannekoeken. I had my mind made up to try one of their signature pancakes, so it was easier to whittle down my choice. I decided on the hash pannekoeken ($13.25), in the mood for potatoes and hollandaise. Felicia opted for a smoked salmon, red onion and brie Dutch tostie ($12.50).

Our food arrived in good time. When my plate was set down in front of me I knew I had no hope, but I managed to get through half of the serving. The pancake in particular was notable for how light and neutral it was (making it perfect for either savoury or sweet flavours), and complemented the hash well. At first, I wondered why the hash was served in a separate dish atop the pancake, instead of being distributed on top of the pannekoeken, but as my leftovers were packed up, it made much more sense to keep the two separate (reheated two days later, the dish held up incredibly well – no soggy pancakes here!).

De Dutch

Hash pannekoeken

Felicia’s tostie looked almost dainty by comparison, but she enjoyed the toasted sandwich very much (and still had leftovers!).

De Dutch

Smoked salmon tostie

In contrast to Cora’s, we never felt rushed – on the contrary, we were invited to linger, with multiple coffee and water refills even after our plates had been packed up. While I recognize that part of this may relate to the fact that De Dutch is still relatively unknown in the city and hence not as busy yet (not helped by its lack of visibility from Jasper Avenue due to construction), I am optimistic they will be able to maintain their level of service even as their profile rises. So if you’re looking for a brunch option this holiday season – give De Dutch a try – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

De Dutch
10030 Jasper Avenue
(587) 520-8841
Monday-Friday 7am-3pm, Saturday-Sunday 8am-3pm

Breakfast Artistry: Cora’s

I really thought 9:45 on a Sunday morning was early enough to escape the brunch-line crunch, but I was wrong. Arriving at Cora’s today, I was greeted with a crowd that not only snaked through the lobby, but onto the sidewalk outside. It made me wonder if the same resilience would hold in colder weather.

Eventually, I was joined by two more of our party of four. Our wait actually didn’t end up being that long – around twenty minutes. As we edged closer to the front of the line, we were able to peer into the kitchen to watch the “breakfast artists” (Cora’s term, not mine) at work firsthand, busily blending smoothies and assembling plates.

“Breakfast artists” at work

The restaurant itself was also larger than it appeared from the outside, with basic wooden tables and chairs divided by four foot high partitions. They broke up the space somewhat, and definitely helped Cora’s maximize the room. Janice made the apt observation that she felt a bit like she was in an elementary classroom – colourful cartoon representations of Cora’s dishes graced the walls, alongside random animal figures perched high on shelves. And though Cora’s is a chain, where each restaurant is likely decorated in a similar way, I had to say I liked the sense of lightness and fun expressed by the interior.

Interior

The family-friendly atmosphere was also highlighted by the many children dining alongside their parents. Moreover, we noticed that the patron demographic seemed to skew pretty young, with the majority of diners in the 20-35 age range.

Our friendly server got the three of us started with beverages right away while we waited for Annie. May ordered the smoothie ($3.95), which changes daily, while Janice and I stuck with coffee ($2.35). After our drinks arrived, and our server knew a friend was still to join us, she checked on us periodically to see if we needed refills, but never pushed us to order, despite the consistent line outside. At some point, recognizing that Annie was running really late, we ordered without her anyway, but with noted appreciation for our server’s patience.

Smoothie

I was excited to see the menu, with some knowledge of Cora’s reputation, especially out east. I loved how visual the menu was, with photos of every dish to illustrate the artistry that goes into every plate. While I usually settle on my meal fairly rapidly, with the choices so vividly represented in front of me, my decision was made all the more difficult. In the end, the ham and swiss crepomelette ($10.95) won out for both May and myself, while Janice ordered the ham panini-crepe, and Annie opted for Cora’s special.

Colourful menu

Though our server apologized profusely for our wait for the food to arrive, I didn’t think the length of time was unreasonable at all (especially given our tardy order placement). My crepe, which had been stuffed with a ham and swiss omelette, was good overall – the lightness of the crepe was notable, as was their generosity with the fillings. The hollandaise was a little on the rich side for my taste however, though I must admit I don’t usually order any dishes containing the sauce. The fruit included was a nice touch (and for me, the small bowl was enough – Janice’s “mountain” of fruit with the panini-crepe would have been too much for me), but the cantaloupe slice made me wish they used only fruits in season.

Ham and Swiss Crepomelette

Panini-Crepe (lovely grill marks)

Cora’s Special (2 eggs, bacon, ham, sausage and crepe)

With excellent service (the roving coffee servers were great), I would not hesitate to recommend Cora’s as a brunch destination. My only nitpick is its location, towards South Edmonton Common, and not easily accessible by public transit. With the success of this outpost, however, perhaps TPTB at Cora’s will consider opening a second branch closer to the core? I can only hope.

Cora’s
111, 2920 Calgary Trail
(780) 465-2672
Monday-Saturday 6am-3pm, Sunday 7am-3pm