We did not go for brunch for sometime so this visit was somewhat special - first brunch after a long winter of 2015. Starving Artist was a recommendation from a co-worker, but the idea of a waffle-oriented breakfast sounded very appealing to both of us.
Taking up a corner unit, the Starving Artist had somewhat subdued outdoor signage. Black and white stripes with simple spaced out letters and black window frames, there was't much to grab our attention. Large, opening windows poured a lot of light into the front part of the restaurant, but we proceeded all the way to the back. We walked through the long room with an open kitchen on one side, which created a unique ambiance with the huffing and puffing waffle machines (five of them in total, waffles non-stop!). We noticed a not-so-well maintained yellow aquarium with large fish. Despite all the light coming in, the dark interior made everything somewhat dim the deeper we went in. Our table was in small and darkish room - two tables right next to the exit to their backyard patio. There was some cheerful, naive art outside the glass door which made us regret not sitting outside - not that it was an option, on this less-than-warm April in Toronto, +5C outside.
A large water bottle landed on our table within seconds of settling at the table. We asked for Chamomile tea and their coffee. One thing we always pay attention to is the finish and quality of the restaurant's menus. It is a business card in a way. Unfortunately, we did find the menu disorienting with a lot of categories and options. In retrospect, we should have probably bugged our waitress more so some blame could be placed on us for not being too proactive. Second thing we noticed was the menu finish - simple black and white, laminated and with a poor crease fold. However, our waitress' enthusiasm made up for the dark setting and our grumbles about the menu. One interesting option was Sub Your Waffles section: bacon could be changed by avocados or tomatoes, for example (which we tried).
We went for their Smoked Salmon Waffle with Dill and a Waffle Benny as our mains. They both came with our choice of a side: salad, fruits or maple beans. After finishing the order, we glanced around. There was some art on the walls, vintage board games on the shelves and two artists occupying a table next to us. Unwittingly we learned about New York state grants for galleries and Brooklyn zoning restrictions from their excited chatter. Maybe Starving Artist should put some upbeat artists like that on the payroll to be part of the setting? Their energy level did go down though, as they plunged into their own dishes a few minutes later. Starving artists themselves were more entertaining prior to eating so we concluded the name made some sense.
The waffles machines churned two different sizes and shapes: smaller round and larger square ones. There was also a choice for getting your waffles gluten-free. Waffle Benny came in a shape of two round mini waffles with caramelized bacon (avocado in our edition) and plenty of Hollandaise sauce. We noticed a hint of vanilla sweetness from the waffle. It was fresh and soft besides that and appeared to have a touch of smokiness to it. A side of maple beans was also in interesting choice. An unexpected sweetness from an otherwise regular bowl of brown beans helped accent the Hollandaise sauce in the Benny, but salty bacon undoubtedly would've been a better option to balance the light vanilla sweetness of the waffle. The Smoked Salmon Waffle had a generous amount cream cheese, some salmon, giant capers, and tomatos, all stuffed between two very fluffy waffles with fresh dill in the batter. Somehow, the combination turned out to be a bit on the dry side - hard to swallow with all the cream cheese and waffle. It appeared to be messy to eat at first glance, but the soft waffles actually made it easily squish-able into a more accommodating shape. We were not sold on using waffles for the salmon / cream cheese combination, but it was still quite enjoyable to eat. Benny turned out better, in our opinion. We also ordered their Caramel Pecan dessert waffle. The waffle itself had caramel chips in the batter which created a thin melted crust of caramel in the cooking process. It was a great dessert, not overly sweet, topped with whipped cream and whole pecans. Another popular option was Banana'n'Strawberry which and chocolate chips in the batter, but will try it next time.
Currently, the Junction is one of the most actively developed areas of Toronto. On every corner there is either a massive renovation, old house demolition or straight out construction. At the same time, the change is in the air. We hope some of the older buildings will be preserved. Starving Artist is one of these places with lots of distinct charm left in it. We want to be back here in the midst of the summer to check out their patio along Lansdowne. Starving Artist is a definite must if you love waffles with everything. Even if you do not, try out the desserts at least - worth it!
ps A side note, we expected more creativity with the batter of the waffles. Perhaps ones with chia seeds and bran? We visited a place in Vancouver once, which had all the ingredients chopped finely in the batter, instead of using waffles like bread.