It’s Saturday morning and you’ve already rubbed your eyes, shaken off the early morning haze with a quick shower and now what? You’re hungry, that’s what you are! As rewarding as making a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon is, or a stack of pancakes for yourself at home, it’s hard to ignore the siren’s call of hollandaise, caesars and mimosas at one of our many brunch hotspots.
I’ve travelled far and wide in the last few years, and I’ve come to realise one thing (well, a few things, but one that’s breakfast-related): Calgary is a brunch city through-and-through. The feeling of disappointment you can feel while in a foreign city and not being able to find a delicious morning meal, is akin to disappointing your grandmother; something you never, ever want to happen. Thank god our city has no shortage of A.M. eateries to keep us appeased.
Many Calgarians will have an unabashed appetite for breakfast giants like Cora’s, or the more standard greasy spoons, but it’s always nice to find a spot for brunch that aims to kick things up a notch.
You’ll find Monki BreakfastClub and Bistro tucked into the corner of 10th Avenue and 12th Street SW, right across the road from Community Natural Foods. Avid diners will remember this space as the original Petite restaurant that closed its doors after a fire in early 2011. It sat vacant for quite some time until two brothers, Tyler and Jaret Loria, grabbed hold of it to launch their popular establishment.
Tyler and Jaret Loria of Monki Breakfast Club and Bistro. Photos by Ingrid Kuenzel.
At a whooping 24 seats, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you will need to wait a little bit to get into Monki bistro, but there is a silver lining here. Not unlike the Una Pizza’s ‘no reservation’ mentality, you can add your name to the waitlist here and service staff will give you a ring when your table is ready.
If you’re a ‘I don’t wait in line!’ sort of individual, then I’d suggest popping by Monki on the slower days of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday) or aim to arrive for a bite well before 10 a.m. That being said, when the warmer weather rolls around – it’s almost here, I can feel it – Monki’s small patio opens up, adding another 20 seats or so, and alleviating wait times, which is nice.
Though the room here is tiny, that’s really part of its charm. Once you do have the chance to nestle into your seats, you’ll see exposed brick walls surrounding the tables, with subtle monkey paraphernalia hanging around (no pun intended). Brightening up the room are big north-facing windows and an eclectic array of local artwork – all for sale – that is as varied as the clientele.
From brunch aficionados who will drive just about anywhere for a good plate of food to neighbourhood regulars (admittedly myself included), there is definitely a varied mix of individuals here with one common goal: To be fed!
“I love the people and the culture here. Just the gathering and camaraderie of like-minded people.” says Jaret Loria in regards to his customers at Monki. “Unique food and atmosphere draws the most interesting and creative people into this one tiny, chaotic space and I love it!”
Having grown up in the restaurant industry, brothers Tyler and Jaret Loria, worked in their parents’ restaurant, Gnocchi’s, a long-time Italian staple in the dining scene here before it closed its doors in 2010.
“We were born and raised in [this industry]” he says about branching off with his brother to open their own restaurant. “We’ve been eating, sleeping and breathing this kind of business since we were born! It’s what excites us.”
Parts of the menu here could be interpreted as Italian-inspired. You’ll find paninis filled with tender fior de latte, pesto and tomatoes, or monki-made (house-made) sausage, peperonata and provolone. Even the salads, like the shaved fennel and apple, are a great, light bite if you’re not feeling like the caloric intake of hollandaise and bacon. Which is unusual, I know, but it does happen to the best of us.
Monki’s Brisket and Monkey Sausage Hash. Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel.
Now, moving on to why we’re here in first place: Brunch. Monki does right by eggs benedicts, pairing gluten-free biscuits and poached eggs with anything from sliced Alberta beef and sautéed mushrooms to spicy chorizo and goat’s cheese, or grilled capicolla with tomatoes and pesto. Whatever benny variety perks your interest, all come topped with the signature prosecco hollandaise, which is as bright-tasting as it is rich.
Other favourites include frittatas, served in mini cast iron skillets, or steak and eggs, but the true savoury star of the brunch offerings here is definitely the Loria brothers’ Brisket and Monki Sausage Hash. Beef brisket is slow-cooked for 16 hours in a ‘top secret’ 12-spice blend and served up with potatoes, jalapenos, fried eggs and hollandaise. Perfect for anyone with a meaty appetite.
Bacon does not grace many dishes here unless ordered as a side, but you will find it candied and laying happily on top of the juicy burger. Add in a poached egg, chipotle aioli and Gouda inside a pretzel bun, and you’ve got a filling, albeit messy, meal on your hands.
“Watching people devour that burger, as all the juice runs down their face and arms and then nod with approval or with a smile. Especially the ladies!” explains Loria proudly about one of their most popular menu items. “Then, they usually run to the washroom to shower off. It’s the best!! Ha, ha.”
If there’s one thing the brunch eatery is short on, it’s options for anyone with a sweet tooth. That being said, the stuffed brioche French toast, finished with a sauce made of condensed milk and Nutella, is worth ordering even as a dessert if you still have some room after your main dishes. Wash it down with one of Monki’s Aperol mimosas to finish off the morning.
Last, but not least, it’s hard to ignore the fruit cups here. That may seem like a minute detail, but when most morning go-tos just toss a lukewarm piece of cantaloupe or orange on your plate, it’s refreshing to see a big pile of banana, apple and grapes, and occasionally more exotic fruits like dragon fruit or blood orange. It’s little touches like this that diners appreciate, or at least I know I do.
The menu hasn’t changed much since Monki’s doors opened back in August 2012, but the duo are looking at bringing in some fresh ideas for the summertime. Though for now, they are just trying to keep a good thing going.
“We’re just keeping it real!” Jaret Loria explains on their aim to keep people coming back again and again. “Respecting and acknowledging the people that truly appreciate and understand the effort that we all put into this – day in and day out…To this day, we haven’t done a single piece of advertising. It’s all just word of mouth from the amazing people that took a minute to tell a friend!”