Step into the Dakota Tavern for Bluegrass Brunch and you’ll find the place transformed. The event, now a Toronto institution that runs both Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate the once down-the-block line-ups, gathers hipsters, parents, and bluegrass aficionados alike into a jolly room of convivial bacon eating. Performers often gather around a single microphone as a nod to the way bluegrass “should” be performed, stepping forward to highlight their solos and back into the circle for the collaborative sessions while kids jump around the dance floor.
Typically, the bands are composed of Toronto’s best bluegrass artists, with availability shifting the makeup from week to week. Nevertheless, you’ll encounter people like Rob Fenton, who led the band playing slide and singing the morning I was there, and long time community leaders like Chris Coole and John Showman. In short, you can’t ask for better music, because there isn’t any; this is the best bluegrass Canada has to offer.
So with the music covered, let’s talk about the food. For $18, you’re paying for both musicians and for endless trays of breakfast. You have no choice in what you get: it’s eggs, potatoes, pancakes, sausages, and fruit salad. You can add bacon and beans for $5, and although any alcoholic drinks are extra, it does include coffee. But it just keeps coming. In other words, if you’re hungover and need more greasy sausages and potatoes to ease the pain, they are there.
Be prepared to make new friends: the restaurant is converted so that you’re seated at long tables. My companion and I managed to score one of the few small tables at the back, but it’s tough. And if you’re not into the kid scene, there are basically two shifts: toddlers at 10 am, and hungover 20-somethings at noon. I was there between the two, and met a lovely two-year-old who, her parents proudly proclaimed, had just survived her first bluegrass brunch. But by the time I had left, the crowd had shifted to droopy coffee guzzlers: seems bluegrass is the gentlest way to get your Saturday morning going.