Natalie Brown: My perfect Saturday

The Canadian actress (and food enthusiast) would spend the day savouring the flavours of her most favourite dishes, riding cruiser bikes along the Venice boardwalk, and watching home movies with family in Northern Ontario

Natalie Brown, interview

Though we’d miss her greatly, if she should ever tire of TV and film, Natalie Brown could definitely make it as a professional food writer or culinary tour guide. The funny and warm actress, who is perhaps best known for playing Sophie Parker on the CBC series Sophie, has an enviable knack for discovering a city’s best restaurants and cafes.

A native of Timmins, Ontario, Brown recently shared her perfect Saturday with (P.S. if you love food as much as we do, you’ll definitely want to take notes.)

To begin my ideal Saturday, I first need a magic lamp, equipped with a genie, three wishes, and a magic carpet to take me to all the places I’d like to be.

To start my day, I would rub my lamp, greet my genie, and ask him to make this Saturday a beautiful, warm and sunny spring morning in Toronto. Ideally in May, not just because I’m a Taurus, but because after the long winter months, the city is just bursting with colour and life. Of course, every day ideally starts off with a good morning kiss, a little lemon water and some yoga—to do the mind and body good. Now I’m ready to head out, with my boyfriend in tow, and walk along Harbord [Street] to my staple coffee shop, Sam James where I’d get a chocolate croissant and a lovingly made cappuccino. Sam won first place at the national barista competition with his signature cappuccino, “The Baconator,” which I’ve yet to try!

With our newly caffeinated energy, we’d continue our morning on wheels, venturing through High Park’s winding bike paths. Since it’s my “perfect Saturday,” I’ll have the stamina to keep up with my boyfriend, up and over his infamous tours of the hills of the Old Mill and South Kingsway (not for the faint of heart, or short of breath!)

After working up an appetite, we’d head back east, stopping first for some of the mouth-watering, powdered strawberry and bone marrow donuts at Hoof Café, on Dundas Street west, then continue on to our brunch place, Aunties and Uncles. We normally go [during] the week, but since it’s a perfect Saturday, there would be no line up and there would be seats for us and for our friends. We’d order the banana-walnut pancakes to share, and I’d order the breakfast pocket, same thing I order every time, because it’s everything you could ever want for breakfast, between two pieces of bread—scrambled eggs, aged cheddar cheese, peameal bacon, homemade spicy ketchup and caramelized onions, on a warm, soft onion foccacia bun—heaven.

Now that I’ve got my nearest and dearest gathered together, we’re ready for Wish #2, and magically transport via super-swift carpet ride, to where I can’t imagine a better place to spend a Saturday afternoon—Venice Beach, California. It’s such an artful community, with great architecture, galleries, restaurants and boutiques—all blending harmoniously together in the salty ocean air.

My favourite restaurant, Gjelina is there, on the eponymous avenue, Abbot Kinney. We’ll need to work up an appetite again, so we’d rent cruiser bikes and ride along the boardwalk, watching surfers and beach volleyball players, and some of the craziest handball playing I’ve ever seen in my life. Together with the usual Venice suspects—men in Speedos on rollerblades with pythons around their necks—there really is something for everyone here. Love it!

There’s always a line up at Gjelina’s, but since we’re on one of the best streets in the world, on a sunny day in Southern California, we happily put our names on the list, and stroll lazily into some of the many fabulous boutiques. Some of the shops I love are The Stronghold known for its hundred-year-old denim, and Guild that carries the most exquisite candles by Cire Trudon, candle maker to Louis the XIV. After taking in the intoxicating aromas of bergamot, amber, geranium, tobacco, leather, moss, cedar, tuberose and jasmine, why not do things a little backwards on this make-up-the-rules-as-we-go-along afternoon, and have dessert before dinner?!

We duck into the gelato shop for some free tastings of their newest flavours of toasted coconut, roasted marshmallow, fig and balsamic glaze, and sea-salted caramel, with sharing spoons for everyone. Now, it should be time to be seated at Gjelina’s, and eat—again! I’m not worried, because not only do most of my friends share a love of food, but they love to share! It’s been a long day of adventure, so we quench our thirst on their ginger beer made with home-brewed Pilsner, mixed with ginger and fresh-squeezed lime juice. So refreshing. The restaurant is not only beautiful and rustic, but the room is permeated with my favourite scent of all: truffles! Tossed in a generous dose of black truffle oil are the truffled roasted potatoes. We get a giant order, the size of the entire table, and split some of their most decadent thin-crust pizzas made in a wood-burning oven, like the house-made chorizo, smoked tomato confit, fennel, chili and basil pizza, or the one with duck sausage, black trumpet mushroom, garlic, mozzarella, and thyme (for pictures of Gjelina’s dishes, check out my Timmins/LA sister’s blog.

Now making our way back along the Pacific Coast Highway, we’ll cap my perfect Saturday with a hike. After a full day of dining decadence, what could be more perfect than an hour-and-a-half-long journey up and down the winding mountain paths of Temezcal Canyon. When you get to its pinnacle, there’s snow-capped mountains to the left of you, the ocean to the right, and all of LA in between. It’s the most stunning view that showcases the very best that Mother Nature has to offer. As the sun starts to set over the coastline, we begin our descent into a deeply wooded ancient forest, replete with waterfalls and overgrown mosses, and smells that remind me of Northern Ontario, my home. I could have one last wish, on my most perfect Saturday, it would be to have my genie grant me the company of all my family, including those who have passed on, to meet me back at my house to watch the movies I love most. The only films I could watch over and over again aren’t the kind that can be rented, nor do they even have a name. They’re the ones my father recorded on his 8mm camera, without sound, or credits, starring my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins, projected onto a wall, accompanied by the best Saturday night cuisine of all: hot buttered popcorn.