They're not on anybody's hip list, but today's three have been around longer than most, with myriad fans -- some of them even hipsters who have days when they want comfort food and plenty of it, at un-hip prices. And in all three it's not just the food and prices that keep them coming, but also the warmth and friendly attention.
When I first reviewed dinner at Dawning, over a decade ago, it was just one small room, but since then it has doubled to two small rooms. I remember liking the liver and onions, the fish and chips and, above all, an elegant cream of carrot soup du jour -- all still on the menu, although these days dinner is served from Wednesday to Friday only.
My most recent visit was for the popular weekend brunch. There are the usual egg dishes, from $5.50 to $7.95 and a variety of omelettes from $8.95 to $9.25, all with hash browns and toast. The eggs are cooked precisely as ordered, the bacon is crisp, the omelettes are tasty, and the hash browns excellent. The only disappointment was a thin, lemony sauce on the eggs Benedict that didn't taste like hollandaise.
But what I invariably succumb to are the savoury Mennonite specialties. It would be reasonable to assume there was a Mennonite in the kitchen -- reasonable, but wrong. Chef-owner Luat Nguyen is Vietnamese; he mastered Mennonite cooking during his first job in this country, at the long-gone d/8 Schtove, and later at his second, the Don.
They cost from $7.95 to $12.50, and sadly, the best-known cottage cheese perogies (vareneke, actually) weren't available on my visit, but the wonderful kielke more than made up for them -- tender, house-made noodles in a rich but non-cloying cream gravy, partnered with excellent farmer sausage. The sausage is also paired with eggs, hash browns and toast, as arethe gloms kuak -- a grilled, dill-flecked cottage cheese pattie -- and the wickedly irresistible crackles of crisply fried shreds of fatty pork.
Open Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday to Friday to 7 p.m.
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Loona Rossa has been owned by the Cravariotis family for 30 years, 27 of them at the above address -- a homey, almost rustic place, softened by a little jungle of greenery. It's a genuine family restaurant with something on the menu for everyone, and astonishingly big portions.
In the past I had come for dinner, lured by the legendary liver and onions (the place is high on many a liver-lover's list). Not only did it live up to expectations -- lightly breaded, tender and moist -- but there was enough of it to feed two, lavishly, with either fries or Greek roasted potatoes, mushrooms, and a fine coleslaw. Also impressive is the fact that three years later the price has risen by less than a dollar, to $11.75.
But my most recent focus was on the equally satisfying lunch and breakfast. Sandwiches and burgers cost from $4.50 to $6.95, among them, a monumental clubhouse layered with fresh cooked turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes, a Reuben packed thick with corned beef, mozzarella, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, and a gloriously messy burger with cheese, bacon and mushrooms. The chicken gyros is tender and flavourful at $11.45, including fries and a beautifully dressed Greek salad, and the thin-crusted pizzas are as generous as they are good -- our 10-inch Loona Rossa Special was piled high with pepperoni, beef and back bacon, as well as onions, peppers and mushrooms ($13).
Breakfast is served until noon on weekdays, 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and ranges from $5 for one egg with breakfast meat (crisp bacon, and lots of it), fresh hash browns and toast, to $8.50 for a Welsh omelette copiously endowed with bacon, green pepper and cheddar.
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Wanabee's opened 21 years ago, a quirky classic diner with an open kitchen, a counter with stools, tables and chairs along the outside walls and ultra-colourful op-art cafe curtains on the many windows. It's a one-woman show, starring the remarkably calm Karen Ashley, who miraculously manages all the cooking and serving with efficiency and good humour. The place has a legion of devotees, and word had it that many regulars never needed to order. Word had it right -- I actually heard her ask one arrival, "The usual?"
It has the shortest hours of the three, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday in summer, the shortest menu and the lowest prices. Two egg breakfasts with choice of meat, hash browns, toast and coffee are $6.45, and such inevitables as sandwiches, perogies with kubasa, chili, chicken fingers and a few salads cost from $4 to $6.75.
But I had come for the dishes most raved about, and now have joined the ranks of the ravers myself. A mushroom cheese omelette was one of the tenderest, fluffiest I can remember; the crisp, thin-sliced hash browns were sensational; the pattie in my bacon cheeseburger was big, juicy and full of flavour ($4.80); and the skinny fries were addictive ($1.90). Even the coffee -- an unbelievable $1.35, including refills -- was excellent. Posher, pricier places could take lessons.
Note: cash only.