Canadian Coffee Break: My Favorite Diner
The Canadian Coffee Break brings together some of the finest Canadian minds in Southern California every week for a topical, lively round-tablesque discussion over very dark coffee. Won’t you join us.
TOPIC #9: Diners, Cafes, Coffee Shops…
Please compare and contrast the oldschool cafes, diners and coffee shops of your respective hometowns to those available to gurgitators in los angeles. Where would Gottfried Helnwein (by way of Ed Hopper) stage the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Canadian edition? If it’s old, sort of crusty, visually interesting, still standing and the coffee is reliable, consider it fair game.
In the fatalistic social climate of the Referendum-era in the Plateau region of Montreal, it often seemed like there was nothing to do but eat breakfast. In our HalcionÂ® daze we would all hang out all day at Gabby’s punk rock breakfast eatery, eating tofu huevos rancheros, and listening to Slayer (these were before the days of Flick). Gabby’s eventually got turned into a pretty rocking vegan coop called Aux Vivres although you didn’t find much of the original clientele there. Folks would also go to Pines for their super greasy “god like potatoes” (the secret of which was chicken fat), and next door to a place that I think was called Millies just like the famous LA eatery (although I may be mistaken). The whole scene was kinda tragic in a romantic way. Later on though as the scene started to move north along “the Main” (as we called St Laurent Boulevard), up towards Mile End, places like Senzala opened up and the scene started to change somehow. A fresh new batch of Anglos came streaming in to replace my generation, and the Anglo-Bohemia I had come to love and hate was being born again, with all-day breakfasts becoming a thing of the past, replaced.
Since you know everything about me, you know I grew up in Pakenham. You probably think that all we did was pack ham and then eat the packed ham, but you’re wrong, buttface!! Yes, you’re right – compliments of my grandparents’ slaughter plant there was a lot of ham packing in Pakenham (which the customs agents seem to find amusing), but there was much finer cuisine than just packed ham (isn’t that spam??).
We had The Centennial!!
Over the years it’s gone through a decent amount of owners, but the food remains constant: there’s nothing exciting or fancy about it. For people like me (read: boring) that provides a very stable and enjoyable environment.
Having gone to Pakenham Public School (that had a total of less than 175 other kids from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 8), a highlight was getting to go “downtown” for lunch. “Friday, April 27, 1990 – Jamie has my permission to go downtown for lunch. Brenda Scheel” is specific text taken from a note granting me joy for the week. Going to the Centennial even surpassed Hot Dog Day (Wednesday – when Mom would give me a soft drink for lunch too). An average of three Centennial lunches per year was quite admirable.
These days I still go to The Centennial when I go back home. In an attempt to be nice to my sister, I typically take her and offer to pay. If ever you’re in the area, stop by The Centennial and be sure to order the poutine – that’s what Ash and I get (with a Sprite, of course).
(The Centennial is on the left of the picture which is, by the way, the busiest intersection in Pakenham… What’s that?? No stoplights!?! Of course not)
One thing I love about America–you’ll probably never hear me start a sentence with those words again–is the diners. To my vegetarian/ sensation-loving tastebuds, there’s no place quite like LA for an amazing “fourthmeal” (as Taco Bell likes to call greasy late night indulgences). My mouth waters at the thought of a vegetarian club with avocado from Brite Spot, or a Bossa Nova Waffle Sundae from Fred 62, or any of Cafe 101’s mind-blowing shakes.
That said, as a city where traffic lights flash red after 12 pm, it should come as no surprise that there’s no easy late-night sweet- potato-fries-and-soyrizo-tofu-scramble spot in the fair city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. But we’re not Yarmouth or Bridgewater–we do in fact have TWO late night options.
1. The Ardmore Tea Room “Chicken and Spaghetti; Full Course Meals” (*** – three stars)
Though it’s not really a “late night” kinda place, they do open at 4 am–the perfect stop after a long night of bar-hopping followed by a drive to the beach/park/parking lot/steve’s apartment in the misty morning hours. The waitresses have seen better days, and you will get some funny looks from the regulars, but when you want eggs, toast, possibly some breakfast meats–there’s no better place.
2. The Apple Barrel – “Halifax’s ONLY 24 Hour Restaurant” (* 1/2)
The Apple Barrel is a wonderful place to come after a night of pub- crawling. So long as you haven’t sobered up. Because the food is deplorable and the service is worse (don’t blame the waitresses, they’re busy babysitting all the other drunks in there). Your food will be soggy. Your menu will be greasy. You will stay there for too long. You will vow never to return. But you will. Because it’s the only place open in the entire city. Besides…
3. Steve’s Apartment (**)
Not actually a restaurant. But he usually has some frozen chicken breasts (his sister’s), salad dressing, pop, bread, canned soup and maybe some old pot brownies? There’s often enough ingredients available to make a sandwich, or at least ramen. And if that fails…
4. My place (** 1/2)
Not really my place anymore, but my Mom’s. And if she wakes up she’ll start talking about the 70s, or asking my friends about their siblings/parents. She’ll probably be holding a cat and wearing a nightgown. Mom! Why do you always do that? Still, there’s at least popsicles and crackers. And Mom would probably heat up some of her homemade soup if you ask nicely. I love you, Mom!
If there was one way in which L.A. and Montreal were compatible–or, more specifically, Silver Lake and the Plateau–it’s in their hipster communities’ high concentration of greasy spoons, and the importance placed by locals on kicking off a weekend with a square, cholesterol-packed breakfast. The holy trinity, at least when I went to McGill back in the early 90s, was: Beauty’s, Dusty’s and Pizza des Pins.
1. *Beauty’s* was the slightly upscale joint. It had a lot of stainless steel and the best Bagels/Lox/Creamcheese combo in the city. (Montreal bagels, for the uninitiated, are the most perfect confluence of carbohydrates known to man. Skinnier than a normal bagel, thus resulting in a much larger hole, each raw dough ring is briefly boiled in honey water, then coated in a generous amount of poppy (“black”) or sesame (“white”) seeds, then kissed by two hovering cherubs before being baked to golden brown perfection. The St. Viateur Bagel Co. is the best bagelry in the city, and I’m pretty sure was established before the fall of Rome.) Beauty’s is a little pricey, though, so it didn’t cater to starving students as much. It’s where you went with your parents. LA equivalent: That counter downstairs in the Beverly Hills Hotel.
2. *Dusty’s*: If you were lucky enough to score a booth without having to wait too long, you knew you were going to get one of the best breakfasts in the Plateau–possibly in the world!–and would get out of there with enough Loonies left over to ensure you’d get hammered later that night on Molson Dry, or, for the epicurean palate, Boreale Rousse. By the way, if the name sounds familiar, it’s not a complete coincidence: The Dusty’s on Sunset is owned by a former Montrealer, Maria Miller. Despite having virtually nothing in common with its namesake, our Dusty’s is one of the few LA menus that features Poutine. (Sadly, it’s a pale shadow of the original. Poutine needs to have fresh, thick cut fries cooked in the unhealthiest oils imaginable.) LA equivalent: Millie’s.
3. *Pizza des Pins*. The most popular McGill breakfast joint was actually a pizza place by name, though I don’t know anyone who ordered the pizza. Dirt cheap and dependable and large enough to avoid long waits, it was the default eggs, bacon, and bagel destination. Interesting anecdote: A good friend of mine back then was a talented music student named Jason Beck. Jason once wrote a round-up of the breakfast places for the McGill Tribune, in which he described Pizza des Pins’ homefries–or “patates”–as “godlike.” Within a week, all their signage and menus started referring to the their “patates godlike,”a particularly unappetizing word combination, which I believe exists to his day. (I’m heading there next week, when I’ll verify.) And Jason Beck, of course, would end up moving to Germany, changing his name to Gonzalez, and becoming a pop star, much in the Hasselhoffian mold. (Just kidding, Jason.) LA equivalent: Brite Spot.
Hi Ryan, This is Sean’s girlfriend and I am writing to let you know that he left for Austria yesterday and will not be able to write for the next two weeks. He thought he was going to have internet access while he was there and was planning on writing while on vacation, but upon arrival found out that his families’ internet is out of commission. He is very sorry for the inconvenience and he will email you when he gets back. Take care!
Safe travels Sean. Tell the fam hello.