The George Street Diner

Alright, back at it! It’s been a while since I’ve written up food; the Edible the Hungry Podcast has been taking up most talking points and going over the same places and meals twice feels a bit like beating a dead horse sometimes. I suppose that might tenderize the horse, but still.

So I wander out my door and decide against my morning coffee at my usual place, grab my bike and head off in search of a diner. This city has lots to offer, near and far, but I head along Adelaide and hook north once I pass George Brown College. A vague memory from a distant past hits and I find myself pulling up and strolling into the George Street Diner.

This is about as close to an old times diner experience as you could want. Red leather booths along the long side, stools and counter opposite, fencing back the open kitchen. The grill cook wears a grease stained black apron and a faded blue poet’s cap. He’s hunched over a mound of potatoes when I walk in, but turns his head and shares a cragggy smile, telling me to sit where I like.

I head to the end of the row and slide into a both. A threesome of french patrons are finishing up their meal next to me. I’m surprised to see all but one booth filled, but I take it as a good sign. Empty restaurants rarely bode well for the adventurous, though a lucky throw of the dice may reveal a hidden treasure.

A waitress with a wonderful set of colour tattoos recommends their basic Irish Breakfast ($11.50), and I agree, begging for to come first. It’s not too late in the morning, but lack of sleep and vivid, twisting nightmares have been sapping more and more of my strength of late. No wifi means I might actually get some work done, but before I can properly focus on any one program, my plate arrives.

Two overeasy eggs with the richest, brightest orange yolks I can remember eating—the chicken farmer is a fellow called Herman who keeps his chickens very happy, I’m assured, though now with marginal worry—three plain, inoffensive sausage links, two slabs of Irish Sola bread, and a small pile of sweet brown baked beans. Those were the good parts. Alas, despite my request to the contrary, grilled tomato still appeared on my plate.

And the home fries. It’s been a while since I’ve had homfries as painful as these. Cold and close to raw in the center, with a tired, dry husk of a shell. While a crisp shell on home fries is to be desired, they should be containing a warm, if not steaming hot, fluffy approximation of baked potato. Instead, the cold, starchy tackiness met my teeth, and I ended up brushing them momentarily clean with a napkin. When I mentioned the side’s lacklustre temperature to my waitress, she made every effort to bring another side of home fries to the table, but the damage was done. No desire to roll the dice when not one in the pile of two dozen short wedges provided adequate shape or taste.

Breakfast finished and I was left with a bottomless coffee and an empty diner. The cook, waitress, an older woman in a blue dress marked with palm trees, and a fourth unseen voice—the dishwasher revealed himself at one point—from the back went about cleaning. I rode through the lull, watching the passing world through the window lined with toy figurines, a feature that endeared me greatly to the locale. Old rock stylings played over the speakers: JD McPhearson and other artists I couldn’t place but enjoyed none the less.

The booths started to fill up again. This diner feels like it would be packed every day of the week in a small northern town like North Bay or Owen Sound. Here, it feels like it’s limping along. Obviously it’s doing well enough; I remember wanting to try eating here years and years back during a stint at the college a block south, so it’s been standing against time.

I watch liquor poured into a shaker and find myself with an urge for a milkshake. Two chocolates sodepop glasses full to the brim wander past me, couriered to a new table of three closer to the door. There’s a dudebro sitting there with a broken shark t-shirt and a backwards red baseball cap gesturing and sneering at the milkshakes, and I want to throttle him cup with with the flat cactus growing out of a bowl cactus at my elbow. I sigh and look elsewhere. If this were a small town, there’d be more of him filling up the diner. Gods, I love the city.

I wander out of the diner with a full belly and half smile some time later. My waitress was kind enough to keep my coffee cup full as I sat and worked. I would return for the setting and coffee ($2.50), but I’d likely take a pass on the food. You could do a lot worse than George Street Diner for a morning pit stop, but with St. Lawrence market and a host of other breakfasts nearby, I’m hard pressed to think of a time I would actively seek this diner out.

The George Street Diner
129 George St., Toronto, ON M5A 2M6