WRITING BY: BRYN OSSINGTON, ANDREW MORGAN, ALLISON LEONARD
PHOTOS BY: MATT SMITH
A greasy spoon is a special type of place. When everything we eat needs to be Instagramed and Pintrested, your neighbourhood greasy spoon remains the fixture of common sense dining. They aren’t here for the “foodies” or food tourists. The greasy spoon exists for the regulars and the practical diners who are looking to eat food, drink coffee and carry on with their day. It’s for the person who knows how to tell their server which meat, how they want their eggs and the type of bread they want. Or the person who knows how to order a burger without requiring a cheese and sauce list. Typical features include cheap food and that grease left over on your plate when you’ve cleaned it.
It’s the space where the décor isn’t overthought and the paintings are either celebrating “the best team” or knick knacks you can find at a Saturday garage sale. These are places where the food is meant to be eaten as it was prepared. Sure, you can get a substitution here or there but don’t bother asking for avocado on your grilled egg sandwich. Your food is meant to be the way dad or mom or Jimmy would do it. It’s going to be served to you by someone who calls you dear, hun, sugar, or in the best of cases “sug.” And if you treat them right you’ll never see the bottom of your coffee cup. A greasy spoon is a place for regulars, where every regular gets “the regular” and the waitress knows exactly what that means for every regular that comes in. It’s a place for good, cheap food that will put some meat on your bones, served to you by someone with just a little bit of sass and a no nonsense attitude.
This month the Community Edition staff takes on some of the best greasy spoons in town so you can find your new regular breakfast location.
SLICE’S: GO FOR THE PRICE
“Next!” the abrupt but friendly shout is commonplace as one slides their tray across the high school cafeteria-style assembly line at Slice’s. The downtown Kitchener greasy spoon fulfills the term “no frills” in all facets: space, service and menu – but we wouldn’t ask for anything else, ever.
Slice’s isn’t about refilling your coffee after each sip, it’s about filling your stomach with a healthy (term used lightly) portion of $3.99 breakfast. The bacon: crispy. Home fries: none of that frozen, cubed shit. We’re talking rough-cut, flat-top, covered in paprika home fries that create a cozy, greasy bed for the rest of the food on your plate. Toast: rye, obviously. Heavy on the butter. Eggs: always – and we mean always – done exactly as you like it.
Don’t stop there. Lunch options cover your standard diner favourites, with Greek fare to boot. The space seems to host everyone from teenagers with a free second period and five bucks in their pocket to professionals meeting over their lunch break. We recommend the corned beef sandwich with the chip truck style fries.
You can find this hole-in-the-wall nestled at the corner of King and Water St., marked by a giant, green, building-side sign that is as direct as the staff; it reads “RESTAURANT.” Slice’s doesn’t mess around, they don’t need to.
CHECKERBOARD: GO FOR THE HOMEFRIES
“Anywhere you like guys” someone called from the back as we walked in. We nabbed a booth table in the nearly full space. Awesome.
We tackled both the breakfast special and a stack of pancakes, you know, for diversity. The bacon was crispy, perfectly done if you’re into that style. Ask for syrup for your bacon (we stole some from the pancake plate). Beast mode. Not into bacon? These guys have polish sausage too, its crispy and fatty and everything you want to start your morning with.
The eggs were standard, but when it comes to home fries, Checkerboard knows best. Melt-in-your mouth with a perfect seasoning kick. And there were these small crispy flecks of potato skin. It’s been decided, every greasy spoon should keep the skins on.
For pancakes, we’re talkin’ fluffy, fluffy stacks, with that little bit of crisp on the edges. That crisp you try to get at home but you never can because you don’t put enough butter and don’t have a flat top or the skill of a server who’s flipped a thousand flapjacks.
We asked for debit when it was time to pay. “No, cash only. Dad’s old school like that,” she answered, like we were already family. A certain photo editor owes a certain urban editor some cash now.
JIMMY’S LUNCH: GO FOR THE COFFEE, REALLY GET IT YOURSELF
How long would you think it takes for a regular customer to feel comfortable getting their own coffee at a restaurant? I’ve never felt comfortable getting my own coffee at a friend’s house let alone a restaurant but at Jimmy’s you’ll feel the odd person out while you wait for the server to bring you yours.
Jimmy’s is one of the oldest spots in town and most of the regulars have been going as long as it’s been opened. Jimmy’s is a local institution, whether you know it or not it hides in plain site on Victoria St. between Lancaster and Margaret Ave. Its location is announced only by a large Pepsi sign with small black type indicating its name. Jimmy’s is either the place you know well or the place you’ve always wondered what went on there. If you belong to the latter group here is a hint, go in.
It epitomizes the no-nonsense aspect of the greasy spoon. Don’t bother asking for a menu, you’ll just have the waitress list off things they can get you. On the wall you’ll read about the banquet burger, chilli and the all day breakfast. If you get the breakfast the bacon will be crispy enough to crumble in your mouth, the eggs will seem overcooked, but you’ll be wrong and the home fries with onions will surprise you with taste. Oh, and you’ll get coleslaw, which you may think is weird but you’ll be wrong again.
CORNER PUB: GO FOR THE SERVER
If you ever ride the GO bus or Greyhound in and out of town you’ll know the Corner Pub (or CP as it’s affectionately known by those of us who are too lazy to say the full name) as the small bar on the corner of Ottawa and Charles St. that boasts Karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights. On a typical weekday, Chris is your server but when we were in to “research” this article, periodically, customers asked “ugh… is Chris away?” She was, and for anyone who has made CP a regular breakfast spot, it’s weird if Chris isn’t around. But as always the breakfast was great and our coffees remained full. If you keep things simple you can do your standard breakfast special for $6.
They don’t tell you, but you’ve got options for home fries – insider info. You can get the chopped and spiced potatoes, or you can get what one of our other reviewers would call “that frozen, cubed shit.” I would call them delicious, cubie home fries – Chris will know what you’re asking for. If you are in after breakfast you can help yourself to the typical greasy spoon options, burgers, BLT, and Friday’s fish and chips specials. These aren’t going to blow your mind in taste but they’ll more than meet your needs for filling your gut and not emptying your wallet.
HARMONY LUNCH: GO FOR THE BACON
Harmony undoubtedly has a familiar, hasn’t-changed-much-since-it-opened feel to it. There is an ATM sitting in a custom-made telephone booth and a Hamilton Beach milkshake blender behind the bar.
The waitress will come for your order without menus; a space with so many regulars who have memorized the selection doesn’t need menus.
We ordered two eggs over easy, bacon, home fries and brown toast. We’ll start with what everyone is dying to know: the bacon was soft, but crispy just on the edges, ideal, and the best of all of our greasy spoon bacon tasting.
The home fries were delicious, delicious heart attack initiators: creamy, a little oily, with some nice crunchy skins. The runny eggs and well-done toast (yes, diners can totally screw up toast) brought this space up to an 8 out of ten, at least.
Sure, the smell of a decade of fried onions fills the space and drifts onto the streets, but the memories of a decade of regulars enjoying their favourite uptown greasy spoon fill the space, too.