Saturday Dinette


Saturday Dinette: A real Toronto neighbourhood finally gets a real neighbourhood diner.

A Cheap Eats pick, where you can dine well for under $30, before alcohol, tax and tip

I was coming home from a late-summer dinner the first time I saw Saturday Dinette. The place is a corner diner like nobody’s built them in 60 years: wide glass to the north and east, with the original mid-century soda fountains behind the bar. There were patio lights inside – a warm glow through the windows. Good music. The sound of happy chatter. I wrote down the name and then forgot about Saturday Dinette. I didn’t get back until early this year.

The little room was glowing still, but now like a beacon in a snow storm. I stamped off the cold and stepped past the draft curtain and got my first look inside through foggy glasses. Which is to say that I fell in love with the feel of Saturday Dinette before I fell in love with anything specific. The place feels unpretentious the way corner diners are supposed to be, but with De La Soul and Fine Young Cannibals spinning on a turntable. The cooking, some friends had told me, is home-style cooking, mostly, instead of cheffy cooking. And it’s cheap enough that you can go there often. Everything about it felt comforting, without anybody seeming to try too hard.

We ordered French onion soup, zucchini latkes, kale salad, pan-fried chicken and biscuits with collard greens – diner food with a side of wanderlust. There was an old Hamilton Beach milkshake mixer behind the counter, on which they whirl up double chocolate malt shakes that they’ll happily spike with Jameson. Score one for Leslieville.

The restaurant is the work of Suzanne Barr, an itinerant chef who was born in North York but never properly lived here until 2013. Ms. Barr’s father, a bookbinder who emigrated here from Jamaica in the 1970s, got a job in Fort Lauderdale when she was a toddler. She grew up in Florida, went to college in New York, spent four years in Atlanta as a camera assistant in the film industry. She lived as a Rastafarian for a while. She worked at MTV, she says, before leaving it all for chef’s school eight years ago.

It’s hard to keep track of where she’s been since: Miami, Maui, Bedford-Stuyvesant (she ran a vegan bakery there), the Hamptons, where she worked summers as a private chef, and as of a couple Octobers ago, back home, if you can call it that. Ms. Barr doesn’t really know where home is, she says.

Leslieville seemed like a good place to open her dream restaurant. It was a real neighbourhood with real community. The locals bring in their vinyl when they come for dinner, so they can play it on the restaurant’s sound system. There’s often a stack of strollers behind the bar during weekend brunch.

And anyway, a peripatetic past isn’t such a terrible thing when you cook for a living. Ms. Barr’s fried chicken tastes like the U.S. South, but the hot sauce in the marinade is Grace brand, because that’s what her Jamaican family uses, and the flour mix is chickpea flour and cornmeal so that Saturday Dinette’s fried chicken is gluten-free. It’s the sort of fried chicken that fosters mid-dinner turf-wars and 3 a.m. cravings. It is crisped to dark brown and tastes sweet and meaty and as juicy as a late-summer peach, before the low hot feedback hum of that Grace brand sauce kicks in.

The biscuits – those are pure crumbly buttery decadence. The collards come in a pool of their braising liquid, which is mostly caramelized onions, white wine and heavy cream.

REVIEW. Chris Nuttal Smith. Feb 15, 2015


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