A jersey girl knows her diners. I spent a lot of late late nights (aka early, early mornings) sitting on a stool eating fried eggs, drinking milk shakes and sobering up.They were all over the state. Diners have their roots in horse drawn lunch wagons and were particularly popular in the northeastern US. The iconic shape that defines diners to me, dates from the 20’s. A long counter, kitchen in the back, a couple booths and fixed spinning stools.
Pre-fabricated, they were long and narrow for easy transport by truck or train. They were also an inexpensive way to start a business. A quintessential symbol of America they were often family run, owned by immigrants and open 24 hours. They are the hangout of after school teenagers, shift workers looking for a meal at odd hours and people who aren’t quite ready for the night to end.
Chef Patrick Kriss has taken diner to a whole new level. Aloette is his brand new ever so hip eatery. A little sister to his highly rated, haute cuisine, and my personal favorite, Alo. He’s got the long counter, booths and stools. Yet the space avoids sappy nostalgia; somehow managing comfortable homey cool. Aloette also serves fantastically good food.
While his gourmet mecca is hidden away on the third story, this younger sibling is on the ground floor in an old nail salon. The large windows are perfect for watching people sauntering Spadina Avenue. I asked Patrick why he picked ‘diner’ style expecting a romantic story about a favorite place of his youth. Instead, he pointed out it was the only thing that would fit in the space.
It is this practical streak that helps makes him so successful. He will not stick to a theme at the expense of good food. There is a milkshake and burger on the menu. But neither tempted me at all. Instead I opted for oysters… I know, in a diner! But diner with a twist. I repeatedly muttered “this is not at all what I expected”. That’s a good thing. The food is creative and exciting. He opened the restaurant to challenge himself and his team.
The charred chorizo starter is a mélange with fried chunks of baby eggplant, haloumi cheese squares, tiny sweet drop peppers and succulent olives. “Pits still in” the server warns! Teeth beware, but I think they taste better that way. The sauce is a tiny bit oily in the most perfect way. You’ll want to sop up every drop with the complimentary cheese bread. And yet the bread was so kill me now delicious I hated to adulterate it in any way other than with butter smeared as thick as gravity would allow.
The snails (French diner food?) came in a bowl with the garlic and parsley sauce expected by a dish described as burgundy escargot. They were also tossed with pork belly pieces, mushrooms and arugula. I could eat nothing else for the rest of my life it was so good. Except for the apple pie Sundae. Deconstructed, i.e. chopped up, apple pie in a traditional sundae glass layered with creamy vanilla ice cream and tons of buttery caramel sauce dripping everywhere. This is what heaven will taste like. And the fries… crunchy salty morsels of potato nirvana.
These were my favorites, but everything we ordered was delicious.
Aloette has only been open a month and already it can be hard to get a first come first serve seat. You can have a cocktail while you wait or go for a walk; they will call you when your spot is free. Or do what I did, get there at 2:30 pm. There is usually a lull ’til about 4:30. But get there you must. Aloette is fabulous! I just wish it were open at 3 am.