Saturday, March 3, 2012

Uncle Betty’s Diner (Toronto, On)

Eat Well and Smile
In 1950, die hard perfectionist and butcher Rudy DeSanti Sr. started offering donuts to his Dreesen's Excelsior Market clientele. So popular they were that people started shopping just for the donuts. "Hand made" by a robot they would gain such a following that Rudy Jr. started licensing establishments to not only sell Dreesen's Donuts but prepare them on site. The recipe and robot were sold all over the metro NYC area and eventually neighbouring counties and states. The robot would be displayed prominently and customers could watch their goodies made fresh before their eyes.
When Toronto ex-pats Rob Lewocz and Samara Melanson returned home from a  life in New York City there were two things they missed. Dreesen's Donuts and the neighbourhood diner. Face with the reality that those two things were sparse to unavailable they decided to fill their particular void. In spring of 2011 they started second careers as restaurateurs and opened Uncle Betty's Diner. Named for Melanson's "Take charge, no guff" mother, Uncle Betty's is doing diner fare with it's own unique, gourmet twist. The menu is a blend of classics and nouveau diner foods featuring home made Twinkies, meatloaf, sloppy Joes and Toronto's first, Dreesen's Donuts. Hand made by their very own robot.

I had this on my “To do” list almost since it opened but for one reason or another I hadn’t made it. Then last week I saw it featured on “You Gotta Eat Here.” Canada’s spin on the very popular “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. The grilled cheese sandwich looked far too good to resist. I made plans with a buddy and off we went.

On the outside there isn't much to talk about. It's a corner unit in a string of small mom and pop type shops on Toronto's famous Yonge St. The teal paint has it stand out from the rest of the Lawrence Park merchants.

Inside there's 60 some odd seats, a dessert station, counter and, of course the donut robot. The walls are fairly spartan and seem to be just waiting for autographed head shots and framed magazine articles. It's what a venerable old place looks like when it first opens I suspect.

In the kitchen they're doing stuff they way it should be done in a diner. In house. Practically everything is made on the premises and what isn't is top notch.
Nathan's hot dogs, perhaps the best widely available dog around and Greg's premium, all natural ice cream are notable items.

Myself and JEB paid a lunch visit on a snowy Friday. While the weather reeked havoc with their 10am opening, once inside Rob treated us with gratitude for our patience. We were in turn rewarded with an excellent lunch.

So let's take a look at the food shall we.

The onion rings are really good. Panko breaded and served with Fancy Sauce they had a good taste and nice crunch. I prefer beer battered rings but these provided a nice change. Usually served with garlic aioli they subbed out the Fancy Sauce. House made it’s pretty much Thousand Island Dressing. A pretty nice match.
Quebec’s favourite street food, poutine, is given due justice here. A terrific gravy smothers cheese curd and shoe string fries. I’d prefer a heftier fry but these tasted very good so I won’t complain. The purists will deduct points for the lack of squeek in the curds but I prefer to let the dish sit so the curds start to melt. Ya, the fries get kinda soggy but they’re going to anyway, so why fight it. The cheesy, gravy goo is worth it.
Perhaps there’s no better hot dog on the planet than Nathan’s. At least, not that I’ve tried. It’s certainly the king of the grocery store brands. It should then come as no surprise that the Uncle Betty Dog was hit with me. Sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions and garlic aioli are invited along for the ride. I would never have put mushrooms on a dog but here they fit right in. A great dog all in all.
20131016_114547The Chicken Fried Steak is not exactly traditional but close and quite good none the less. A nice crispy breading envelope a piece of (not cube) steak and smothered in a milky white gravy that’s got sauteed onion and mushroom. I’d prefer they leave those out but it was good with them. A delicious take but I must deduct points for the beading falling off.
20131016_114553The accompanying Mashed Potatoes are very nice. The gravy on here was much better suited. I like that the potatoes aren’t whipped so there’s little bits of unmashed tater. They say they shouldn’t be lumpy but I like ‘em better that way. These are some good.
One of Uncle Betty’s signature menu items is the Ultimate Grilled Cheese. Cheddar cheese glues this sandwich together and it needs adhesion. Stuffed inside is mac and cheese and meatloaf. A slice of great tasting old school M&C and slab meatloaf. On it’s own it was great. The workhorse kind like Ma used to make. The whole is better than that of it’s parts which is always a good thing.
We both had donut ice cream sandwiches for dessert. JEB’s was cappucino ice cream with toffee sprinkles. The ice cream was quite rich and creamy and the toffee added a bit of crunch and some more flavour. It’s wasn’t sickeningly sweet either which was nice.
My sandwich was malteezer flavoured ice cream and oreo cookie crumbs. The ice cream was a terrific flavour and I though was matched perfectly with the donut. The Oreo sprinkles on top punched up the chocolate flavour.
20131016_120447Another of their signature items is the Twinkie. Again, taking artistic license in the kitchen this is a chocolate cake log with whipped cream injected and topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Oh my. I need a moment. Ahhhhh.

20131016_115707As for those Dreesen's donuts....they're every bit as good as advertised. Cakey but not heavy and with a slight chew. I prefer the cinnamon sugar version but both are great. I took a bag home with me and even the next day they were still good. Straight off the line is certainly the way to go. Incidentally, they come in powdered or cinnamon sugar flavours.
So for some great diner food that’s sometimes old school, sometimes contemporary head to Uncle Betty’s.
You can find Uncle Betty’s at 2590 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.
You can also find them on the web and facebook.
Uncle Betty's on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks. See ya next time in the food court.

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