.The Gist: You probably think new Leslieville restaurant White Lily Diner is a brunch spot. Pfft. While they do serve table-thumpingly great breakfast items, you are missing out on divine dinner fare.
Here’s why you need to visit after dark:
1. Practically everything is local and made from scratch including: bread, biscuits, desserts, mustard, dressings and pickles. Many items - turkey, bacon, pastrami and fish - are smoked in house.
2. The exquisite care, respect and execution of each item by head chef and co-owner Ben Denham (formerly of Grand Electric and Electric BBQ, stage at Husk), sous chef Neil Murphy (formerly sous chef at Drake One Fifty), and pastry chef Sharon Hammond (formerly of Le Dolci) is that of a fine dining restaurant, in the friendly, comfy atmosphere of a modern diner.
3. First-time owners (and couple) Ben Denham and Ashley Lloyd have made offering quality fare at a reasonable price and genuine hospitality the forefront of their business. And it shows.
4. Even the music (curated by Denham) is fantastic. Tell me it doesn’t sound like actual records coming through the speakers.
Grub: Classic diner fare and comfort food dishes – patty melts, pastrami and club sandwiches, non-fussy salads, and hashbrowns – get a serious update in terms of quality and attention.
Nightly dinner specials (available after 5pm daily) include Meatloaf, Smoked Pork Belly & Beans, Pot Roast, Chili with all the fixins (each $16, except chili which is $14), with many more to come. Denham says “The amount of things on the horizon is insane,” and soon family-style dishes will also be introduced for suppertime.
Whatever you do, save room for dessert – two kinds of pie (tartlets actually - $4.50 ea.), butter tarts ($4) and doughnuts ($4.50 for two). I’m serious.
Libations: Choose from two beers on tap (Beau’s and Sweetgrass), five brews in bottles or cans, one cider, six cocktails (including DIY Mimosa for Two $15), and four wine (5 oz. or bottle).
Non-alcoholic selections include Hammond’s homemade juice of the day (daily price) and her seasonal kombucha ($4.50).
Fixtures & Fittings: The place required a m-a-j-o-r overhaul.
Denham did the majority of the work, along with his father (booths) and Lloyd’s father (wainscoting). Denham even worked the jackhammer to build the bathrooms! An engineer and architect were brought in to advise. They told Denham not to touch the drop down ceiling. Guess what? He did, and he was right.
The diner’s misty grey and ochre palate with dim lighting lends a dramatic Hopper-esque feel to the space, making it irresistible to linger over dinner and drinks.
Off the Menu:
Manhattan ($11) Wiser's Rye, Dolin Red Vermouth and bitters are mixed and set-aside in a large tapped jar to mingle. The result? A sophisticated cocktail without muss or fuss. And don’t worry, all the goodness doesn’t settle at the bottom either.
Gin Fizz ($9) Broker's Gin, lemon, egg white and soda makes for a frothy, refreshing tipple (also available as a Rickey).
Smoked Fish Platter (sm $14, lg $22) Silky slices of smoked steelhead trout and albacore tuna get a light dusting of rye crumb, served on a bed of mixed lettuce, with a side of creamy artichoke and asiago dip.
Breakfast Patty Melt ($14) A crumbly 6oz beef patty is nestled under American cheese sauce, an enticing sweet + heat poblano relish, thick strips of house smoked bacon and a quivering sunny egg in between thick slices of homemade bread, held together with a steak knife. Need I say more?
House Salad (sm $6, lg $12) A modern salad of bitter lettuce, sprouted grains (Denham sprouts his own in back), sheep’s milk feta, soft boiled egg, cucumber and onion, gets tousled in herb vinaigrette. Light yet satisfying no matter what time of day/night.
Sharon's Biscuits w/Sausage Gravy ($5.50 for three) Consider this your quickest way to visit the south. Sky-high biscuits with golden tops are heavy in hand, yet ethereal salty layers with a kick of black pepper, melt in your mouth. Underneath these bad boys - a sumptuous beef and chicken gravy with more pieces of seductive housemade sausage than creamy liquid. Heaven in a bowl y’all.
p.s. A non-sausage version ($4.50) is also available.
Natural Pickles ($3.50) In house fermented. The best. You’ve gotta get ‘em. ‘Nuff said.
Doughnuts ($4.50 for two) Hammond’s doughnuts change daily and sell out before closing. It’s no wonder.
The dense, chewy, yet still fluffy, doughnuts are flawless - a perfect combination of modern creation with a solid nod to old school technique. One rolled in the perfect amount of cinnamon sugar never overwhelms, only entices. Another donut is filled and topped with maple cream, which sounds like a toothache waiting to happen. But instead, it’s unsurpassable whipped maple that isn’t cloying in sweetness. How does she do it?
At the Stove: Ben Denham and Neil Murphy
Pastry Chef: Sharon Hammond
FOH: Lauren Campbell
Head Honchos: Ben Denham & Ashley Lloyd
Map It: 678 Queen St. E. (one blk. east of Broadview)
Visiting Hours: Wed to Sun 10am-10pm
Phone It In: (416) 901-7800
Deets: Dine in for breakfast, lunch and dinner five days a week. There’s room for 29, with some seating (5) at the bar.
How Cool is This?! You’ve just been introduced to one of the best restaurants in the city. Go now. Go often.
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