In going for a retro look and feel for the True North Diner, the owners have apparently spared no expense. The vast cavern of mediocrity that was the Ponderosa has become a gleaming, chrome and red, black and white tiled bastion of days past. It looks really sharp---not the genuine patina of age that the Chickenburger up the road sports, but pretty nonetheless---and, there's a jukebox on one end, with enough room in front to dance if the mood strikes.
The menu is small, as is the wine list, and the dish list boasts all house-made food, which is good. Over several visits, we sampled a cross-section of classic eats, skipping various deep-fried pub-like appetizers.
The cheeseburger ($8.95), true to claims, is made from fresh beef and not a porta-pattie shipped from a warehouse. It's big, too, with a thick slab of tomato, very fresh lettuce, and oops---processed cheese slice (too bad). Handcut fries on the side round out a nicely assembled plate.
An all-day breakfast is a staple that can really test the cooks' mettle, depending on how you order your eggs. I order mine over easy, which means that more often than not they arrive woefully undercooked, their slimy mucusy whites ruining the plate. Kudos to the cook, True North eggs are perfect, with plenty of runny yolk for dipping toast, and firm yet unrubbery whites to frame the yellow yolk. But the cook can't work a miracle with the bacon he's been given. They're tasteless, bland grease sticks. Order the ham or the sausage. The hash browns, however, are delicious. Diced, lightly browned on a griddle with red onions thrown in for good measure, these potatoes make up for the bacon.
Meatloaf and mashed potatoes ($8.95)---now there's comfort food. Harking back to simpler times, meatloaf is one of those dishes with a thousand variations that always tastes like home. True North has tomato sauce baked on the top of each slice, then gravy poured over it. I come down firmly on side of gravy only, but this doesn't taste bad at all. The loaf itself is seasoned well and heavy enough to be filling without giving you lead belly. Mashed potatoes are lumpy, requiring a touch of butter and salt to be really great. Steamed carrot coins completes the home-cooked look---overall, a winner.
The milkshakes ($3.95) are worth mentioning, especially the strawberry shake, with chunks of strawberry and real fruit flavour. And shout out to the baker---your coconut cream pie is delicious, and a big enough portion for two to happily share.
All this would make for a happy ending were it not for the state of the washroom and the service. The beautiful shininess of the new dining room evokes warm memories of mom and apple pie, but any mother would be shocked at the state of the ladies' room. It's mid-afternoon, the restaurant's practically empty and the restroom is dirty, dilapidated and out of tissue.
Did no expense trickle over into remaking the washroom? More to the point, if it's a slow day, can't one of the four servers leaning on the counter chatting roll up their sleeves and get to it? Which brings me to the second issue: The service is mediocre at best, negligent at worst. I can only hope that my experiences are not the norm.
The True North has a lot of potential, and a built-in clientele hungry for reasonably priced, tasty fare. Keep an eye on the washrooms, work a bit on service, and this restaurant will be around a long time.
Gimme a blonde with sand and take that cow through the garden! What diner do you like best? Rate it at thecoast.ca.