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A Grand meal 

Burnside’s Grand Finales Café is the decent, functional, homespun diner we’re all looking for.

click to enlarge Use your tortillas as utensils for Grand Finales’ chili. - MELISSA BUOTE
  • Use your tortillas as utensils for Grand Finales’ chili.
  • Melissa Buote

It's the middle of the week and we're looking for a place to have lunch, so my friend Rachelle suggests stopping by Grand Finales, a small homestyle diner tucked into one of Burnside's many pockets. The food is standard diner fare---cheap and good---she says, and their homemade tea biscuits are worth a trip into the concrete maze that is the industrial park.

It's after the lunch rush and the restaurant is only about a quarter full. Even though it's not a movie-set style diner, there is a pink, aw-shucks hominess to the room that immediately reminds me of "Alice." The friendly sass and winky personality of the server who drops by with menus a few moments after we sit down at the nearest empty table cements it: I like the place already. She returns shortly afterwards with water and to take our orders.

The sandwiches are huge, my friend says. Challenge accepted, I think, ordering the chicken salad, which usually just comes with a leaf or two of lettuce, but to which the server adds some sliced tomatoes at my request. Tender chunks from the heaping scoop of chicken tumble out whenever I pick up a half to take a bite. It's a great sandwich. I'm uncomfortably full by the time I finish.

My friend chooses the daily special ($6.99), beef stew with a side Caesar salad. The stew is hearty and good. We see another diner eating it with French fries, dipping them into the thick soup like gravy. We think he might be a genius. The only lowlight is the tea biscuit, which looks great but tastes old and dry, a real disappointment given its advertised deliciousness.

We return a few days later for another lunch, this time right in the middle of the noon rush. The restaurant is packed; one table is available when we walk in, dirty dishes sitting on the smudged tabletop. It takes a few minutes, but the server working the almost never-ending queue at the cash register comes over to snatch away the dirty dishes. He returns the next chance he gets to spray down the table. There is only one server actually working in the dining room. As we wait for menus to be delivered we watch her harried navigation of the busy room. It's like a live action game of Diner Dash.

Once we have the menus we make our choices quickly. I opt for the chili ($5.99) and Rachelle again orders the daily special ($6.99), this time a hot chicken sandwich on a kaiser, with a side Caesar salad.

The chili is good. It's very tomato-y, with lots of ground beef, beans and celery. While not incredibly spicy, there is a nice little hum of heat. I'd probably prefer it with some additional hot sauce, but the sprinkling of cheddar and dot of sour cream add some nice flavour. Tortilla chips are tucked into the side of the bowl as crispy utensils of a sort. The tea biscuit today is flaky and buttery. It's the tea biscuit Rachelle told me about, fantastic.

The chicken sandwich is also good. The gravy has the sheen of cornstarch and tastes like it might be pre-packaged, but it's good comfort food. The Caesar salad is nice and crispy, with lots of parmesan; it's a refreshing accompaniment to the hearty sandwich.

We split the apple crumble ($3.99) for dessert. "I gave you a little bit extra since you're sharing," our server beams. Vanilla ice cream pools into the buttery, slightly sweet crumble. The apple is spiced subtly with cinnamon in a way that lets the natural fruitiness shine. It's a great dessert.

I can't help but love a good diner and that's exactly what Grand Finales is. The food is simple, good and cheap. And that's grand, indeed.

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