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Filling time 

The little-known lunch counter at O’Regan’s Toyota is delicious secret we’re happy to share. Next stop, the Filling Station.

click to enlarge The Filling Station’s truly tasty burger special.
  • The Filling Station’s truly tasty burger special.

A peek behind the curtain of The Coast's food section would show you a to-do list of restaurants to review that sprawls into the dozens at any given time. How I choose what restaurant to review is as much schedule as it is spontaneity; there is very little rhyme to it, but there is generally reason.

Last week, I had a plan of where and when I wanted to go. But time got away from me a little bit, and a whispered recommendation, a secret from the depths of Dartmouth, suddenly cleared the decks. On Thursday, as I headed out for lunch with my friend Mark, my co-worker, Rachelle, suddenly said, with the glee of someone who is letting you in on a great secret, "You should go to the lunch counter at Toyota."

The Filling Station is an old-fashioned lunch counter tucked into the towering Green Light Used Car Centre showroom of O'Regan's Toyota on Baker Street in Dartmouth. Little did I know, it's been there for what seems like a staggeringly secretive five years.

Mark and I enter the showroom and stroll past the gleaming cars, avoiding eye contact with salesmen as we hone in on the sandwich counter. There are a handful of hardworking ladies dealing with the small lunch crowd that is milling around the cafeteria-style scattering of tables. They are slicing bread, frying potatoes and taking care of all of the small, simple dishes that make up the menu, which is mostly soups-of-the-day---pulled pork and barley, and a herb chicken and rice soup---and sandwiches, like roast beef, chicken salad and a grilled ham and cheese.

Huge, fluffy loaves of freshly baked bread sit on a counter in the back, crusty promises of delicious sandwiches. The counter cabinets have salads, squares and various other pre-made items. Homemade pizza and thick calzones sit in a warmer. Mark decides to get the calzone ($4). I decide to go with the day's hamburger special ($7.95). We also get a couple of cans of pop ($1).

The cheeseburger is a classic diner style burger, squished onto the grill to get a bit of char and crust on it. It's slightly dry, but still tasty. It's simply dressed, with a Thousand Island-style sauce, lettuce, tomato and some deliciously caramelized onions.

The home fries are good. They aren't fried crisp---they are actually quite tender, with a light, fluffy interior. I wish there had been a pickle or coleslaw---something acidic to bite through the grease of the platter---but it's a great lunch.

The calzone is no great feat of culinary wonder, but it's a simple, filling lunch for a price you can't beat. It's a lush doughy pillow filled with a mix of a fresh-tasting tomato sauce, cheese and a ton of pepperoni. It suffers a little bit from the reheat, but it does the job.

After seeing the cookies and cupcakes at the counter, and since this has been an extraordinarily cheap lunch, we decide to get dessert. They have bread pudding ($3.50) on the menu, which I can't resist, and Mark gets a peanut butter square ($1.50). I also get a cupcake ($2) to go to reward Rachelle for her hot tip.

The bread pudding is moist and dense, with a perfect caramel sauce. The peanut butter square is a little dry, but delicious. The cupcake is filled with caramel, and topped with a smooth, sweet icing and a little scattering of silver dragées on top, which, as a fan of John C. Reilly, I really appreciate. Rachelle declares it one of the best cupcakes she's had in Halifax.

I really love that a place like the Filling Station exists. And I know this city is full of delicious little secrets like this one. All I need to do now is find them.

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