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Small surprises 

The South End Diner doesn’t promise much, but it delivers a decent meal.

click to enlarge The South End Diner’s deluxe cheeseburger has a perfect patty-to-bun ratio. - KRISTEN PICKETT
  • The South End Diner’s deluxe cheeseburger has a perfect patty-to-bun ratio.
  • Kristen Pickett

The South End Diner on Barrington Street is a neighbourhood landmark. Recently under new management, it's a teeny-tiny space with just six tables and counter seating. The fire-engine-red walls are decorated with musical memorabilia. It's a comfortable spot. When I arrive on Saturday morning, there are a few single diners and the space is full. My friends are on their way to join me, so I take a seat at the one available table.

As I review the menu, I note the typical diner favourites---burgers, sandwiches and chowder, as well as a nice selection of breakfast items available all day. The menu makes a point to mention when ingredients are local and notes the use of "real" ham and cheese as opposed to processed. I realize that there are no salads on the menu---although "healthy" isn't necessarily the term that comes to mind when I think of diner food, I'm annoyed when the option isn't available to me.

Taking in my surroundings, I look over to the cases filled with cinnamon buns and croissants and ask the server what desserts are available. I decide that I'll have to save room for some carrot cake to share with my friends. The friendly server checks in and brings me a cup of fair trade organic coffee ($2.25) with milkers. When I ask for milk from a carton she quickly obliges. The coffee is good---a necessity when you serve an all-day breakfast.

My pals arrive and we place our orders. They're in the mood for breakfast but I'm going all out with a deluxe cheeseburger and fries. My burger and my friends' Omega fishcakes with poached eggs and western omelet are each $9.95. We're happy that both breakfasts have the choice of toast or a housemade biscuit; a great option for a biscuit-lover like me, who could take or leave a slice of toast. The omelet also comes with hash browns.

Our meals arrive just as I'm about to check on their status. My cheeseburger is pretty darn tasty. Served on a kaiser bun with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, it's a perfect patty-to-bun ratio. The meat itself, a six-ounce sirloin patty, is well- seasoned and juicy. I take one bite and realize that I'll need more napkins. A heaping pile of some of Halifax's best fries accompanies the burger---there are so many that the three of us aren't able to finish them. Hand cut and with a subtle crunch, they make me long for more stomach space to try one of the diner's poutines.

My friend's fishcakes, a mix of Atlantic salmon, haddock, potato and spices, are a nice-sized portion. Though not unpleasant, haddock is the cakes' prevalent taste. They're fried to a golden brown and create a pleasant juxtaposition of tender cake and crunchy crust. The sweet, tangy chow is a lovely balance to the cake's savoury flavour.

The three-egg western omelet is fluffy with a mix of smoked ham, mixed peppers and onions. A crispy fry gal, I'm less than enthused by the soft hash browns on the plate. I have mixed biscuit feelings---it's big, with a nice flaky crumb, but the flavour is bland. That being said, it's still soft and moist---once slathered with butter, it's hard for me to put down.

As I throw my napkin on the plate to prevent myself from eating any more fries dunked in mayo, I realize there is no room for carrot cake. But I'll be back for another meal again soon. The South End Diner is certainly nothing fancy, but it does serve large portions of good food at affordable prices, the service is friendly and efficient and my coffee cup is always full. I'm glad to have this spot in my hood.

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