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A fine Habs-it 

As diners become an endangered species, the Cosy keeps on keeping on, says Andy Murdoch

A true diner---any diner worth its salt---is like a hockey team. Your hockey team. Nothing they do is good enough. The coffee's always lousy, the eggs are undercooked (again), they burn your grilled cheese, yet for some reason you keep going back. But lord help the critic who pans it. They'll get an earful about how they don't know squat about food.

The Cosy Snack Bar is Halifax's truest diner. The Cosy is like my Montreal Canadiens: small, fast and uneven. I love them both, but it's not about the food. It's about the spirit. The Cosy is one of the oldest, most storied diners in Halifax. You can hear the ghosts of past diners setting their cups on the formica counter.

According to one local daily paper's archives, Tennyson Cormier opened his first restaurant here in 1953. It was the Ardmore Grill. Two years later, Cormier opened another Ardmore on Gottingen and, in 1958, he started his chef d'oeuvre, The Tea Room on Quinpool. Ross Cormier kept the Liverpool Street restaurant going as a fish and chips shop until 1961. From 1962 to 1964 it was an Asian restaurant, owned by Frank Seto, called Hong's. In 1967 it took the name Cozy for the first time. It's had the same phone number ever since.

It's been through several owners---Sperdakes ('67-'68), Koutroulakis ('69-'79), Kanellotoulos ('80-'84) and Franks ('85). Tony and Jamilee Maskine bought the Cozy in 1986. They changed the spelling to Cosy and made it their own for 25 years.

This is the most Canadiens-friendly restaurant in Halifax. A poster in the window calls it, "Halifax's cheering section for the Montreal Canadiens." The walls are covered in Les Glorieux gear and homemade arts and crafts customers have given the Maskines over the years. The day after game three, Tony showed us a giant Habs foam cheering hand. A customer had brought it to him from last night's game.

There's the trademark breakfast special, the "3+3+3." The bacon, three sausages, three eggs, plus beans, potatoes and toast. That's nine items for nine bucks. Nine was The Rocket's number.

Coincidence? Not here.

Every day the Cosy fills with neighbourhood people who leave the house early (it opens at 6am weekdays) to sit at the counter, drink coffee, eat breakfast and read the sports pages (then the news) and talk. I know these types. It's what my grandfather did, it's what my father does and now I think I've got a taste for it.

If you saw me sitting there, you'd probably say I should be over at Local Jo's with the stroller set. Think again. Another guy like me walks in carrying a Local Jo's travel mug. He brings up the game. No offense, Jo, but we're on a team here.

The food at the Cosy isn't anything to write home about, but it's as good as any other diner in town. Tony does eggs well. The home fries are good. The burger is no-frills and juicy. Hot sandwiches come with boatloads of gravy and slaw. The fries are unfortunately not hand-cut.

The neighbourhood has changed in recent years, but the atmosphere stays the same. People still talk to one another across tables.

The big difference? People eat more salads now, Tony says.

"Twenty years ago, two heads of lettuce would last me a week. It was all mashed and gravy."

After the death of the Spartan, true diners like this are an endangered species. If I lived nearby, I'd be a regular, but I don't, so I'll be back to complain about the Habs sooner, hopefully, than later.

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