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NED Devine 

Liz Feltham visits the North End Diner, where indie kids, soldiers, grandparents and children all come to chow down.

The North End Diner is housed in a building with an interesting history: The space was once the famous Camille’s and more recently served as the pool-table area for the adjacent North End Pub. The NEP is still referred to as “Joe Comeau’s” by long-time patrons, many of whom are or were sailors or other military members from Stadacona, the base across the street.

Although the North End Pub and Diner are owned by the Grafton Connor Group (Five Fishermen, Cheers, Grafton Street Dinner Theatre), the place has been left virtually untouched by the corporate hand, leaving the original atmosphere intact.

That atmosphere is a familiar, comfortable, homey feeling: like a true neighbourhood diner. The wood panelling on the walls has been painted a light cream colour, there are blinds on the windows and photos from the early days of the building on the walls.

I notice an eclectic crowd here these days, families with small children, older couples, military guys and students—a real melting pot of north end denizens.

The menu is simple, with an all-day breakfast, pub offerings and basics such as liver, lasagna and pork chops.

We’re here for brunch on a busy Sunday and though almost every table is taken, we don’t wait long. The kitchen’s fast, too, and our breakfast arrives in short order. The steak and eggs ($5.75) comes with two eggs, hash browns, toast and a thin-cut pub-style steak, which the kitchen has miraculously managed to cook rare. (Typically such thin steaks come out well done, regardless of how they are ordered.) It’s heavily seasoned with salt and pepper and very tasty. The eggs also arrive as ordered and the toast is still hot. The corned-beef hash ($5.50) is not quite as expected. The more familiar version has boiled potatoes, shredded canned “bully beef” (corned beef) and onions. This one has chunks of corned beef, slices of onion and hash browns mixed in. Different, but still very good. Good tea and strong coffee round out a very satisfying brunch.

We return for dinner one quiet evening and find no evidence of the organized chaos that was brunch.

Grilled pork chops ($8.19) and fish cakes ($6.29) sound good since we are craving comfort food. The pork chops are advertised as coming with applesauce, which they do: Sadly, it’s the little packets of applesauce. We get over our disappointment on tasting the two fast-fry chops—like the brunch steak, they are thin but yummy. A big pile of golden fries and commercial vegetable medley are also on the plate. The fish cakes are breaded and given a liberal dose of savory and they’re pretty darn good. They are offered with salad, but we’ve asked for rice. The rice is pilaf-style and has little chunks of carrot and onion through it. Generally, casual restaurants don’t do rice pilaf justice and it tends to be bland and dry. Not this rice—like the meat, it’s well seasoned and moist.

For dessert, there’s only one house-made offering and that’s a bread pudding. We go for the pie instead and that’s a mistake—the lemon meringue and coconut cream ($2.69 each) are a cheap, frozen convenience product with that exaggerated flavour and rubbery texture only instant pies can have.

Homemade pie there’s not, but there’s plenty else to love at the North End Diner, including most of the rest of the food, service and atmosphere.

North End Diner2776 Gottingen Street455-0856Sun-Tue 7am-3pmWed 7am-7pmThur-Sat 7am-8pm

Thick offerings of Liz Feltham are available online: www.foodcritic.ca

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