JIM'S (897 Queen East, at Logan, 416-463-6535) Archetypal east-side dive known for its hefty westerns. Xacutti's polar opposite, yet Tom Cruise drank here in Cocktail. Complete meals for $8 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $2.50 domestic beer. Open Monday to Friday 6 am to 9 pm, Saturday and Sunday 7 am to 8 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, small washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Tom Cruise once had a drink at Jim's. Actually, he shot a scene from Cocktail at this east-side dive back in the 80s. It's a pivotal moment in the film. As Jim's short-order cooks push brooms in the background to a wailing middle-of-the-night sax, Tom reflectively sips a cuppa joe, turns to look at a pair of loser comedy punks (that's the Troubled Balkan in a mohawk, for those saddos with the Cocktail DVD -- $17.99, www.amazon.ca), and silently resolves to marry rich girlfriend Elizabeth Shue even though he's just a juggling bartender.
Cruise scored an Oscar nomination for his next blockbuster, Born On The Fourth Of July, because of a greasy spoon on Queen East. Or so believes Troubled B. I've always wondered if Tom came on to him.
"Of course not!" snorts my NOW Test Kitchen attendant. "He shook my hand and said it was nice working with me."
I'll bet it was. At about the same time, I was working in television commercials (don't ask) in a nearby studio. Jim's was our greasy spoon of choice. Everyone has a favourite no-frills joint like Jim's. But what's so special about this louche luncheonette? Don't all diners have identical menus? They certainly all look alike, full of people smoking and drinking in the middle of the afternoon. Much like on College.
Besides the downbeat film-noir atmosphere, Jim's makes a remarkable three-egg western sandwich ($2.80) that lives up to its hype on the sign out front: Best Western In Town. Yes, the fries are frozen and the gravy's canned, but who notices when they're served alongside the best chicken-salad sandwich ($3.95) in the city? Instead of the minced mush found elsewhere, Jim's chicken comes moist and chunky from the rotisserie in the front window.
Every day since 1986, the soup of the day at tiny Tony's (1128 Queen East, at Bertmount, 416-461-4992) is pea. As part of this retro resto's four-buck lunch special, it's really quite good, smoky and cutely coupled with a packet of saltines. Two prefab minced steak patties (beef? pork?) in lumpy tomato gravy follow, along with pre-buttered Wonder bread, griddled spuds and tea or coffee, all delivered on CNIB cafeteria china. Be sure to check out the unusual washrooms in the basement. I dare you.
Back then, Gale's Snack Bar (539 Eastern, at Carlaw, no phone) scared even this fearless foodie. But I finally visited a few Fridays back -- cheque day, apparently -- and though Gale's isn't licensed, everybody on this side of the lunch counter was loaded.
Located in a row house down the street from a motorcycle gang headquarters, Gale's is near-mythic among spoon aficionados.
Have prices changed since the 60s? Fried egg on a kaiser (85 cents)? Wieners and beans ($2.15 -- beans straight outta the can, with two hacked hot dogs)? Why, there's even a sardine sandwich ($1.25), a combo so classic it's on the card ($7) at chi-chi Colony in Yorkville.
Surrounded by condo towers, Florida Tea Room (129 George, at Richmond, 416-862-7676) shakes off its spoon roots with upwardly mobile eats like its banquet burger, 7 ounces of first-rate ground beef topped with peameal bacon, cheese and tomato ($8.50). Couple it with romaine and cukes lightly dressed in Greco-Roman vinaigrette or pepper-speckled home fries. Or devour three fluffy blueberry pancakes plated with sausage strips ($4.95).
From its glowing neon sign to the vinyl booths against wood-panelled walls hung with B-movie posters, Patrician Grill (219 King East, at Princess, 416-366-4841) defines "diner." The banquet burger's better than standard fare -- a roughly formed patty on a grilled bun topped with iceberg and pale tomato, sided with a Dixie cup of industrial coleslaw ($6.50). But the grill's meagre chicken salad ($3.80) is a paltry use of poultry.
Over in the fashionable district, booths at old-school Avenue Open Kitchen (7 Camden, at Spadina, 416- 504-7131) are a hot ticket. Regulars line up for specials like large squares of meaty shepherd's pie ($5.75) sided, as most mains are, with scoops of over-processed mash (instant?) and an odd mix of frozen, canned and recently cooked peas 'n' carrots. Avenue's westerns ($3.95) are 50 per cent bigger than most, while a minced-chicken-salad sandwich ($3.25) comes closer to tuna in texture, its mayo tasting more of saccharine Miracle Whip than Hellmann's.
Open 24-7, Vesta Lunch (474 Dupont, at Bathurst, 416-537-4318) has to be downtown's narrowest restaurant. And, on the wrong drugs, quite possibly Toronto's most frightening: wall-to-wall white-on-white tiles, smudged mirrors and counter jockeys in Vesta baseball caps slinging gyro dinners ($7.25) and souvlaki on a bun ($4.50).
Somehow, Vesta manages to ruin a western ($5.35 including anemic frozen fries) and turn a banquet burger ($4.10) with a side of fried onions ($1.75) into a nude burger -- no cheese, no bacon -- topped with greasy, barely cooked onion. Some banquet. firstname.lastname@example.org
kennedy won't wait
Overlooked in media reports about the dramatic overhaul of the Royal Ontario Museum is the fate of signature restaurant JK ROM (100 Queen's Park, at Bloor, 416-586-5577). Looking at a three- or four-year wait, chef Jamie Kennedy confides that his swanky rooftop boîte will close in late April.
"Of course, I flirt with the idea of opening my own place," Kennedy offers, fanning rumours he's about to open a more intimate spot. "I really want to keep the JK ROM team together, so I guess it's time for some serious soul-searching."
Anyone familiar with his bizarre career trajectory won't be surprised to learn that Boy George has come out as macrobiotic. To convert the rest of us, he's just published Karma Cookbook: Great Tasting Dishes To Nourish Your Body And Feed Your Soul (with Dragana Brown, Carroll & Brown), a collection of pretty good macrobiotic recipes. Karma Cookbook can be ordered from ww.amazon.co.uk.