THE PURPLE ONION(603 Keele, at St. Clair West, 416-760-8208) Funky 40s diner complete with soda-fountain bar and wooden booths rustles up huge meat 'n' potato platters at equally retro prices. Think the Tulip goes west. Warning: except for coleslaw, there's little here for herbivores. Complete dinners for $25 ($12 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Monday to Saturday 8 am to 9 pm, and Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
the junction has always been about meat. A century ago, this west-side nabe grew where the railroad met the stockyards. Now that all the slaughterhouses and processing plants have been levelled, one of the few remaining links left to the Junction's past is a year-old greasy spoon-turned-steak house called the Purple Onion.Don't expect the luxury of Morton's or Ruth's Chris. If anything, the Onion resembles a low-rent version of the Senator Diner or the Tulip before it moved to new atmosphere-free digs a year ago or so. A Formica bar with brown Naugahyde stools runs down one wall, a row of wooden booths down another, and wooden venetian blinds block the rather bleak view of the street.
The similarity to the Tulip runs deeper. Co-owners Steve Lei and Sunny Sun are former employees of the longtime Queen East institution -- Sun was in charge of cooking the Tulip's acclaimed steaks for several years. So it's no coincidence that much of the Purple Onion's menu mirrors the Tulip's.
Like the Tulip, the Onion grills its steaks on a flat griddle as opposed to a barbecue-style grate. Coupled with steaks that are generally about three-quarters of an inch thick, this manner of grilling produces meat that comes out almost exactly the same no matter whether you order it rare or well done. You can select a 10-ounce New York strip-loin ($12.95), a 12-ounce sirloin ($10.95), an 18-ounce T-bone ($18.95) or the 20-ounce Porterhouse ($20.95), but you'll have trouble telling them apart other than by their size.
Like most of the Onion's mains, all steaks come with wonderfully lumpy new-potato mash ladled with minced garlic gravy. As do Kresge's-lunch-counter flashbacks like tender grilled veal liver heaped with caramelized onions and rashers of meatier-than-usual bacon and a daily special of thickly sliced roast beef and commercial-tasting coleslaw (both $6.50).
Other than chopped up cabbage, there aren't many veggies on offer. Greek salad ($5.50) -- an under-sized, limp tangle of iceberg, under-ripe tomato and tinned olives -- is a sad excuse for a salad. And unless you're trapped in the 50s, rubbery retro coconut cream pie ($2.75) topped with aerosol whipped cream is best left to memory.