SENATOR (249 Victoria, at Dundas Square, 416-364-7517). Complete dinners for $55 per person (lunches or brunches $25), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22/$12. Open for breakfast Monday to Friday 7:30 to 11:30 am; for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm; and for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 10:30 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 3 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, booth seating, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
There are older dining rooms in town - The Wheat Sheaf dates back to 1849 - but the Senator is indisputably downtown's most enduring diner.
First launched on the eve of the Depression and named the Busy Bee back when this neck of the woods was Toronto's theatre district, it was given an art deco makeover and rechristened the Senator in 1948. Owners Nick Nicolau and Cecil Djambazis were said to make the best egg salad sandwich around. It likely cost a nickel.
In 1984, son of Sam the Record Man Bob Sniderman bought the beloved luncheonette and returned it to its former glory. Sadly, egg salad sandwiches are no longer on the menu.
By night, the Senator goes after the theatre crowd its current card features the decidedly non-diner likes of grilled supreme of chicken ($19) and the Wicked burger stuffed with blue cheese and crumbled bacon ($20). During the day, this historical boite is much as it has been for the past seven decades, albeit somewhat more expensive. All-day breakfasts now go for $9.95 ($7.95 before 11:30 am) and something listed as Congressional Breakfast juice, muffin, coffee ($5.95) appears to be a ploy to keep American tourists happy.
The lunch lineup sticks to comfort food mainstays like macaroni 'n' cheese ($10.95) and double-decker clubs ($9.95). Washed down with a loganberry soda ($2.50), classic meatloaf finds two appropriately meaty slabs of 'loaf ladled with smoky barbecue-style tomato sauce instead of conventional gravy. And while the side of buttery mashed potatoes is perfectly lumpy, we'd rather see a second side of canned peas instead of an otherwise acceptable house salad topped with shredded carrot, if only for old time's sake.
The house crab cakes come thick with shredded seafood but would have been even better if they had been re-heated more thoroughly. Plated with skinny frite-calibre fries, the eponymous eight-ounce burger (all $11.95) arrives cooked medium-rare as requested how rare is that? and garnished with roasted caramelized onion and super house-made corn relish.
Servers are chatty and attitude-free, but the printed menu itself loaded with disconcerting fine print like "1.5 hours maximum seating," "no personal cheques," "photographs of the interior or exterior of the Senator are not permitted" and "we reserve the right to refuse service" puts a damper on their genuine welcome.