CAFE DIPLOMATICO (594 College, at Clinton, 416-534-4637) Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $3.45 beer. Open Sunday to Thursday 8 am to 2 am, Friday and Saturday 8 am to 3 am. Licensed. Access: half-step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
On sultry summer evenings or sunny Saturday afternoons, brace yourself for a lineup if you want a patio seat at the Dip. It's one of a handful of patios in the city with an unobstructed western view, meaning it gets sun until it sets, and since wait staff never hurry customers along, it's possible to hog a table for hours. This is very much a family restaurant. There are prams and small children here and there, a table of grannies rage next to a young couple in love, and packs of awkward teenaged girls show off surprisingly unremarkable bellies. The intergenerational commingling is part of the place's enduring appeal, while its consistent, reasonably priced Italian fare (and zero attitude) has made the Dip a neighbourhood favourite since 1968.
Always eager to show westerners why Toronto rules, I bring an Albertan on my first visit this summer. Two large-screen TVs are set up outside to accommodate Euro Cup fans, but since no team of note is playing, only a handful of patrons bother to watch.
We're mostly interested in cold beverages but order a pizza just the same. Our medium eight-slicer ($10 for tomato and cheese) is a thin-crust delight, with enough mozzarella to cause that delicious stringy effect. We've added pepperoni, hot peppers and black olives for 75 cents each, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke and grilled portobello mushrooms for a reasonable 95 cents per. By evening's end, the Albertan is speaking wistfully of the charms of an Ontario summer and changing his vote to Liberal.
I return with three high-spirited brew hags on a night threatened by rain. Determined to smoke, we've chosen our meeting spot because the large awning will protect us from inclement weather. Our Coronas ($4.45) are never empty before an attentive waiter is at our side, and a round of veal sandwiches ($5.75) oozing tomato sauce, melted provolone and hot peppers is served by not one, but two additional handsome young men. One of the ladies orders a fresh garden salad ($4.95) just to summon them back.
Five rather raucous hours later, we've still not worn out our welcome. That's the Dip. That's why we line up.