It's the end of the world as we know it. And by "we" I mean those of us whose definition of a perfect breakfast joint is a magical hole-in-the-wall that serves crispy, herbalicious hash brown potatoes, airy blintzes and kick-ass chili.
Sure, this perfection personified was occasionally marred by bouts of rudeness, erratic hours and the looming possibility of being unceremoniously tossed out if the cook was having a bad day, but that's what made Mimi's so special: you had to work for the love.
After cooking at Fenton's, the Horseshoe and the Bamboo, Mimi Braidberg opened Mimi's in 1985 with a pot of coffee, a single customer and the desire to "give the world a better breakfast." The three-booth, seven-stool restaurant could not have been more inconspicuous.
Right beside the Oak Leaf Bathhouse, at 218 Bathurst, just north of Queen, Mimi's had no sign, and one had to squint through the window to see if the joint was open. In the beginning, it almost always was.
From 10 am to 10 pm, seven days a week, Mimi could be found at the helm of her six-burner Garland stove, cracking eggs and flipping French toast with a ubiquitous joint dangling from her lip. Then, after taking in the local music scene, she would often reopen from 2 to 4 am, satisfying the late-night cravings of many of the same customers she'd served earlier in the day.
Word of mouth spread quickly, and on most weekends, even in the dead of winter, a lineup of hungry hipsters wound its way down Bathurst. They came for the waffles, they came for the omelettes, which were, according to one NOW restaurant critic, "as fluffed as a porn star."
But they stayed for the atmosphere. Mimi put the kitsch in kitchen. Every available surface was jammed with fleamarket finds, vintage food collectables, pop culture memorabilia and a flock of chicken-shaped salt and pepper shakers.
I was introduced to Mimi's by Jane Siberry, the artist I managed in a past life. Mimi loves musicians and is passionate about music. This was evidenced in the eclectic cross-section of bootleg cassettes that crackled over the stereo and an endless loop of pre-publicity-conscious concert footage of artists ranging from Laura Nyro to Fred Eaglesmith that flickered in the background on an old black-and-white TV set.
It's not surprising that the love was reciprocated. On any given morning, you were likely to find a gaggle of bleary-eyed local and touring musicians trying to revive themselves with a few cups of joe. Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy muses that Mimi's was a "public service" and "an island of tranquility" for musicians. Their bond was cinched when Mimi named her signature chili after his band well before they recorded their first album.
"It was our first taste of fame," he recalls sentimentally.
In 1989, while Mimi was married to fellow chef Mark Collis, she decided that an ice cream machine might just be the ticket. In short order, the Cowboy Junkies, Jane Siberry and the Look People improbably rallied together for an ice cream machine benefit at the Brunswick.
A few years later, local music impresario and regular customer David Bluestein gave Mimi a blue neon sign for her front window. Reflecting back, she laughs, "I never made a lot of money, but I sure made a lot of friends."
When my accidental career as a television chef began, Mimi's became my unofficial office. Mimi spoiled me by concocting an egg mashup of all my favourite ingredients (bacon, avocado, fresh herbs). On each visit, the plate was piled higher: the eggs were more decadent, the hash browns crispier and the accompanying "toast party" even more festive than the time before.
After so many visits, it's no secret that the restaurant's bric-a-brac aesthetic inspired the interior of my Toastermobile.
Over the years, Mimi reeled back the hours. In recent memory, she was open Thursday through Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm. This prompted Ricki Lee Jones to peer out from the stage at the Phoenix and ask, "Is Mimi here?" (she was), before admonishing her. "I went to your restaurant today and it was closed!" There was an audible collective groan in the audience as if to say, "She's always closed."
After 22 years, arthritis and exhaustion have taken their toll, and Mimi is moving on. She plans to make beaded guitar straps and indulge in a little more of her passion for poker. She'll be holding court one last time Friday, Saturday and Sunday (September 28 to 30) from 10 am to 2 pm.
She's jarred up her last batch of Blue Rodeo chili and will be selling off many of her collectables, including the coveted salt and pepper shakers. I'll be the one in my favourite booth, back to the far wall, shedding a freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice tear.
Bob Blumer is the creator and host of Surreal Gourmet and the co-creator and host of Glutton For Punishment, both on Food Network Canada.email@example.com