A while ago we asked for advice on where the genuine Ottawa diners are. We realized that left a lot of room for interpretation. One of the ways we’ve narrowed down the criteria is that we’ve chosen breakfast as a good indicator of a diner’s offerings. The menu can be easily compared from place to place and the quality of the ingredients and techniques can be easily judged. So now, we’re chronicling our search for great Ottawa-area diner breakfasts. Here’s what we’re looking for:
An authentic diner establishes its credibility and authenticity over time. It’s an honest natural thing. It’s in the food it serves, the environment in which it’s served and the personality of its servers. The food is not a secondary thing. For breakfast, there are standards. Classic short order breakfasts — flat-top griddle foods, like eggs, breakfast meats, potatoes, and pancakes. Coffee, juice, and toast round out the roster. There ARE standards, though. A great indicator is the potatoes. There’s not a lot of leeway in making eggs in a particular style, or cooking breakfast meats, but potatoes are the hallmark of diner quality. Are they little deep-fried cubes or disks or pre-formed patties of potato that came from a freezer bag? FAIL. Flat-top home fries, cafe potatoes or shredded hash-browns are proof of diner cred.
Sorry, but Zak’s, for example, is NOT a diner. It’s a corporate restaurant with a theme that is specifically designed to emulate a diner. The city is littered with restaurants like this. They don’t count. It’s a manufactured environment, an imitation experience. Their food may be fine, but that’s not the point.
Many folks have suggested some small-town restaurants in surrounding areas. After visiting a couple, we’ve decided to not include them in our search. In the city there’s a fairly clear distinction between restaurant and diner. We find that smaller towns blur the lines.