Duffy's Diner is right next door to Bloordale dive bar institution Duffy's Tavern (a big, red, rusty "DINER" metal arrow indicates this outside to clear up any confusion). The two were featured on an episode of Food Network Canada's Restaurant Takeover, which led the diner to be one of our most anticipated Toronto restaurant openings for 2013. Delays pushed back its debut until a few months ago (city bylaws required it to build a washroom downstairs), but now it's finally here, in all its throwback glory.
The decor has a funky, flea-market-finds kind of feel, with old signs and rusty license plates hanging on the walls. The background soundtrack features a playlist of old-school country classics of the Johnny Cash variety (I believe someone there is a huge fan of the Man in Black, as I heard "Walk the Line" played three times over the course of an hour).
With six black booths in the space and four stools lined up along the window, the diner only looks to fit a max of 30 diners at a time.
Since it's right next door to its Takeover makeover companion, the two share a kitchen, but the menus differ slightly. The diner menu offers all-day breakfast, burger/sandwich options and diner classics (poutine, mac'n'cheese, fish & chips, etc.), with veggie and vegan options clearly marked. My companions and I all zero in on the all-day breakfast items, because really - who can resist all-day breakfast?!
The $9 omelettes sound tempting, but I opt for the stuffed French toast with cream cheese and cranberry ($8), which can also be stuffed with banana and Nutella instead. I drench it in the syrup it's served with and dig in. It tastes how I expect it to: like French toast stuffed with cream cheese and cranberry. Nothing more, nothing less. It comes with "delicious fresh fruit" (as the menu puts it), which translates to three slices of orange and a few cubes of watermelon. The plate also unexpectedly comes with a heaping mound of home fries, which aren't mentioned in the description, but are a welcome surprise.
Huevos rancheros ($9) are also more or less what one would expect: two fried eggs on corn tortillas with refried black beans, pico de gallo, homefries and a bit of fruit on the side. Everything tastes fine, but the tortillas are maybe a tad too crunchy. The menu mentions the dish comes with avocado, but it's actually guacamole.
Again, the menu wording is inaccurate for the avocado BLT ($9). Instead of slices of avocado, we're surprised when guacamole makes another appearance, mixed in with the chipotle mayo in the sandwich. It's a bit of sauce overload. The guacamole also has tinges of brown in some places, which indicate it may be a carry-over from the previous day. Of the three, this is the one I'd probably not order again.
Despite a few minor hitches, overall, this is a solid place to come for a reasonably priced brunch (with $2 bottomless cups of coffee) if you're in the area. Like the neighbourhood itself, it's nothing fancy, but good enough, and definitely has a lot of potential.
Writing by Christina Cheung. Photos by Jesse Milns.