When the iconic Lakeview Lunch closed earlier this year, I wasn't the only one who was disappointed. Sure, the service was lousy and the food was worse but there was still something sad about a 1930's era diner shutting down just as Dundas West was showing new signs of life.
Then the National Post reported in September that the three guys who own the Chelsea Room had taken it over, planned to restore it and turn it into a 24 hour diner. It took months of work and no doubt the removal of unsightly grease from long-ignored places but finally the Lakeview Lunch has re-opened except this time under a new name - The Lakeview.
Meeting some friends at The Lakeview a few nights ago the first thing I notice is that my beloved neon sign is no longer out front. I asked Fadi Hakim, one of The Lakeview's new owners, why they decided to change it and he told me it wasn't a decision made lightly.
When they took over the restaurant they found a bunch of boxes that unearthed some of the site's history. The restaurant was actually founded in 1932 and called the Lakeview Restaurant. The name was changed in 1947 at which time the sign was also erected christening it the Lakeview Lunch. Unfortunately, sixty plus years of Toronto winters had not been kind to the sign. The paint was peeling, the neon was broken and they were advised by an insurance inspector that it was a safety hazard due to its weight.
So, they took it down and replaced it with a sign about the same size but white, light and modern. Inside The Lakeview, they've also made some much-needed changes. The whole space has been restored and updated and has more charm than it ever did. There is soft light throughout, a red glow from the front window, comfy diner booths, and found objects from the basement (like the thermometer and exit signs) have been scattered throughout.
But how's the food?
The good news is that The Lakeview has a new menu. Actually, it's a temporary late night menu as they plan to unveil an updated version - including a brunch menu - in mid January. A copy is embedded below.
It took us all a while to read the whole thing. There are hamburgers, sandwiches, apps like poutine and Nachos Tom Cruise, hot plates like streak frites and meatloaf and a number of 24 hour breakfast options. There are also plenty of drinks including a number of beers on tap, fortified coffee, dessert wine, smoothies and milkshakes.
Starting with drinks most of us grabbed a pint ($5.65) but two of my friends decided to try their milkshakes. At $4.75 they were a bit on the small side but both reported back that they tasted pretty good.
The menu is also not without its sense of humour. Hand Shakes are offered free-of-charge as is Toronto Tap Water, billed by The Lakeview as the best no-calorie drink in the world.
Unlike the Lakeview Lunch of the past, service was friendly and generally efficient. All our meals arrived at the same time and except for a missing order of onion rings they were all correct.
Two at our table ordered the burgers with onion rings (or at least once the service snafu was sorted out). A clear winner, the onion rings were big and crispy with that nice golden hue that makes everyone else at the table regret not ordering the same thing. The standard burger ($8) came topped with lettuce, tomato and red onions and was well cooked and filling. The Majestic ($10.50) also hit the spot with its strips of bacon, sharp cheddar and mozzarella.
Our vegetarian friend opted for the soup of the day ($4.50) - a nicely balanced butternut squash - and small salad ($5.25). The latter came dressed with grilled vegetables on top of organic greens mixed with toasted sesame seeds and a honey balsamic vinaigrette. She gave them the thumbs up and devoured them both.
Elsewhere there were the bourbon honey chipotle chicken wings ($8 for a pound) served with standard blue cheese dip, celery and baby carrots. It was noted that they were tasty enough but wouldn't make the list of the best chicken wings in the city.
A better choice might have been the mushroom sandwich ($8.75). Wedged between pieces of multigrain triangle masking for focaccia, the mushrooms were nicely sauteed in garlic and paired with melted gruyere and ancho chili garlic mayo.
I indulged in the traditional ale battered fish and chips ($14), but perhaps indulge isn't the appropriate verb for the occasion. While the fish was ok, I found the batter less the exciting - a bit too thick and boring - and the fries not much better than the ones I once panned at The Cadillac. Ketchup helped and was used liberally.
So, overall, the food was a bit hit and miss but I'd go back. There's no doubt that the new The Lakeview is a big improvement over its predecessor and with 24 hour service now available it's likely to become the go to spot after any late night carousing on Ossington. But beyond the 3am eats I definitely plan to return in the new year to see what's in store for brunch.
The owner also told me they plan to build a 30 seat patio in the Spring.
The current late-night menu: