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The Purple Onion: (Clogged) Heart of the Junction

Posted by Tanja / Reviewed on March 19, 2008 / review policy

Hot Chicken Sandwich at the Purple Onion Steakhouse in Toronto
When I was a kid, a trip to the Purple Onion meant crossing at least one of two railway lines to find a lone diner sitting in the middle of them at Keele & St Clair. At the time, there wasn't much of anything else to visit in the area - unless you like railways and stock-yards -- but still every weekend the place would be packed with working-class people, kicking back with a coffee and Purple Onion's steak & eggs.

Today, the area has been completely redeveloped, but the Purple Onion couldn't quite wait it out. Owners made a move to the thriving Junction community a little while back and re-opened on busy Dundas West.

Stopping in with a friend on Saturday, I have to double-check the sign out front. Goodbye wooden booths and soda-fountain -- hello leather seats and ceramic tile. While I wouldn't go so far as to call this fancy, the look is definitely sleek and modern compared to ye old Keele Street greasy spoon.

We look over the menu and, inevitably, begin to wonder if the 'out with the old, in with the new' spirit has changed the food as well.

French Toast

Starting off with sides of French Toast, we see the Wonder Bread style toast is still in vogue here. That's probably the only thing I would have liked to have seen changed, but nostalgia pours the syrup and we polish off our toasty tiles.

Pictured at the top, the Hot Chicken Sandwich ($7.95) is a tender slice of chicken breast between two thick slices of toast, all smothered with salty brown gravy. The dish comes with quintessential hand-mashed potatoes and cole slaw. Usually, I prefer this open-faced style - with only one slice of toast and more chicken, but overall it's good -- though slightly trumped by The Tulip's version,

Next up, not the most photogenic of menu offerings but still the Purple Onion speciality: Steak & Eggs. It makes up for it all in flavour.

Steak and Eggs
Much like their East-end counterpart, The Tulip, the steak here is grilled to a scientifically precise medium-rare - just as we asked for - and the diner-style homefries are, "so awesome," as the kid at the next table points out to his dad. This simple 6 oz offering is a great deal for $7.95 and even comes with a side of buttered toast for you cholesterol addicts out there.

For me, half the appeal of the Purple Onion was the vibe of the place -- something they've definitely lost in their new location. Still, the food is good, service friendly and the deals are impressive (did I mention bottomless coffee?), making coming back here an easy decision.

The Purple Onion



mikeb / March 20, 2008 at 02:53 pm
My understanding was that they were pushed into the move by an avarous landlord.
Opensource / March 21, 2008 at 08:02 am
Tanja, maybe you were a little rushed with this review - your opening paragraphs need cleaning up. Also, I think that Keele and St. Clair would still be considered part of the Junction, and in any event, we are talking about a distance of only 2 to 3 blocks (from St. Clair to Dundas).

Not meant to be snarky.
megan / March 21, 2008 at 10:46 am
okay, those homefries really do look "so awesome"
Chris Orbz / March 22, 2008 at 04:15 am
While it might be close 'as the crow flies' the old location was neighboured by a car wash, used car sales place, fast food and big box stores. The new one is in the heart of a strip that is blooming with new life. There's a technically-the-Junction and then there's The Junction as as neighbourhood and the old location was definitely severely isolated. I'd assumed they'd moved because it made sense to, although mikeb says otherwise.
A.R. / March 24, 2008 at 10:06 pm
Both were in the Junction district, but now it's in the Dundas retail/commercial strip. It was a good move. The abandoned storefronts that were the dominant characteristic of the commercial strip are now fading memories, even though there are still a few.
Rebecca Muller / April 7, 2008 at 09:09 am
As Mikeb pointed out. They were forced to move out by the landlord. The new look fits with the "new" style of the neighbourhood.

For a steak dinner (a generous 10 oz) that's less than $20 (about $16 if I can remember correctly), the taste of the food and the service is worth double the price of the meal.

The move was good for other reasons, including more tables. There's always a line up when I go - especially for weekend brunch - even with the new location, so that should tell you something when there are at least 4 or 5 other restaurants within a five minute walk.

And don't forget about the homemade desserts daily :)
Violetta / November 26, 2009 at 10:24 pm
I kept hearing people rave about this place and when I finally checked it out was severely disappointed.
It's nothing special in my opinion. The partially uncooked chicken however is still stuck in my memory. Mmm, raw chicken.
Richard / June 3, 2010 at 09:45 am
Love the Purple Onion! We used to go there when they were on Keele, but their new place is even better. Great steaks. I always have the chopped steak breakfast, really good! Kids love the pancakes, and the staff are great!
Brent / March 7, 2012 at 04:23 pm
One of the best places for breakfast. Enjoy my food, quick service and the bacon/back bacon was cocked to perfection.
harry / July 11, 2012 at 02:44 am
I use to go to the old purple onion with my dad. Good food. The junction still has the wrong side of the tracks vibe but the gentrication is underway. Still my favourite area north of bloor and south of 401 in toronto I spent most of my life there.
harry / July 11, 2012 at 02:54 am
Also they should not have torn down the mcbride cycle building very sad.
Ginger / September 12, 2013 at 11:49 am
The burgers here are awesome. Handmade for a change, with the onions cooked right in.

With a side of onion rings, this is my go-to place for delicious homestyle burgers at a good price. My friend and I are regulars there.

Not for the faint of heart though! Definitely some cholesterol in the menu, so we do it in moderation. Delicious.

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