The Thompson Diner (formerly, The Counter), the Thompson Hotel's new 24-hour diner, is a swankier take on the classic diner theme. Just south of King on Bathurst, this restaurant is decidedly more upscale in appearance than the old neighbourhood diners in the west end that I visit when in search of some good old comfort food. All sleek, retro decor, The The Thompson Diner's large space is lined with giant, velvet-detailed booths, and an elegant bar dotted with gold-coloured stools sits at the back of the room.
I'm greeted by a pleasant server in blue gingham and a bowtie, and decide to order a coffee ($2) while I wait for my friends to arrive. The coffee is a little on the bitter side, and I wonder if perhaps it's not very fresh. Forgivable at a regular restaurant, as it is two in the afternoon, but in a twenty-four hour diner I would hope fresh coffee would be on constant rotation.
From a large menu offering the kinds of classic dishes you would expect from this retro throw-back, we start with the fries and onion rings ($5), which come with a choice of one dip from a variety of options. We go for the garlic aioli, which arrives on the side of a metal basket containing three enormous onion rings and a heap of crispy french fries. The fries are decent, and the onion rings are also passable. Neither are particularly impressive, but it's a nice greasy starter for me and my starving companions.
It seems only right to try one of The Thompson Diner's burgers (all options available on veggie or turkey burgers if looking for an alternative to beef), and from a wide selection of topping choices we opt for the 'west coast' ($12 - top photo). The tower of a burger arrives on a wooden cutting board, generously topped with melted jalapeno jack cheese, spinach, crispy fried onions, lettuce and tomato. Extremely large and messy, it's a challenge to eat, but worth the effort as this turns out to be a satisfying burger.
From an enticing list of sandwiches we order the smoked turkey and brie ($12), which arrives appealingly presented on the same wooden cutting board. The sandwich is served on toasted focaccia bread with slices of smoked turkey, lettuce, tomato, mayo and lots of brie. The brie is a little overpowering, and the flavour of the turkey is much more prominent once I remove a little bit of the cheese. Nonetheless, the sandwich is enjoyable, and the nice little mixed green salad on the side is crisp and fresh (fries are an option as well).
Curious to see what they'll do with the diner-classic mac & cheese, we order The Thompson Diner's version, the double mac & cheese with cured pancetta crisp & truffle oil ($12). This indulgent dish is served in a big cast iron skillet, a mass of cheesy, gooey macaroni topped with a crispy piece of pancetta. The mac & cheese is rich, creamy and garlicky, and there's no arguing this goes beyond our expectations for this standard item.
The Thompson Hotel's retro-inspired 24-hour joint has a comfortable atmosphere, friendly service, and decent prices. The food may not be mind-blowing, but it is pretty satisfying diner food, and I can bet it tastes delicious at 3am.
Note: This post was updated on October 11, 2011 to reflect the change of the restaurant's name from The Counter to The Thompson Diner.
Photos by Taralyn Marshall