An anecdotal whip-round among friends or colleagues usually leads to "oh, that place...I've always meant to go" or "Where is it?" followed by "Really?"
The self-proclaimed 'oldest restaurant in Toronto' has been operating under its current guise since 1948 and until a few years ago housed a jazz club counterpart 'Top O' The Senator' above.
Well known to hotel concierges and diner aficionados alike the Senator is packed with pre-theatre crowds most nights until around 8pm. After that it takes on the appearance of an abandoned 1940s movie set with just the odd couple of people (admittedly, I'm usually one of them) lingering to drink.
The Senator bridges the gap between bistro-style upscale diners with traditional decor and other Toronto greasy spoon hallmarks like
The dinner line-up offered is traditional North American home-style cooking with a little embellishment (we're talking a $16 blue-cheese burger) but as is often the case with diners you pay in part for your surroundings. In this respect The Senator doesn't disappoint.
The interior retains its authenticity without being kitschy. The is service so welcoming and sincere that it's as much of a reason to visit as the decor.
The only notable limitations are that there is very little in the way of vegetarian options and nothing but house salad for vegans. The fixed booths also mean that large parties would have to pick teams and split up accordingly.
We settle in and start with the crab cake with tartar sauce ($8). It's more of a crab-stick cake but doesn't suffer too much for that once smothered with tartar.
My friend orders the fish and chips with tartar sauce ($18). The fish is crisp without being too oily or over-battered and the inclusion of coleslaw helps lessen the usual starch overload involved.
For variety, I forgo my perma-choice of the Wicked burger and settle on the homemade meatloaf with mashed potatoes and smoked tomato sauce ($18). It's easily the best meatloaf I've ever had - succulent without being fatty and moist enough that I don't have to ask for a water refill.
The Wicked Burger with blue cheese and bacon ($16) is hard to turn down and I try not to stare jealously as my lucky companion takes his down with enthusiasm.
I've had the desserts a few times before and they're of the bought-in-but-pretty-good variety. An off-menu basic chocolate sundae is usually irresistibly appropriate but this time, to be thorough, we order a selection.
The rice pudding ($4.95) is suitably creamy and benefits from our server thoughtfully attacking it with cinnamon for me.
A lemon tart ($6) arrives looking photogenic but is a pretty dry and unremarkable.
The brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce ($6) is a hard combination to get wrong and quickly disappears leaving only smiles behind.
As I'm paying I talk to the server about the 'open 24hrs' sign that remains unlit outside. She tells me it'll stay that way because it's always quiet in there after 9pm.
Enjoyable as it's been, exiting into the comparatively jolting bustle of Yonge-Dundas Square before dark while the staff lock up behind us is inevitably a bit of a downer. Across the way Hard Rock is still packed.