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The Senator

Posted by Charlotte Johnstone / Reviewed on June 15, 2009 / review policy

Senator ExteriorThe Senator has always struck me as downtown Toronto's open secret. Tucked just off of Yonge-Dundas Square on Victoria street, this gorgeous diner is the perfect antidote to the chain-gang of generic restaurants that line Yonge.

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.
Senator InteriorWell 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.
Senator CounterThe Senator bridges the gap between bistro-style upscale diners with traditional decor and other Toronto greasy spoon hallmarks like Mars Diner. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus popular Sunday brunch.
Senator MenuThe 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.
Senator BoothThe 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.
senator crab cakeWe 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.
senator fishMy 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.
senator meatloafFor 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.
senator wicked burgerThe 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.
Senator Cake CaseI'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.
Senator Rice PuddingThe rice pudding ($4.95) is suitably creamy and benefits from our server thoughtfully attacking it with cinnamon for me.
senator lemon tart
A lemon tart ($6) arrives looking photogenic but is a pretty dry and unremarkable.
Senator BrownieThe brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce ($6) is a hard combination to get wrong and quickly disappears leaving only smiles behind.
Senator CutleryAs 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.

Photos by Peter Andrew Lusztyk



Kent / June 15, 2009 at 10:51 am
I goddamn love this place.
Alec Gogal / June 15, 2009 at 11:22 am
The photographer really needs to back off on the Shadow/Highlight tool in Photoshop. Pushing all the blacks leads to images that look unnatural, lack contrast and display unnecessary noise.
DS / June 15, 2009 at 01:47 pm
Woohoo! No vegans!
DSC replying to a comment from Alec Gogal / June 15, 2009 at 06:19 pm
Don't start cryin'
ddt replying to a comment from Alec Gogal / June 15, 2009 at 06:33 pm
ah shut up
ig / June 15, 2009 at 08:57 pm
$18 for fish and chips?
piccola / June 15, 2009 at 11:51 pm
The Senator is way too expensive for what it is.
WALLAH WALLAH replying to a comment from Alec Gogal / June 16, 2009 at 08:22 am
Zip it.
Anon-ee-mis replying to a comment from Alec Gogal / June 17, 2009 at 03:29 pm
who in the name of all things mighty and miniscule would come here to rip pics in a restaurant review???? who???
Jonathan / July 20, 2009 at 02:26 pm
I have worked around the corner for years, and have never been! I'm gonna try that burger!

Ang / July 28, 2009 at 03:17 pm
I like the layout and colors of the space. I would have to see how the lighting really looks to see if it's comfortable, but it has potential to be an inviting cozy dinner experience.
Ken / July 28, 2009 at 07:39 pm
I've been there once for breakfast. While the food was excellent both the booths and counter are cramped and uncomfortable.
Lisa Blundell / October 18, 2009 at 05:05 am
Senator is a wonderful restaurant. Almost like dining back in time when life was simpler. A tremendous atmosphere, great service and perfect coffee. What a fantastic introduction to Toronto. I love the photographers beautiful work in this review. Congrats.
Sofia Golightly / February 4, 2010 at 02:55 pm
Would anyone care to help me in filling out a survey about eating at The Senator? I'm working on a Nuit Blanche application and am doing research about experiences had at the restaurant (good or bad). It'll take a moment or two and would be greatly appreciated. Thanks-a-million.
laurel / July 14, 2010 at 11:50 am
awesome grilled cheese on challah bread, and fries just the way i like them. it's pricy but tasty, and the service is always friendly!!
dinerkid / August 21, 2010 at 10:43 pm
Left after ten minutes of server ignoring us . . . .
Steve replying to a comment from Alec Gogal / November 17, 2010 at 10:07 am
I personally think the photos are terrific, and create a mood reminiscent of the restaurant's historic legacy. Very well done, photog.

BlogGenerator / November 10, 2011 at 03:28 pm
did you read that over at squidoo? because i saw a similar article there..anyhow well done read non the less.

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