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The Real Cheap Eats


The old-fashioned diners and greasy spoons splattered stingily about Toronto tend to get their acclaim in rather hastily addressed footnotes within the city's restaurant discourse; tossed into a mix of more palatable eateries and inevitably characterized as "cheap eats," these are the places for burgers, shakes, and maybe a good breakfast.

Sadly, while many of these joints seem not to have cleaned their floors since the 1960's, they have, without a doubt, raised their prices. For example, Toronto Life's current Cheap Eats issue applaudes Vesta Lunch - one of the notorious classic diners in the city - for their $6.60 cheeseburger-n-fries combo.

Hah. Think that's a good deal? Let me liberate you. (Breakfast lovers, pay attention.)

Picnic Restaurant sits humbly at Keele and Bloor, making the 7Eleven next door look gourmet.

There's no denying that it doesn't look like much. It doesn't even have the quaint, cutesy factor like places such as Vesta and Mars Diner. And the signs boasting about the amazing deals inside don't do much to attract when you're convinced the place is a scuzz-hole.

But guess what? It's not a scuzz-hole! It's a cute little Mom-and-Pop cafe with fresh, homemade doughnuts and muffins, along with a somewhat lengthy and rather ambitious menu including fried chicken, and veal sandwiches. Okay, so the veal sounds a little shifty. But their breakfast is undeniably one of the best deals in the city.

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For $3.99, at anytime of day (not just at the crack of dawn on weekdays like so many other places), you get a huge, made-to-order breakfast platter, including three eggs, three pieces of bacon, ham or sausage, two slices of toast (such as rye), a pile of homefries, a side salad, and a cup of surprisingly decent coffee (or tea or bottled water if you prefer). To boot, you get fast, friendly service, and the option of sitting outside on their makeshift patio.

I may also point out that their 6oz homemade hamburgers are only $3.00; $4.99 with fries and a pop.

Now that's cheap eats - and, may I add, darn good cookin.'


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