Were the serviettes at your last meal made of: A) linen and folded just so; or B) paper and packed tightly in a metal dispenser?
Don’t feel guilty if you chose B because classic diners are in the midst of a renaissance.
It may be their unashamed use of butter and deep fryers. Or perhaps it’s the heaping portions.
Whatever the reason, modern diners exude old-school hipness. For evidence, look no further than the Food Network’s ratings hit “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
In fact, look no further than right here in Winnipeg.
The daily line-ups at the city’s most storied eateries, some of which have been around for more than 70 years, speak to the enduring popularity of comfort food served in paper-lined, red plastic baskets.
But even if diners currently enjoy pop-culture cachet, they can’t rely on nostalgia to keep customers coming back for more.
The food—those homestyle favourites—has to stand on its own because vinyl booths and lunch counters only go so far.
The Nook Diner
Address: 43 Sherbrook, (204) 774-0818
Wolesley’s The Nook Diner has been a neighbourhood staple since 1986 when owner Bill Parasidis took over the spot. (The location has operated as a restaurant, in one form or another, for the past 70-plus years.)
Inside the humming Sherbrook Street eatery, line cooks affably bark orders and call for pick-up.
Food is served steaming hot to a mix of seniors, young families, and hipsters populating the vinyl booths. (A street-side patio also offers great people watching.)
The Nook sources ingredients from local producers including: pickles from Elman’s; cinnamon buns from the Donut House; perogies from Alycia’s; and bread from City Bakery.
Breakfast is an expected affair with eggs, pancakes, omelettes and French toast. A Swiss cheese and cheddar omelette was bursting at the seams with cheese.
House-made vegan and gluten-free veggie burgers—with chickpeas, corn, kidney beans and shredded carrots—have zesty character. Sour cream cooled the handful of hot banana peppers topping the generous patty.
Sandwiches and burgers, including Fat Boys and chili versions, complete the diner experience while dinner serves up pork chops, liver and onions, fish and chips and hot turkey (roasted daily) and hot beef sandwiches.
The Nook Diner is open Mon 6:30 am-5 pm; Tue-Fri 6:30 am-8:30 pm; Sat 7 am-8:30 pm; Sun 7 am-5 pm.
Red Top Restaurant
Address: 219 St. Mary’s Rd, (204) 233-7943
Enter St. Boniface’s Red Top Restaurant, a mainstay in Winnipeg since 1960, when it opened as a car hop joint. Today, tables are occupied by a revolving door of regulars—often French-speaking seniors catching up with the latest news over the booths.
This family-owned spot serves up made-from-scratch, lean ground beef burgers, and a full complement of well-executed breakfast favourites.
Fried chicken is a juicy, tender and lightly battered delight at Red Top. Served with toast, thick-cut fries and a small serving of coleslaw, this nearly all-brown meal is not for the faint-of-heart.
Three kinds of gyros (beef and lamb, chicken, and a grilled onion, red and green pepper veggie-only version) also round out the menu.
Red Top is open Mon-Wed 8 am-8 pm; Thu & Fri 8 am-9 pm; Sat 8 am-8 pm; Sun 9 am-2 pm.
Address: 5400 Portage Avenue, Headingley, (204) 889-4548
Since opening in 1939, Nick’s Inn in Headlingley has served up home-cooked meals to truckers, travellers, and Winnipeggers who have eagerly strayed west beyond the Perimeter in search of authentic diner cuisine.
Inside this lively spot on the Trans-Canada Hwy, waitresses zip to and fro with efficiency.
Turkey—roasted on the premises for hot and cold sandwiches—is moist and full-flavoured.
A classic sandwich board (think grilled cheese, Denver, ham and cheese, etc.); breakfast favourites; and dinner standards like grilled pork chops complete the menu.
Made using a 50-year-old family recipe, Nick’s cheeseburger deluxe with melted cheese and chili sauce is an sloppy, four-napkin, guilty pleasure.
Nick’s Inn is open Mon-Sat 7 am-9 pm; Sun 7:30 am-9 pm.