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6015 Steeles Ave. E.
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Located in Riverside/Leslieville, White Lily Diner aims to be a neighbourhood spot serving quality comfort food made with local ingredients, and offering casual and friendly service, housemade bread and ferments both on the menu and the shelves. White Lily Diner is open five days a week, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Review: Eating between the lines

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on February 02, 2017

I don't think I've ever waited so long to get into a restaurant before, and honey, I don't do lines. And with reviewing being an incognito operation, that means never asking for special treatment. So patience is required if you plan on eating at the very popular all-day-breakfast and brunch place White Lily Diner.

Located at Queen near Broadview, it's packed midweek between Xmas and New Year's Eve. Thankfully a cheery staff makes the wait less painful by offering up a hot coffee to help combat the wintry cold entryway. And browsing the vintage pics of the area also helps pass the time, especially when the few chairs for those waiting on tables are occupied.

In spite of the agonizing wait, only one word describes the overall experience: Bravo!. Owners Ashley Lloyd and chef Ben Denham (formerly of Electric Mud BBQ) have created what is perhaps now the city's best breakfast/brunch, though they want to also be considered for dinner (Thu: meatloaf; Fri: smoked pork belly and beans and half-priced wine; etc.) Service with broad smiles is always a plus and forgives a multitude of sins, but it's the food that will blow you away. Delicious and all its synonyms describes every dish, with everything being made from scratch, from bread to sausages. Sheesh, even the mustard is homemade. So, too, is the bacon, pastrami, turkey and fish that are all cured and smoked in-house with greens also fermented onsite. Breakfast and lunch items are executed with the kind of laborious, exacting precision you just don't expect outside of top tier dining. And for brunch, no less, the least discriminating of all meals.

It's incredible the kind of hoops the trio in the open kitchen jump through to deliver such darned good dishes. Denham and Neil Murphy (ex sous chef at The Drake 150) work silently and meticulously composing each plate as if it was their last even when the house is full. Which would account for the long wait times between dishes, but worth every moment of your precious busy life. And pastry chef Sharon Hammond (ex of Le Dolci) has her hands full being in charge of desserts, bread, juices and recipes, not to mention kombucha. Who doesn't make their own kombucha, right? The trio have all worked together in the past so their seamless teamwork comes as little surprise.

True culinary delights include a Southern breakfast ($13) of poached eggs nestled atop creamy white corn grits, bacon (that Murphy seems to slice per order), fermented greens and a biscuit with textbook density and fluffiness that straddles savoury and salty perfectly. Next time, it's some heaven-sent buttermilk griddle cakes ($9) that seem to be on every table. To make you feel less guilty top it off with one of Hammond's juice concoctions ($4) like a perfect blending of beet, apple, ginger and lemon.

If I have to make a wee complaint, and I do, it would be with the "Caesar-ish" salad ($5, $10) made with big winter kale leaves. With aged ricotta, golden raisins and hand cut bacon, hats off to the kitchen for these creative stylized additions, btw, but it's so heavily cloaked in a buttermilk dressing that makes it a bit too gloopy to truly enjoy. And a Reuben ($16) is so high even this big mouth can't get his lips around a towering pile of thickly sliced, house smoked brisket with Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Problem here is that the rye gets too soggy so picking it up in your hands is not an option.

A fish platter ($14) featuring house smoked steelhead trout and albacore tuna is wildly tame compared to the other flavours thus far but a nice alternative. What I don't comprehend is what an artichoke and asiago dip is doing on the same plate? To say it overwhelms the tastebuds is an understatement. And surprisingly it does not come with bread, which you can order as a side ($3.50 white, multigrain or rye).

Call me a stickler, but if a diner serves lemon meringue pie ($4.50) it should be served as a slice instead of a single cutesy tart, but that in no way affects the taste integrity of this meal finisher with an expert shortbread crust, a puckery lemon curd and torched meringue. The wow factor is equal to the doughnuts ($4.50) that include a more heady earl grey cream filled and a classic honey dipped.

Chef Denham describes the diner as serving classic comfort food we all know and love, made with quality local ingredients, and treated with care and sound technique. No, they are not reinventing the wheel but when a classic is done so well 90-plus per cent of the time, who the heck cares. Yes the menu is a simple read, but eating between the lines is where all the magic happens.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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