The Senator: a stately name for a dignified diner

13 Aug

Burgers are one of America’s few seriously solid contributions to world gastronomy, and there’s a not-so-new place to add to your list of Toronto restaurants that do them well: The Senator.  Billed as Toronto’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation, it is hidden away on Victoria Street just steps from Yonge and Dundas square.  The Senator is a warm, comfy time-warp in the middle of the city. The furnishings and décor are from 1948.  The art evokes Toronto’s long-lost vaudevillian era.  The high-walled booths are amply wood paneled. This makes me happy.

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The menu is most certainly a standard, full-service diner menu of old, but it contains little clues that indicate that the kitchen staff knows how to cook rather than merely how to open freezer packets.  Soups are made in house, from stock that is made – guess where – in house.  The words “seasonal” and “housemade” appear frequently.  The burgers are made from Cumbrae’s beef.  There is a subtle jab at the pernicious anti-gluten fad that plagues our society.  These things also make me happy.

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I was at my happiest when the attentive waiter offered to have my burger done medium rare – the minimum cooking point at which our fussy nanny state has decreed that adults must eat their ground beef.  I think the kitchen did not share his refreshing willingness to test the limits of the law, because the burger came out decidedly on the medium side.  This scaredy-cat approach to cooking meat aside, I was greatly satisfied with the simple, clean flavours of the meal.  The quality of the beef was clear – the patty did not need excessive seasoning to be delicious.  The dark, buttery caramelized onions were an excellent touch and added depth of flavour that most diner burgers don’t have.  The julienne shoestring fries were perfect, and would be very much at home beside a smartly-presented steak tartare at a brasserie in the XVIe arrondissement.

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I don’t comment much about service – mainly because I don’t care for obtrusive and excessively energetic waiters who try to “earn” their tips – but the service at the Senator deserves a nod.  Our waiter masterfully walked the fine line between making too much conversation and being a useless half-wit.  He knew his Toronto restaurant history – the same company designed and built the famed Lakeview Restaurant – which was a nice touch in such a storied dining room.  The Senator exudes understated quality, and having wait staff who match is key to the overall experience.

I will certainly return to the Senator. Time warps in the middle of downtown Toronto are hard to find, and this one offers up good food, solid service and acres of wood paneling to boot.

3.72/5 brown thumbs up.

 

 

 

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