Tucked away on a side street in the Junction Triangle, Wallace & Co. is a teeny diner serving enormously good eats.
Although Toronto’s recent restaurant boom has stretched far across the city, these new eateries tend to bypass small residential nooks in favour of well-trodden roads. Happily, a modest diner has settled down on a quaint side street deep in the Junction Triangle. And happier still, six-month-old Wallace & Co. is putting out some seriously tasty food—even if the place is armed with little more than a dozen wobbly green tables, a handful of old bar stools, and a bite-sized galley kitchen.
Opened in June by Sonas Choi and chef Stephen Payne (above), Wallace & Co. was not meant to be a trendy take on a diner. Sure, there’s the requisite soundtrack of Tame Impala and Arcade Fire, but the owners would rather focus on making genuine food, including hearty classics like burgers, corndogs, savoury pies, and all-day breakfasts. It’s the kind of populist fare meant to appeal equally to all the neighbourhood’s eclectic residents. “We just wanted to put out some good local food with a really friendly, humble vibe,” says Payne. In the space, previously home to the much-loved Yasi’s Place, which closed in January 2009, Wallace & Co. mainly functions through the week as a daytime takeout spot where young work-bound professionals can stop for coffee and a baked good. Its excellent weekend brunch has spread by word of mouth, however, and the diner regularly draws a crowd.
On a busy Saturday morning, patrons in tightly packed tables hover over rich, filling food. The most popular dish here, the Dirty Burg ($13, with fries), could easily hold its own against any of the city’s meat-and-bun creations, and comes topped with melted cheddar, house-smoked and -cured bacon, fried onions, crunchy fennel slaw, yellow mustard, and a homemade barbecue aioli. The breakfast sandwich ($10, with home fries), an equally decadent invention, is loaded up with a juicy house-made maple-sausage patty, bacon, cheddar, a fried egg, and some creamy onion aioli. There’s also breakfast poutine, corned beef hash, banana bread French toast, and salted-caramel sour-cream milkshakes. It’s diner food that uses top-notch ingredients, elevated to gluttonous new heights. “We don’t do food we wouldn’t like to eat ourselves,” says Choi. “Stephen just does everything with a bit of extra care, and we think it shows.”
That extra care involves preparing all their meats in-house (grinding beef, corning brisket, and smoking whole turkeys), baking cookies and muffins, making their own sodas, and even repairing faulty kitchen equipment at a moment’s notice. Recently, Wallace & Co. introduced a dinner service from Wednesday to Friday, allowing Payne to play around with dishes that complement the dropping temperature. Right now, that means pot pies, patty melts, meatloaf, and mashed potatoes with gravy. “I’m stoked to do dinner—it’s good to be cooking real food again,” says Payne, a former sous chef at Parts & Labour. “We’ve spent the last few months building a solid foundation with the daytime service, and now it’s time to expand in little steps.”
Next up is additional involvement with the community. Sandwiched between residential properties, the restaurant is more entrenched in the neighbourhood than any other business in the area. For Halloween, Payne and Choi opened the spot up as a haunted house, complete with dry ice and a smoke machine, (fake) bloodying up their chef whites and handing out candy to kids. Now they’re considering serving hot chocolate to people returning from the nearby skating rink or, come summer, projecting movies on the wall of the house across the street and selling ice cream and popcorn. “We want this to be a place where everyone can come in, where kids can run around and have fun,” says Choi. “We act like kids in here, so why shouldn’t they? That, for me, is what a diner really is.”
299 Wallace Ave., 647-680-6812, wallacediner.com.
CORRECTION, NOV. 22, 2013: The online version of this article that was initially posted here included an incorrect photo credit. Christie Vuong shot the lovely photos seen in the gallery above.