By Jake Taber
When it comes to choosing a spot to eat, why shy from the familiar? This is what I tell myself every time I eat at a little diner on the corner of Yonge and Albertus called Uncle Betty’s. While working just down the street from the then-brand-new diner during the summer, this was a favourite haunt of mine after late shifts and for the occasional lunch break. Open since April, it has garnered a strong local following and with good reason: it’s delicious.
Uncle Betty’s is a small operation based on a philosophy of never-frozen fare, a casual atmosphere, awesome brunch, donuts, and an emphasis on families. Living near Yonge Street means a lot of fancy, upper-class restaurants not exactly suited to a family breakfast, and Betty’s hoped to change that. However, the food there proves too good for teens and twenty-somethings to pass up, so by no means is it a “kiddy place”. This is a classic diner, through and through.
The restaurant is light on superfluous decorations and dominated by a bright orange-blue-and-white color scheme. The front is host to an ice cream and dessert bar, coffee fixings, and two-person tables (not to mention the DONUT MACHINE). You can see your freshly conceived donuts trundling down the conveyor belt through a glass enclosure. On a recent visit I noticed a few new reviews for the place posted on the front door, including a Globe and Mail story about an Uncle Betty’s brunch with Torontonian Harley Morenstein, the host of the popular YouTube cooking show Epic Meal Time.
When a slightly awkward yet patient waiter asked for my meal choice, I opted, for the sake of journalism, for something I hadn’t tried before. Taking my inspiration from Morenstein, I opted for the “ultimate grilled cheese” ($14) with a side of cut fries ($3.25) and a cream soda, along with a homemade powdered sugar donut to finish ($1). In terms of the sandwich: imagine a grilled cheese on white bread, then double the quota of cheese and butter, then add homemade macaroni and cheese, and finally either a slab of juicy meatloaf or tangy pulled pork. Quite the combo, I thought, but a little sketchy.
The Ultimate Grilled Cheese, however, didn’t disappoint. Uncle Betty’s still had the touch, and I spent the next fifteen minutes in cheesy, meaty heaven. The tang of both the cheddar in the mac’n’cheese and the tender pork blended really well; something I didn’t quite expect. From my experience, a rule to abide by when skeptical of a weird item at Betty’s is to just try it, no matter how ridiculous the combination sounds. You’ll usually end up pleasantly surprised.
The fries were crisp, piping hot, lightly peppered, and so addictive that I abandoned ketchup and settled for forking the things into my mouth five at a time. Everything was washed down with a cold Boylan’s vintage cream soda, like fine wine with artisan cheese. Finally, I was served my donut, unfortunately not straight from the machine (if you ever get a chance, jump on the fresh ones before they’re gone) yet better than any Tim Horton’s variety by a country mile.
My meal was a good one, yet Betty’s has a lot of other items that stand to be mentioned here. My favorite breakfast so far is the ricotta cheese-stuffed french toast ($13); try it and trust me. The gluten-free hot dogs earn a section of the menu to themselves, and range anywhere from $8-12. They serve an all-day breakfast meal for $7, and when combined with the fresh cut fries, it is a thing of divine beauty even at 7:00 at night. Their meatloaf is also a separate meal and not just a sandwich topping ($16). Also try the “meatloaf sliders” at $3.50 a pop. Mmmmmmmm.
The desserts consist of many doughnutty creations, including their famous donut ice cream sandwich ($5). My only disappointments were the cookies and the homemade twinkies ($2 and $2.50). Both were average. In a restaurant like Betty’s, they simply didn’t stand out. Finally, of course, Betty’s has a great kid’s/not-that-hungry-older-person’s menu, with smaller meals that range from $4.50 to $7.50.
In conclusion, this restaurant is a must in terms of food, and the ambiance is wonderful for anyone looking for a casual experience.
Atmosphere: 9/10 (Cheery setting, great for kids, not too extraneous.)
Service: 7/10 (Waiters friendly, but inexperienced. Often outmatched by the hungry hordes.)
Food: 9.5/10 (Can’t recommend it more. Nearly every item on the menu is a winner.)
Overall: 9/10 (Awesome.)
2590 Yonge St.