Rick McGinnis/Metro Toronto


Al Ridley, owner of Sadie’s Diner & Juice Bar, sits in a booth in the restaurant.

Sadie’s Diner & Juice Bar

Address: 540 Adelaide St. W.

Phone: 416-777-2343

Hours: Mon. to Fri., 7:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Sat. to Sun., 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Capacity: 40

Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $25


**** (out of five)

We’re all getting older — no one can argue with that — and with age comes an increasing concern about health, often in spite of our passions and cravings. Al Ridley knows that diner food is often one of those cravings for anyone who grew up with the particular pleasures of eggs, bacon, sausages, home fries, pancakes and waffles; that would probably explain why he owns a diner.

There are, however, armies of physicians and nutritionists happy to heckle from the sidelines and remind us just why that stuff, marvellous as it might be, is gonna kill you. Which is why Al owns a vegetarian diner just off the Queen West strip, within strolling distance of those two pillars of downtown diner tradition — College Street’s venerable Mars and the Stem, one of the last standouts of old Queen West remaining between University and Bathurst.

Al’s diner, called Sadie’s Diner & Juice Bar, is just south of the strip, in a location that’s been frying and toasting for three decades. “I’ve always loved the look of this building,” he tells me in the restaurant’s front booth, while Johnny Cash plays on the stereo. “I’ve always loved the diner feel, the red vinyl benches and everything.”

He opened Sadie’s last year, mostly to satisfy his own craving for decent diner food that he could live with. “I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years now and, like everyone, there are times when I’ve wanted to go out for a diner breakfast, just the basic eggs and things, but one of the problems I’ve had with diners is that they’ll have the grill there, and they’re cooking your grilled cheese on a grill right next to a big chunk of bacon. So I kinda wanted to do a place where people can come and relax. It’s casual, with a good atmosphere and they can get sort of healthy food.”

Open for breakfast on weekdays and brunch on weekends, Sadie’s is the sort of place where you can get all the breakfast staples — eggs any style, huevos rancheros, waffles, pancakes, French toast, grilled cheese and westerns — with substitutions like veggie bacon, sausages and ham, all testaments to the chameleon nature of soy. Is there anything they can’t make from tofu?

“Not that I know,” laughs Ridley. “I think they can build houses from tofu now.”

While a vegetarian diner might sound like an oxymoron, Ridley thinks he’s tapped into the nostalgic appeal of the greasy spoon and its roots in a world before the triumph of industrial agriculture.

“We’re not a completely vegan restaurant, but the eggs we use are free range and the milk is organic, mostly because those things come from a source where the animals are treated better than they might be. It’s also to do with the traditional feel of the diner and the whole ’50s look; I think there was a time when meat and dairy products and stuff came from what most people think of as a farm, where the cows lived their lives in a field grazing on grass, but as years went by it moved to a more industrial type of farming where the animals are raised in factories, really not what people think of as a farm at all. As far as the dairy and eggs we use, it kind of hearkens back to the old days.”