Wallflower Modern Diner opened last night at 2420 Main (formerly Aurora Bistro). The diner concept is going to see something of a renaissance this year, with the recession-weary and cash-worried looking for cold comfort for change rather than hot air for a cool breeze, and this place looks to fit the bill. The menu is about 80% straight-up comfort food. Think pot pies, poutine, French onion soup, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, burgers, wings, nachos, and Reubens. Prices are in the $7 to $15 range. Total sweetspot territory.
Given how nice it was to begin with, owners Matt and Lisa Hewlitt have understandably kept much of Aurora’s shell intact (wooden walls, curved bar hutch, ceiling fans, ancient floors, et cetera). This made it a little strange at first. As someone who will look back on the old place very fondly, it was hard not to get tripped up by the parallel dimensional optics. I half expected to see former owner/chef Jeff Van Geest sit down for a Sun God or polymath server Rich Hope polish a glass.
It’s certainly its own place, but it’ll probably take some getting used to for those familiar with the award-winning room that once was. The old bar has gone, or rather expanded, gaining a half-dozen seats and now running lengthwise with the room (feng better). Several of the old plywood tables displaced by this new focal point have seen their tops sanded down and incorporated into bar (stoking recyclers to no end). The stools are soft and cozily backed, and though I am not generally a fan of flat screen televisions, the one they have isn’t all that bothersome.
The lighting is certainly more atmospheric than it was before, which I like, and the music is just as eclectic as it was in Aurora’s time, sort of a Smiths-Stones-Dinosaur Jr tone that gelled with the neighbourhood. There are a few personal touches here and there, too. They keep a lego model of the bar on hand that they used as a construction reference (complete with a tiny block next to the micro lego glass washer that reads “RESTAURANT” in thin blue Century Gothic font), and those who contributed to the build were given a brush and told to paint a flower on the inset wall above the long banquette (the fabric of which remains that thinly weaved grey tweedish stuff).
Wait, I just got the whole flowers on the wall thing! Wallflower. Took me long enough. It’s weird, but I like it, and though I kinda feel dirty doing so, life moves on.
Best of luck Matt and Lisa. It was really nice to meet you.