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United Bakers Dairy Restaurant

peppermint pate Jan 31, 2011 01:36 PM

I have fond childhood memories of visiting this restaurant but in the last 15 or 20 years, I had probably only been about 10 times. That is, until recently - maybe 'cuz I have my own kids now and it feels like a generational thing to share, or maybe I'm getting older and feeling nostalgic for these kinds of places or maybe it's nothing more than the fact that over the last few months, I have reawakened my love of this place. Anyway, it gets mentioned on the favourite comfort soup thread, favourite oldie but goodie thread, favourite kid-friendly spots and other threads - all for good reason - but after decades of bustling business, I thought it was time to give this crazy, great restaurant its own thread.

If you can brave the insane parking lot (hang on tight to your children's and parents' hands!), you will find yourself in a 90-odd year old, third generation family run dairy restaurant with a huge menu of traditional Jewish favourites served in a bustling atmosphere to throngs of bubbies, zaidies, babies and everything in between. Don't be phased by the line-ups as the tables turn frequently.

We're still working our way through the menu but highlights include the legendary split pea soup, a thick, hearty pea soup with egg noodles that remains one of my all time favourite soups. It is the very definition of comfort food. Great cheese blintzes, really great grilled cheese, tuna melt on a bagel, Greek salad and, of course, lox and bagels.

Old school waitresses have been working the biz for years - service is fast and flawless. Dining with kids? You'll get crayons and colouring sheets when you sit down and you will barely wait 10 minutes from the time you order till you're digging in. And on a really good day, one of these sweet cheek-pinching waitresses may even surprise your tot with a free cookie from the pastry counter at the front.

It's not fine dining, it's not fancy dining, it's not refined dining - it's loud, it's bustly and it's great cooking in a friendly, haymishe (homey) room where you'll feel at home amongst friends (and crazy family members). Think of the old school delis in New York and you'll get the idea.

Anyway, we've been going there a fair bit lately and I'm feeling the love right now so just thought I'd shine a little spotlight on this old gem. I know there are other fans on this board, and hopefully a few of you will be new ones too. Anyone else care to share their favourites?

United Bakers
506 Lawrence Ave W, Toronto, ON M6A, CA

  1. Splendid Wine Snob Jan 31, 2011 01:40 PM

    I agree wholeheartedly-its a great place. I LOVE their blintzes!

    1. a
      acd123 Jan 31, 2011 02:10 PM

      I was there yesterday for a 1L takeout container of pea soup. We're having it tonight. I did a shopping trip up Bathurst to fulfill my jew food cravings, especially the pea soup and greek salad from United. I need a break from pork and shellfish sometimes. I stopped in at Gryfe's, Daiter's, Toronto Kosher, and United.

      I had my hands on a bag of gribenes (fried chicken skins to the uninitiated) in Toronto Kosher, but I couldn't pull the trigger. Next time.

      I wonder what will happen to the Perl's location. I hope it's food related and not a wig emporium, cash for gold, or something like that.

      1. m
        millygirl Jan 31, 2011 04:26 PM

        High time I say! Couldn't agree more with you peppermint pate.

        It is one of our mainstays. Love the fish and chips too. But I call it jewish fish and chips. Can't explain, other than try it for yourself and you'll see what I mean. Either way, don't go expecting british style.

        I have a funny ancedote about United. First time I took my husband, he was his usual polite self, saying please and thanks to everything. I told him it's a sure thing that the waitress has pegged him as a tourist. Noboby is polite there, including the staff, but I love it just the same. Actually maybe even more.

        1 Reply
        1. re: millygirl
          magic Jan 31, 2011 05:02 PM

          Agreed about the fish and chips!

        2. m
          magic Jan 31, 2011 05:02 PM

          Their latkes are absolutely FABULOUS! They fly under the radar but are just excellent.

          I also love their french toast, french fries (frozen but awesome), pizza bagels, split pea soup of course, and.... coffee! It's always piping hot and fresh. I could go on, but these are a good start.

          Completely deserves its status as an institution.

          1 Reply
          1. re: magic
            millygirl Feb 1, 2011 02:06 AM

            Agreed about the latkes! Best gefilte fish in the city, soups are all really good.

          2. Kagemusha Jan 31, 2011 06:36 PM

            I remember old Spadina location from the 80s and found it dreary and dank. Probably would have failed today's inspection regime. No fond memories.

            1. TorontoJo Feb 1, 2011 02:52 AM

              Thanks for this shout out, PP. This is one of those restaurants that I always think "one of these days...", but never get around to it. I must admit that parking lot scares the bejeezus out of me. :)

              How are their breakfasts? And are they less busy during the week?

              1. p
                peppermint pate Feb 1, 2011 05:28 AM

                Ah, love the enthusiasm (Kagemusha excepted - hey Kagemusha, are you sure it was on Spadina in the 80's? I feel like I've been going to the Lawrence Plaza location since at least the 80's - I don't even remember the Spadina location, though I could be wrong...).

                Anyway, I'm intrigued by the idea of "Jewish fish and chips" - can't even imagine what that is so we'll have to try that one (and I agree, their fries are good - McDonalds-y). I almost ordered the pizza bagels this weekend but couldn't get past the tuna melt again - maybe next time. acd123, I hope you enjoyed your soup - we had lunch there on Saturday and ate our takeout container of pea soup for dinner on Sunday. The rest of your post made me laugh.

                TorontoJo, I haven't been there on a weekday in a while but I would generally assume it's not as busy and you should have no problem for a weekday breakfast. It's a HUGE restaurant, though, and even arriving in the thick of the lunchtime crowd this past Saturday with 20 people in line ahead of us, we were seated in 10 minutes. As for food, because it's a dairy restaurant, you could eat most of their menu anytime of day. I'd suggest the blintzes or maybe the french toast (which I'm assuming is made with challah) or a tuna melt - bagel, lox and cream cheese is good but not one of their top items, IMO. And whatever you do, take home a container of pea soup for later...

                6 Replies
                1. re: peppermint pate
                  magic Feb 1, 2011 05:56 AM

                  It's actually been incredibly on the few weekdays I've been there. Just like a Saturday afternoon, you wouldn't know the difference.... but the line still moves fast and it’s relatively easy to get seated quickly.

                  1. re: peppermint pate
                    staceya02 Feb 1, 2011 06:17 AM

                    The Pizza Bagels have good days and bad days (I like them a bit crispy but sometimes they're a bit closer to mushy under the cheese).. but no matter what they are always gigantic!! The best bet is to share it with someone.

                    This is one of my favourite brunch/lunch restaurants (along with Steve's on Bathurst)!! Since becoming an "adult" i've become partial to the tuna melts and tuna platters but when I was a kid I would go all the time with my mom and my Bubbie and without fail get grilled cheese, fries, and chocolate milk every time!

                    1. re: staceya02
                      magic Feb 1, 2011 06:31 AM

                      The direction that the pizza bagels go will be interesting. I'm fairly certain they used Open Window bagels there. With the closure of Open Window I wonder what bagels they will start using?

                      I used to look forward to getting Open Window cookies as dessert at United Bakers after my meals. Sucks that I won't be able to have their rugelach now with my coffee. :(

                    2. re: peppermint pate
                      Kagemusha Feb 1, 2011 10:31 AM

                      Think it was still on Spadina in the late 70s. It, like Moise's Tel Aviv, was a pit. Moise's used to recycle its rye bread--ecch.


                      1. re: Kagemusha
                        peppermint pate Feb 1, 2011 10:49 AM

                        Just did a quick google and came up with this interesting article about the history of United Bakers. So I stand corrected, Kagemusha, they were on Spadina until 1986. I swear I have memories of going there at a younger age but I guess my mind is playing tricks on me.

                        I love the article's reference to the infamous Lawrence Plaza parking lot..."where drivers interpret stop signs as a mere suggestion".


                        1. re: peppermint pate
                          Kagemusha Feb 1, 2011 11:14 AM

                          No worries. Sounds like its newer version is much improved. The oldie was almost cartoonishly awful, like something Woody Allen would skewer.

                    3. l
                      lamaranthe Feb 1, 2011 10:16 AM

                      Wonderful restaurant, any dish is good and plentiful. Good and fast service too.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: lamaranthe
                        hungryabbey Feb 1, 2011 05:03 PM

                        is the dinner menu still have breakfast on it (french toast etc)?

                        1. re: hungryabbey
                          pearlD Feb 1, 2011 05:24 PM

                          How great to see it have it's 'own post'...thanks peppermint pate... I think everyone has covered all the good stuff from soup to blintzes and just about everything in between..surprised that not one person commented on the 'salads'..yes, they are not designer but they are always fresh (plentiful doesn't adequately describe the portion) and I always laugh because I think one order can feed a family of four. Defeats my husband to finish his every time! I love it because I often stop in when up the street for my volunteer daysand take home an order of either pickled fish or boiled whitefish both of which I have no desire to make on my own....Driving/parking in the Plaza is like my idea of purgatory!!!

                          1. re: hungryabbey
                            peppermint pate Feb 2, 2011 10:06 AM

                            Ah, breakfast for dinner, always fun. I actually haven't been there for dinner in years so I can't say for sure but it strikes me as the kind of place that has the same menu all day.

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