Forty-six years ago, Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock set off in their Corvette along Route 66, in search of the meaning of life. On a snowy night in February, a few of the girls and I convened at Route 99 Diner to search for meaning in our own lives. Or maybe we were just there for the fries.
In homage to Route 66 the TV show, Route 99’s yellow-tiled walls are lined with vintage licence plates, ‘50s- and ‘60s-era album covers and other assorted collectibles. A jukebox stands guard by the door, into which I dropped some coins before joining my friends in a roomy red vinyl booth.
Smokey Robinson’s smooth vocals filled the diner as the Miracles started in with “You’d Better Shop Around.”
Route 99 offers a limited selection of wine and beer, but that’s alright since nothing can take you back into nostalgia faster than a round of milkshakes ($3.69 each). We happily slurped our frothy concoctions of strawberries and ice cream while contemplating the menu.
Although this diner is known for its all-day breakfast, sandwiches and homemade soups, the menu also offers fresh salads, donairs, pitas and spinach pie. Most appealing, however, was the diner’s selection of comfort food (just like mom used to make). Pass the liver and onions, please!
We placed our orders, but had scant moments to gaze through the glass front of the diner at the softly falling snow before our server returned with our meals.
The youngest among us requested the spaghetti with meat sauce ($6.99), which came with a slice of garlic toast. We teased her that she could have cooked her own at home. While she could definitely manage spaghetti, she retorted that the spicy tomato sauce surpassed her can-opening and water-boiling abilities.
One of my gal pals ordered the quarter-pound mushroom burger ($6.59) and was dazzled by its accompanying steel-handled serving tray of condiments. “This is cool,” she declared, her eyes round with delight. “I can smother my burger any way I want!”
I opted for two slabs of battered fish served on a mound of fries with a side of slaw ($8.99). I went straight for the fries: one taste of these shoestring potatoes and I was hooked. I was so focused on transferring their crunchy warmth from plate to mouth that I had to remind myself to also try the light-tasting fish. Unfortunately, it was the least interesting part of the meal—light, flaky, but with any flavour largely obscured by the batter.
While munching on a fry, I spotted a familiar album cover on the wall—1966’s The Sonny Side of Cher—and smiled at the memory. Years after its release, I picked it up from a record store bargain bin. At home, I would listen to it on the stereo in our rec room, singing along and pretending I was a famous singer, while my younger sister hovered around me, begging for a turn. At that moment, the jukebox started up Cher’s “Shoop Shoop Song” and I giggled with delight.
My quietest friend was devouring a side of fries and slaw ($2), which she ordered to accompany her Philly Steak sandwich ($6.29). She doesn’t say much. However, when she does speak, her comments are often profound. When she put down her fork and gathered her thoughts, the rest of us paused to listen. Would our wisest woman fill us in on the meaning of life?
“These are damn good fries,” she smirked. Well, maybe next time she will impart wisdom, but for now she reminded me to get back to eating my own fries.
The changing lights of the traffic signal hanging above the booth beside us distracted me, and the other girls started discussing dessert. We tromped up to the diner’s front counter to examine the display of apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies, rice pudding and chocolate cake. I stood on my toes, half expecting to spot Mel giving surly attitude to Flo while Alice struggled with the meaning of her own displaced life. But this wasn’t Texas, and the young cook at the grill wasn’t around to watch TV in the ‘70s.
The other girls professed to be full, but a slice of lemon pie with a thick layer of fluffy meringue ($2.69) had me salivating. The server brought it to our table (with extra forks, just in case) and my “mmm” of satisfaction over the pie’s tart filling convinced them to sample a bite.
We lingered a bit after dessert, but eventually settled our tab ($47.70 before tip) and headed out into the snow. In Route 66’s four years, Tod and Buz didn’t find the meaning of life. Neither did we, unless life is about discovering really good fries. V
Mon – Sat to 11 pm, Sun to 10 pm
Route 99 Diner
8820 – 99 Street