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90 King Street North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2X4
Cost: breakfast and coffee for two is $25 before taxes and tip
Breakfast is the best.
In fact, there is little like a good breakfast. Usually fairly simple, quick, hits all the notes from salty, meaty, soft, crunchy, a good breakfast is magic. It’s the case with Harmony Lunch on the main street in Waterloo. It’s been open about a year now since Nick Benninger and the Fat Sparrow Group took it through a major renovation. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy process taking a deteriorating building, ignored for decades, and striking new life (and building code) into it.
I recall (some time ago, mind you) my mom dropping me off at 6 a.m. morning hockey practices at the Waterloo Arena and heading to the Harmony for a coffee before going back to the rink to watch. She tells a story about chatting with the City workers coming in for coffee on a break from clearing snow. That’s the kind of a community symbol the old Harmony was and the battery of memories that it inspires. It’s what I recall when I set foot in the place.
Sure, it’s an old restaurant — 1930 — but at the same time it’s not. There’s nostalgia but the Harmony isn’t just about nostalgia. The food is good. While the history is there, the creaky floors and the olde-diner atmosphere doesn’t overwhelm that fact. The chairs are rickety and that’s okay, of course. Old advertising signage has been re-introduced from its burial behind walls and in closets and storage areas. Benninger respects the past and Harmony history; he says some day they will replace the rickety chairs. What’s the hurry, right?
The pork burgers, the ground meat once taken from its flower pot vessel and ancient spatula, have always defined the place. Former Harmony owners shared nothing about the slider-burger process with Benninger and even took away the old grill. The floor piece that’s attached to the ceiling near the new grill is original and is an homage to a couple of generations of the Marks family who stood on the spot, wearing the wood thin.
The five or so Harmony breakfasts hit the mark as good food simply prepared.
Big and little breakfasts include fatty, porky sausage patties, which, with their salty-sweetness, set off the appetite perfectly and combine with eggs beautifully. Elsewhere on the plate, potato pancakes are rich and creamy with a crisp exterior and have their own fatty quality on the lips — for me, that is a much-loved quality that helps define a good breakfast.
But, the breakfast item that is perfectly placed — and which is a technique that is something of a hallmark in the Benninger oeuvre — is an apple-pickle salad that, imbued with a hit of vinegary acidity and some crunch, is a balance to the all richness and fat. I love that.
Avocado toast is more than the hipster heated bread and guac — it comes with two eggs and some beauty pickled jalapenos and fruit.
There’s a smoked lox and bagels (salmon from local supplier T & J’s) which is built around a City Cafe Montreal-style bagel with cream cheese and that apple-pickle salad. Harmony pancakes are “proper,” whatever that means, but where else can you have pancakes with soft-serve ice cream from breakfast? Bacon is $2 extra.
The breakfast “sammy” is terrific and one can only love the drippy, oozy egg bursting forth lusciously as it auto-sauces the sandwich. It gushes everywhere on your plate.
That all makes for good eating at breakfast, pure and simple.
By the way, the Harmony stays open until 2 a.m.