The highly-anticipated Twin Pine Diner opens to the public next Tuesday at 7 a.m. sharp, so Yellowknifers will be able to try all-day breakfast and chili-cheese fries from “someone who actually gives a f*** about the food that’s going out” in the Arnica Inn. (Guess who said that…)
The Twin Pine doesn’t want to be your upscale fine-dining experience; they tried that at Numbers at Bayside already. They want to be your old-school, go-to casual spot. The vintage American diner décor is a work in progress at the moment: checkerboard tiles; huge chalkboard spaces; a bar promising signature cocktails and boozy milkshakes; core box and metal accents, and retro signs and family photos on the walls. It’s pretty tiny, with about a 20-seat capacity and no reservations, but you can certainly try to cram your gang in there for pie and milkshakes on a Sunday afternoon.
Last night, a small group got a preview of six of the dishes that they’ll be serving, and we can still taste the bacon and capers. Presented were: Caesar salad; triple-cooked fries; BLT sandwich; Scotch egg; pulled-pork waffle; signature-fried chicken. Aside from the pulled-pork waffle, these all sound like your fairly standard diner food, but each has its own twist.
Their take on Caesar salad is not the usual garlic-and-cream drenched heavyweight. Greens are coated in a smoked oyster dressing and topped with homemade croutons, deep-fried capers, and crumbled chicharrón (that’s crunchy deep-fried pig skin). We sampled a small portion, but that was all that was needed. It’s intense, a full-on salty/smoky flavour, and paired with the crunchy caper-popping texture, it’s not for weak taste-buds.
The triple-cooked (boiled-blanched-fried) fries are offered as a side option for some dishes; those rosemary shoestring fries you may have been seeing at the Wiseguys food truck lately will be their standard side. Since the triple-cooked fries are hand-cut, not every fry is going to be as consistently fluffy or crispy as you’d like but deal with it. Share a plate and try to out-eat your table mates for the best ones.
Bacon and egg
The BLT sandwich was a real stand-out. Wasicuna’s been frustrated with the stingy amount of bacon he’s been getting on BLTs around town lately, so he decided to make 8-10 slices of bacon his standard, and then add some bacon mayo on top of that. The $16 he’ll be charging for this beast that’ll barely fit in your mouth actually sounds reasonable considering the Diner is only going to be getting about 20 sandwiches out of each case of bacon.
Our brunch menu sample was their Scotch egg, which could be a contender to replace the usual eggs benny (although they’ll be serving those too). Their version of this UK greasy spoon standard: soft boil an egg, wrap it in a boudin blanc sausage mixture, fry it, and then serve it sliced in half over a creole remoulade sauce with some pickled onions on top. This version falls apart with your fork, packs a unique flavour/texture combo, and was a highlight of the tasting.
The pulled-pork waffle looks and sounds impressive/ridiculous and we expected this to be a favourite, since the pulled-pork waffle tacos at Wiseguys were the thing of dreams a few summers back. At the Diner, they take a homemade waffle, top it with tangy pulled pork, top that with creamy coleslaw, and then drizzle it all with some maple syrup for extra sweetness. We wanted to like all of this so very badly, since meat on a waffle always seems like a great idea, but the thing with pulled pork on a waffle is that you can’t avoid a soggy waffle bottom, even with the much-appreciated crunchy coleslaw on top. Its savoury-sweet combination makes it bound to be someone’s favourite menu item, though.
While it won’t be available by the bucket, Twin Pine offers a signature fried chicken available just in time to catch the KFC mourners. It felt like a heavy dish, even for a sample portion, and it really is: they’re serving these deep-fried birds over mashed potatoes — secret ingredient is “butter and potatoes, pound for pound.” Not everyone’s going to appreciate the hot sauce drizzle, especially since the crispy battered bits are full of flavour on their own, but this ain’t no KFC.
We’ll have to wait for this Tuesday’s opening to get a better idea of pricing (which Wasicuna promises will stay at a reasonable rate), portion sizes, and the rest of the menu. Wasicuna has big visions about his first brick-and-mortar establishment, situated in the same hotel he stayed with his family in the ’80s when they first moved to town, and we can only hope his visions line up with what Yellowknife’s food culture needs right now: good food; productive feedback (right?) and a little healthy competition.
Twin Pine Diner will be open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday for brunch.
Note: Don’t worry burger fans: the Wiseguys food truck will still be operating through the summer as far as we know, and Wasicuna is training more staff as we speak so that he can focus on this whole restaurant thing for a while.