O Bland Canada: Maple Leaf Diner's Canadian Comfort Food Doesn't Hit the Spot
The over-the-top chicken and waffles at Maple Leaf Diner.
Maple Leaf Diner was created by Michael and Debra Delaurier, two Ontario transplants who, in missing their native dishes and recognizing Dallas’ semi-untapped poutine market, opened up shop in far North Dallas. While the menu does feature a few Canadian classics like poutine and peameal bacon, diners expecting to find a treasure trove of Canuck cuisine may be disappointed — the majority of the menu slants American diner-style.
Sprinkled among the burgers and blue plate specials are a smattering of Eastern European dishes, as well as a few Italian options. The diner also serves breakfast, a meal that has gained the restaurant some level of notoriety in the few short months since it opened. This notoriety stems, in part, from the lure of the chicken and waffles. Like a siren song, it calls out to the hollandaise-guzzling brunch crowd.
The Mt. Everest of breakfast foods, this dish is comprised of two crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside Belgian waffles, super-crunchy fried chicken strips and thick-cut (American) bacon. A garnish of cream puffs marks the peak on this gastrointestinal trek, which makes for a perfectly self-indulgent way to kick-off the weekend.
The pancakes also hit the mark, albeit in a more subdued manner. Big, fluffy and excellent for sopping up the high fructose-laden sugar parading as maple syrup, these cakes taste exceedingly familiar. They are not made from buckwheat flour, nor will they revolutionize the way one thinks about griddles, but they do manage to capture what it means to be a pancake. Add a side of peameal bacon (gamey Canadian ham) and you are in business.
Maple Leaf Diner was launched in North Dallas by two Ontario transplants who missed their native dishes.
An order of lox Benedict and latkes is a fitting choice for the bruncher who wants to indulge but does not have the Bacchanalian commitment needed for chicken and waffles. Smoked salmon is piled high on English muffins before being topped with poached eggs and pools of hollandaise. The latkes had a bland, previously frozen quality but proved utilitarian in their ability to help corral every last bit of runny yolk and rich hollandaise onto the fork. While the preceding dishes were executed well enough to explain why area diners are gravitating to Maple Leaf for breakfast or brunch, the same cannot be said for lunch and dinner service.
Three items on the menu were denoted as having been featured on the Food Network. These all share a common theme in that they seem to be offerings at the altar to the god of excess. Portions are gargantuan. Sandwiches are speared not by toothpicks, but by stakes onto which fried mozzarella sticks have been impaled horizontally, forming cheesy crucifixes upon which the diner must sacrifice herself (and her sense of taste) for the sins of all mankind.
The Flagship Chicken Sandwich consists of a fried chicken breast (or grilled, if you’re into that type of lifestyle), bacon, cheddar, marinated tomatoes, hot peppers and dill sauce. What should have been layers of rich flavor and texture produced the opposite effect, compounding to form a bland mass of chicken and bread. Eating this sandwich, one could not help but think that if this was the flagship, the other sandwiches in the armada must have been dashed to matchsticks on some rocky shore.
The Pizza Burger also managed to combine interesting ingredients in such a way as to produce an aggressively bland assault on the tastebuds. The toppings, which consisted of a plank of fried mozzarella, sautéed pepperoni and bolognese sauce, coated the taste buds in a sheath of fat that flavor could not penetrate.
An order of poutine — which should have been the star of the show — amounted to little more than the sum of its parts. It is difficult to go wrong with thick-cut fries drowned in brown gravy and littered with melting cheese curds, but this iteration of the famous Canadian junk food proved only fair; a gastronomic shrug. The third item in the "Featured on the Food Network" trifecta was English pot roast. Billed as “slow-cooked roast, served in a Yorkshire bonnet with sour cream mashed potatoes ... and creamy horseradish,” this is one of the most expensive dishes on the menu at $15.49.
And herein lies a problem, for one does not expect a negative correlation between price and quality. At nearly $16, one expects flaky pastry cradling succulent roast; gravy made from a deglazed pan and a splash of sherry; and fresh, hot horseradish, all served lovingly by a Québécois with a tiny mustache. Instead you will receive a limp bowl of Yorkshire pudding containing stiff mashed potatoes topped by a tablespoon of sour cream. It's a dish that could easily be managed by a home cook with a Crock-pot, and the gravy is so viscous and opaquely brown that it conjures images of the muddy Mississippi.
The horseradish, if it was there, was hiding behind a wall of one-dimensional flavor: salt. If only the pot roast could have somehow shared some of its sodium with the fried chicken. The meat itself earned points for being extremely juicy, but it lacked flavor. And the breading, while pleasantly crunchy, was also flat and overly greasy.
An order of stuffed cabbage rolls proved to be a bright spot. Cabbage leaves turned a mixture of ground beef and rice into bundles of comforting goodness. Nested in an acidic tomato sauce, the rolls satisfied in the way that simple, unassuming things often do. Following the Eastern European line of cookery, potato and cheddar cheese-filled perogies were passable. The accompanying grilled onions, pickled peppers and sour cream provided a nice disguise for the perogies’ slightly underdone quality.
The Flagship Chicken Sandwich is one of several dishes that were featured on the Food Network.
Diners looking to end things on a sweet note will find a bakery case chock-full of meringue-topped pies, “stuffed” cookies (e.g., jelly-filled peanut butter cookies) and pastries. A slice of coconut cream pie — with a crust the sickly shade of Donald Trump at Wrestlemania, and filling that tasted of vanilla pudding mix — failed to be a happy ending to an otherwise lackluster meal. Adults would be better served by opting for one of Maple Leaf’s boozy milkshakes.
It is easier, of course, to write a negative review of a meal than it is to devise, prepare and deliver one. But a $50 meal for two is something the average diner plans for, and while Maple Leaf Diner has ambitions, the menu and its execution often seem very confused.
Maple Leaf Diner, 12817 Preston Road, Suite 129, 214-434-1626, mldiner.com. Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
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