Mennonite flavour, in the middle of nowhere

The New Gastronomer Nov 23, 2012 · Features · By Luigi DiGennaro

  • The daily specials and bland, inexpensive baked goods, leave one guessing as to the actual desired flavours.

    Courtesy Joe Carere
  • Courtesy Joe Carere
  • Courtesy Joe Carere

Muscled onto the 401 by three Mack trucks mere car lengths before our exit, your enraged narrator and his despot compatriot, Joey found themselves driving, driving, driving yet again- without any cellphone service, without any direction, without any canteens (that I haven’t already been to), lost first on the bucolic roadways of Ayr, then Cambridge, and then, hours later- cars later- in the downtown of our boondock sibling city, Elmira, which, by the way, I didn’t even know had a downtown. A downtown that’s only a few block long mind you; but, a downtown nonetheless. And as a quick aside, if you’re from Elmira, and find yourself angered by my own ignorance, don’t be, I’m already angry at myself for not knowing its dives, its expensive dollar stores, and its damn friendly locals, who seem to have had a radar for two guys who don’t live in the town and came off as the kind of folk who drive Mack trucks and muscle people onto the highway. Seriously though, the amount of hellos, ‘can I help you’s, parables, and blushing school girls were uncanny. I can’t for the life of me remember so much charm, especially when I spent a good deal of my own youth terrorizing so many parties in its neighbourhoods as a teenager.

That said, today was no different, because it wasn’t long before Joey and I were polling residents, comin’ off as big city folk, askin’ for the three best places to eat, laughing because there were only three places to eat, having strangers interrupt strangers, making jeunesse teenage girls feel embarrassed by the sojourning temperament of their town, wishing they could, like Joey and I, come from the big city where we sauna, drive recklessly, and drink all of the vermouth our parents keep. But eventually, we settled for the most amusing novelty suggested, a Mennonite diner called Donuts & Deli, chaperoned to the spot by one of the locals, this time an old lady on her way to the hardware store. Are your hearts gushing yet? They should be, it happened.

And so there it was, unconceited, nowhere near overblown, filled with storeys, filled, no doubt, with stories, painted plain with walls the shade of emerald somewhere and lime somewhere else, old oak wood, eggwashed ceilings, Kulture, gold ambience, quilts, bread, it was like being baked into your grandmother’s meringue and left out for days. We loved it. Its cheap banana splits, its donuts, its baked goods, its bizarre house specials. Its life lessons. Joey’s being that for a diner, you should expect the food it gives you. So, if a plate says taco salad, don’t expect fixings in a tortilla bowl, expect nacho chips crumbled over salad with cheese.

I want to write about Donuts & Deli, dear readers, but I don’t want to be honest. Not at all. The governing gourmand in me says, ‘No,’, but the novel seeking adventurer says, ‘Yes’, all the way with Donuts & Deli. It was a confusing escape. I ordered the day’s special, chucked ham and cheese on a Kaiser, broiled, mashed, tough around the edges, a salty, buttery mess that set my stomach on fire, that destroyed me cognitively, releasing dopamine from eating something that was so bad it was good. Combine that with a ridiculously inexpensive price and no one could resist even the most ill-suited thing on the menu of a diner run by Mennonites. Again, I’m talking about the taco salad. It’s so far removed from restaurants, it can’t be judged. The locals loved the food they were eating, they asked if we got what they got. They loved their egg salad sandwiches, Joey his turkey sandwich, his potato sausage soup. The stuff was dull as dishwater, but we knew we’d be coming back- for breakfast, for donuts, for girls in bonnets, for the baked goods we love because they’re simply nostalgic. How could we not. Like the blue hair leaving the place told us, ‘better soup with a friend, than steak with the Devil.’ Damn right, darlin’, damn right.


22 Church St W,

Elmira, ON

N3B 1M3



Mon-sat 6 am-530pm

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