Ugh, Burnside. If Dartmouth's industrial park were to have a slogan, it could easily be something along the lines of "Want to feel like a rat in a maze? Come to Burnside!" A labyrinth of streets walled with a series of squat warehouses and industrial-commercial buildings that have all the charm of a knocked-over stack of cardboard boxes, you really get to know what a rat feels like when you go on that maze quest for some cheese—or, in the case of Burnside, anything decent to eat.
Not that it's all bad news. There are some serious gems in the industrial park: The homespun charm and Polish cuisine at Janina's Cafe; the simple, hearty country diner menu of Grand Finales; and the flavourful Lebanese food at Ray's Falafel are all worth a lunch trip.
Rachelle and I drive to the business park on a Friday, just after noon, in search of another gem. Starfresh Modern Diner greets us with a small counter and display cases full of cookies and parfaits, prepared sandwiches and other take-out options. To the right there is a small dining room with walls painted a bright, springtime green. A very short row of tables sits by the windows and a small bar with five or six stools runs along the opposite wall, which has a little gallery of paintings that stretches upwards towards the high ceiling.
The menu is on a series of chalkboards at the counter—the restaurant focuses on healthy home cooking. A short breakfast menu features burritos and fried-egg sandwiches served on homemade biscuits until 11am. Sandwiches and salads make up most of the lunch menu—vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options make it a very inclusive place to have lunch, an especially nice touch in Burnside—with a daily soup and a Blue Plate Special menu that has a changing selection of curries, pastas, rice and lentil bowls.
A server rings our order through and we sit in the dining room. There isn't much of a crowd, but the restaurant is still mostly full: two of the three tables have couples sharing lunches, and a few of the bar stools are occupied. Small groups come and go to get take-out orders while we sit and wait for our order.
Rachelle gets zucchini and corn fritters with a side of the daily soup ($8.95). The fritters are thick and fluffy, crisp kernels of corn exploding with light sweetness and dots of feta offering a salty counterpoint. A lightly dressed salad of arugula, roasted tomatoes and chopped black olives sits on top. It's a huge portion, almost ridiculous when you add the bowl of smooth, sweet butternut squash soup.
The daily bowl, a brown basmati rice and urad dhal pilaf ($7.95) is a beautifully presented plate, a bright mango salad and an additional egg ($1) sitting on top, giving the bowl a very sunny disposition. The star of the dish is the mild, grassy taste of zucchini, giving a bit of additional nuttiness with a light roasting. The split black lentils underscore the earthiness, and give a bit of a chewier, sticky texture to the brown rice pilaf that adds a heartiness to the dish. The cilantro-laced mango slaw adds acidity and sweetness along with the refreshing crunch of cabbage, and the silky, fatty egg really rounds out the flavours, bringing everything together beautifully.
On our way out we stop at the display case and get coffees ($1.50), a crumbly peanut butter chocolate chip cookie (85 cents), an intensely rich brownie ($1.50) topped with a silky chocolate ganache and a ginger cookie (85 cents), crackling with sugar.
Starfresh makes the trip to Burnside worthwhile. So despite all my rage, maybe it's not so bad being a rat in that maze.