Dance That Hangover Away
Eggs With a Side of Vibe at Disco Déjeuner
Nouveau Palais owes its recent success to one simple thing.
It’s a subtle attribute, one many restaurants try too hard at and subsequently fail to achieve. But Nouveau Palais has, by all accounts, nailed it, and though it had hit me on several previous late-night visits, my séjour at Disco Déjeuner this past Saturday simply confirmed it.
No, I’m not necessarily referring to DJ John Lee, who infuses Saturday brunches at the Palais with an uptempo soundscape, nor necessarily Cadence Weapon, the restaurant’s resident hip hop DJ on Thursdays, nor even their slew of DJ-led parties, whatever night of the week they happen to be on.
I’m pointing to something else, something which certainly doesn’t suggest itself upon stepping through the restaurant’s threshold into a largely untouched diner décor of New Palace years gone by (it’s been around, in various capacities, since the Great Depression).
It doesn’t emanate directly from the DJ bobbing his head in the front window, nor even thrust itself upon you in the “contemporary comfort” menu.
All these devices have, after all, been employed in many a hipster hotspot, often to the tune of a short lifespan.
But whether it is endemic to the Palais itself—a certain immutable life force running through its walls—or whether it is amped up by Gita Seaton’s careful touches in the kitchen and the Palais’ quirky event offerings (taco truck nights, Cookies Unite cook spotlights, St. Valentines Sausage Parties) this odd, diffuse feeling finds its way into your veins somewhere between nestling into the cozy booth and tucking into the first few bites of soulful grub.
It’s not a word I’ve ever used to describe a diner or a trendy spot, much less the two combined, but the spirit of the place can only be described as uplifting. There’s a buoyancy to it evident on the faces of all the servers, and even the young diners.
Staff and patrons at Disco Déjeuner stop short of tossing waffles into the air and busting out moves atop the soda counter, however. DD is more hangover cure than after-after-hours club.
A refined selection of “positive” beats helps the (endlessly refilled) coffee hit your brain, and after fifteen minutes or so, you do feel almost ready to hit the floor. Though it’s a tight space that—thick with booths—is meant to honour its original dinerly function, my server informed me dance parties are never out of the question.
“On hip hop nights? People dance in between the tables all the time,” she assured me. Making a mental note to return, I prompted her for more details.
“Most may not think listening to a DJ is something they’d enjoy on a Saturday morning. I didn’t at first either. But I don’t know, I just feel so enah-gized,” she added in an elegant French accent inflected with an unexpected British vowel.
From what I could tell, being energized was ubiquitous: conversation bubbled forth from booths all around me, ramping up steadily in enthusiasm but somehow not in volume—as at a noisy bar (we’ll chalk that up a slew of persistent hangovers, and the resulting lack of alcohol consumption).
Though it’s no doubt an anglo haven (but where in Mile End isn’t these days?), my booth was nonetheless wrapped in a mélange of at least three languages.
Our francophone waitress seemed to revel in the energetic “flow” of it all, swapping utterances with me and my tablemates in one language, then suddenly another, without any apparent rhyme or reason. It’s moments like these that remind me why I love this city so much.
All too often, language in the service industry becomes a source of neurosis, whatever side of the fence you fall on (and I’ve been on both), and one feels a certain premeditative strategy behind it all—one usually aimed at higher tips. I hate this, and I’ll always tip more if I get the sense that the person is just being natural.
On this note, I caught another server singing along to a song I later identified as disco classic “I Feel Love.” I asked if she always had this much fun at work: “Yeah! We’ve had a really great turnout already this weekend. But we’re only just beginning to flow again for the new year.”
Running the gamut from crunchy (granola) to lavish (waffles and fried chicken), the brunch menu is deceptively robust.
While most dishes have unpretentious roots in diner culture, they’re clearly conceived by a cook with a caring palate.
The hash browns were seasoned nicely with just enough onion, salt and pepper, the sausage links were plump, herb-seasoned and homemade, the eggs were tender and perfectly over-easy without griddle-burn or the usual pool of diner grease.
The lumberjack sandwich was a full egg-and-meat breakfast slammed between two fresh pancakes: fulfilling, sure, but surprisingly not as heavy as you’d imagine.
I’m tempted to try a few of these dishes next Saturday at home, and even ask John Lee for a playlist. But I doubt either would be very effective without that über-positive Palais vibe.
Good local eating spots are as elusive as hangover cures: many try to concoct one of their own, but few manage to nail the magic recipe.