1670A Victoria Park Avenue, Toronto, ON

Long live the King of Zing: You started life as Zingburger, and you lorded over the weeds of your parking lot fiefdom for a half-century before you became the uninspired “Chicken & Rib Shack.” On behalf of all North Yorkers and Scarboroughites—since your border-straddling location meant you diplomatically doled out the greasy goodies to both former boroughs—we’d like to say farewell. We first heard of your demise when one of our moms (who lives a little closer than we do), sent this quick email missive: “Zingburger is coming down—thought you should know. Love, mom.” That was in the summer of 2007.

We won’t miss the actual burger: Heck, it was just two patties with the cheese slice fired in the middle for rapid melting—but we will miss the zingy architecture. A zig-zaggy glass-and-steel crown of a building, from its cozy, mini-jukebox-equipped booths we could gaze up at the undulating, folded-plate ceiling—with original sparkly paint and pin-holed light fixtures—or through the massive windows to see if it had stopped raining. When it opened in the mid-1960s it must have been a drive-in, since it looked to be designed for roller-skating waitress-accessibility, but when we first discovered it in the 1980s it was simply an alternative to Steak Queen up the street. While we ate at “the Queen” more often, memories of Zingburger are more vivid because it was an example of California “Googie” architecture.

So what the heck is Googie? It’s actually all about the sign, but not in the traditional sense of the word. The postwar era’s obsession with the automobile meant that the buildings themselves became signs for fear of being lost in the whizzing panorama of images through the windshield. In other words, a swoopy lantern-like building got noticed; in California, the attention-getting kings were architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, designers of just about every Jetsons-esque coffee shop and drive-in except, ironically, the one that gave the style its name, Googie’s on Sunset Blvd (John Lautner, 1949) next to the famous Schwab’s Drug Store in Los Angeles.

But in Toronto? While there was no Armet & Davis in Toronto, the style arrived via chains like Big Boy and, to a lesser extent, via television sets showing the space age architecture of Disney’s “Tomorrowland.” That a few local burger-preneurs asked their architects to come up with something similar is no surprise. What is surprising, to us anyway, is that no love is lost when one of these funny little buildings bites the big one. Will Orillia’s famous Sundial—another round Googiriffic diner that’s been sitting empty under lock-and-key for years—be next to fall? Maybe folks aren’t fond of Googie architecture because it’s not our own; maybe that’s the problem with the modernist movement in general—how can a style, born simultaneously in dozens of cities all over the world, stir our locally-obsessed hearts? Or maybe it’s yet another reminder that architecture isn’t very important to most people.

Architect Lloyd Alter writes on Treehugger.com: “It isn’t just historically notable buildings that should be preserved; perfectly boring and ordinary buildings from past eras make up the texture of our cities, and most have the bones to support renovations into modern, energy efficient and useful structures. Yet depreciation for tax purposes and high property taxes often encourage owners to demolish rather than preserve.” We don’t know for sure, but we suspect it was something just like Mr. Alter suggests that caused our little zing-thing to fall.

The King of Zingland is dead, and we shall miss its regal parking lot presence.



925 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto, ON

Happy anniversary, happy anniversary, ohhhhhhh! You'd have to have been a Flintstones fan to get that title, but, yes, it was our 4th wedding anniversary and we were off to see a show. Specifically, "The Drowsy Chaperone," but you're not here to listen to tales of the Great White (North) Way, are you? You want to know about China House. China House has been serving up the same fare in the exact same spot with the exact same dining room decor since 1958, which is, obviously, why we're here.

Location, location, location: is the reason China House hasn't changed, which was your next question. Y'see, this is Toronto's 2nd Jewish neighbourhood, and, as the old Jackie Mason joke goes, Jewish wives are afraid of their kitchens and the only appliance they use is the telephone to order takeout. He also asked where Jewish people ate for 2000 years since Jewish culture is 7000 years old and Chinese culture is only 5000 years old. Anyhow, when Toronto Jews moved up in the world--both psychologically and geographically--from Spadina and College (Kensington Market area, you know, "The King of Kensington") and started their slow climb up the Bathurst St. spine, the area between St. Clair and Eglinton was their first stop. Later, they'd march to Lawrence, Wilson, Sheppard and all the way up to Steeles Avenue and beyond the city's border. So, until recently, it was all those Jewish wives supporting the restaurant with their quick dialing fingers or with the traditional Sunday evening in-person visit to the dining room. In other words, if you had a steady, reliable clientele, why would you bother spending the money on renovating your decor?

And what decor! Except, perhaps, for the wallpaper, which is of the 1970s flocked (meaning fuzzy) kind and the carpet, which is of the bad 1980s hotel variety, this place has not changed one iota. After walking in, we cross a little bridge over a pond (with coins on the bottom, of course) and into the magnificent dining room, where everything is Chinese red and black lacquer. Past the bar-cum-cashier area, we're whisked past the beautiful "key hole" door and seated at a small table by the wall. Last time we were here with a party of four and so were seated at one of the bigger tables under the fake, and very large, paper mache tree with lanterns hanging off the branches (this tree, in fact, is what they use for a logo on their literature). These larger tables have a built-in lazy-Susan so all diners can twirl and access the various dishes to their heart's desire. Can you imagine all those little Jewish boys spinning these things around every time their little sisters tried to go for the Moo Goo Guy Pan?

Speaking of food: There's another reason this place has lasted so long and it's got nothing to do with the remaining Bubbies and Zadies of the neighbourhood. The food is fantastic! Yes, it's your same old Pork Fried Rice and Sweet-n-Sour Everything, but it's prepared in such a way that we agree it's unlike most we've had. For one thing, it's not greasy: chicken balls are 90% breast meat and the batter coating is crispy yet light; the fried rice has the pork all cut up so there's a morsel in every bite; the spring rolls have huge pieces of meat, not bean sprout filler. It's one of the best crappy Chinese meals we've ever had.

They know how to make a drink, too: Because this place is old school, waiters wear jackets and bow ties and know when to bother you and when to receed into the background. They don't get orders wrong and the proportions of our libations are correct. We were stuck in traffic on the way over so this is important. Happy anniversary to US!

Thought about: Well, it was our anniversary, so I guess we thought about marriage. But we also discussed how these kinds of restaurants can't live on forever. As the remaining Jews leave the neighbourhood, will the new Bathurst & Eglinton folk love Chinese food as much? There's quite a strong African-Canadian community to the west that will probably expand, so will it be more jerk chicken and less General Tao 10 years from now?

Overheard (the first time we were here about two years ago): A guy in his mid-40s, to his two kids as he paid for his takeout: "I remember eating under that tree when I was your age!"