No joke. For an astonishing 10 years, the Friday night supper club has been munching its way, alphabetically, through the listings in the Toronto Yellow Pages. Some 520 restaurants later, they are still paddling somewhere in the Ds. And as if to prove the "anywhere, anyhow -- in alphabetical order" point, the club met to celebrate last Friday night at the next place on the list, Diamond Pizza -- a busy, small, east-end take-out with more employees than chairs. In the rain. Outside.
The project started as something of a hopeful whim by then-university student Jason Taniguchi. His head filled with visions of lofty intellects exchanging witticisms Ó la the Algonquin Round Table, Taniguchi set out to find a cool, cheap, undiscovered place to hang out. Unable to find the magic place, Taniguchi figured he'd have as much luck (and at least as much fun) if he set out on his quest in alphabetical order. It has since become something of a phenomenon among an enthusiastically deranged subset of Toronto eaters.
From the A&W in a downtown food court to Rosedale's swishy Brown's Bistro to Diamond Pizza, the Serial Diners have outlasted Taniguchi's most hopeful projections by "at least nine years, and 11 months." Why do they do it?
"I have absolutely no idea," says Taniguchi, whose self-described "unhealthy" obsession with alphabetization began with a (failed) grade school attempt to read his way through the school library. The group currently numbers around 30, but has entertained more than 400 fearless diners in its decade of life.
At the anniversary party (adjourned to a nearby watering hole) one quickly notes what a lively bunch they are -- bound together by a love of ordered anarchy. They are further distinguished by their ability to pepper conversation with Star Trek quotes, Luis Bu˝uel references and commentary on the best place to get a burger in T.O. Anything else the diners have in common?
"Yes," says Taniguchi. "Weirdness. It attracts the sort of people willing to go to restaurants that they probably know nothing about and that will probably be loathsome. It's a select group of individuals, if you see what I mean."
Club chronicler Charles Levi joined in university, saying he simply found himself in "the wrong place at the wrong time," adding, "I actually don't know why I'm still here at all." As you might guess, after a decade of this, the diners have some stories to tell.
They've been asked not to dine by a worker at a redneck, east-end eatery who eye-balled the GenX-ers and told them they'd be better off (read: safer) elsewhere. They spent last Christmas at a Muslim eatery called Crazy Chicken.
"Every now and again you hit a real gem," says Levi. "Out beyond nowhere, way out on Eglinton West, is a place called Castello Romano, which nobody's heard of. From outside it looked really bad -- a dive of the worst sort. Our initial survey seemed to confirm that. We asked the woman behind the counter: 'Do you have any menus?' She said, 'No, we don't. We don't get much food traffic around here.'
"We said, 'Well, we're here to eat,' and she said, 'You like ravioli? I'll make you ravioli.' So she went back and made us all homemade ravioli and it was the best I've ever eaten. Who'd of thunk?"
One mid-winter day saw the Serial Diners at a Toronto Island eatery where a latecomer found the group by following Taniguchi's laugh. Some braved last winter's blizzards to eat in the food court at the Don Mills Shopping Centre. And since they don't call ahead, the group sometimes ends up at places that don't even exist.
Ten years and hundreds of banquet burgers later, what have they learned? A thing or two about the best letters to eat at, I should think.
"They've all been so good and so bad, if you see what I mean," says Taniguchi. "I would say that many of the worst restaurants were in C but that may be because it lasted so long. D's been OK, but relatively undistinguished. I would say that my favorites are E through Z -- because they still hold the most possibility."
Interested? Check out the Serial Diners current agenda or official rules, or contact Jason Taniguchi at (416) 516-0743, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.