At the busy Robie and Cunard Street intersection, the colourful and crisp diner Robie St. Station has become one of Halifax's central hubs for all-day breakfast, brunch and lunch. It comes with an eclectic yet comforting home-style menu, fresh-to-order pastry offerings, hot coffee and plenty of ice-cold water.
"Our most popular item is The Remedy," an eggs, hash and meat cure-all platter for the frequent red-eyed crowds seeking replenishment from the previous night, says owner and manager Kaleigh Burns.
The Remedy is one of many dishes that transport the typical daytime diner menu to international flavour destinations, from the frontier-inspired Western Hash to the chewy, gluten-friendly Mochi donuts.
"The second most popular dish is The Cilbir," Burns says of their Turkish special — two soft-poached eggs, garlic yoghurt, chimichurri and Aleppo butter. With East Asian influences, like the sweet and spicy banh mi sandwich or the bibimbap burger, the French-feeling Croque Madame, the chorizo burger and more, Robie St. Station was designed as a gateway to creative, tasty, fresh and filling foods to fuel your day.
In the summer of 2014, Burns and culinary manager Herman Lee opened Robie St. Station in the former space of the ultra-popular Jane's on the Common. With big shoes to fill, Lee and Burns reinvented the idea of a diner by heightening familiar diner elements (like the long counter, the bench seating and friendly service) with upscale embellishments. Bright colours like turquoise, mustard yellow and purple complement the large photo of a railway train that anchors the accents in the space. The wall of windows creates an airy, bright solarium to watch the busy Robie Street traffic. Just off the open space is a mirrored, wood-panelled alcove with both bench and chair seating, an intimate fine-dining caboose.
"We started with the concept that this place would be a pick-me-up," Burns explains, who moved from Ontario with Lee to create a restaurant that would be "a stop in everybody's day, a place to meet friends and eat and drink and then carry on," she elaborates. "We couldn't have picked a better city. Halifax has been so loyal, so friendly and so hospitable." Since opening, their growth has been right on track.
This summer, Burns and Lee expanded Robie St. Station to include El Chino Snack Bar in the adjacent space formerly occupied by Jane's-to-go. Open on weekend nights for happy hour, El Chino's menu — dumplings, tacos and tequila — twists traditional dishes into new creations, just like Robie St. Station.
With its illuminated rainbow decor, El Chino is a welcoming rest stop for the day's weary travellers that has now settled into a rhythmic groove with The Station, its staff and the owners. The bar also adds to the evening restaurant cluster on the Robie and Cunard block, joining nearby establishments like Studio East and Eliot & Vine, while giving Burns more opportunities to connect with the local community.
"My favourite part of this business is the people," Burns explains. On any given day at The Station, there might be a birthday party, a baby shower, a romantic daytime date or a solo late lunch. There are often folks who walk from the neighbourhood and others who make special trips from all over the HRM. Robie St. Station welcomes them all with a smile. And while the diner is busy, especially on weekends, it's never a long wait (if at all) for a table or a hot pink seat at the counter, where cartoons often play on a TV at the bar.
"I love knowing the people who come in regularly and seeing our customers' kids grow up and go to school," Burns says of the last two years. She adds that The Station welcomes kids and adults alike, and a big draw for the little ones has been the pastries and desserts prepared in-house, which are now available by special order on a daily basis. "We have the capacity to do special orders but we don't always have the desserts available at all times," says Burns. "So the take-out satisfies that."
The Station is also available for private events like dinners and staff parties after business hours.
"We are a small establishment so we do private events based on availability," explains Burns, who will do her best to find the right price point, staffing and customized menu with her clients. It's the same friendly and accommodating attitude of Burns and her staff that makes dining at Robie St. Station such a delightful experience. That and the perfectly classic beef burger and golden hand-cut fries, of course.
"I love fulfilling the requests of our customers," Burns says. "That's always been my thing — knowing what our customers want before they know they need it." Turns out, we all need to have a stop at The Station.