Dandy Montreal

The food is excellent, but don’t we have better things to do than wait in line for brunch?

Small indulgences, the kind that our ancestors who escaped the Ukrainian famine couldn’t enjoy, are arguably called for when we’ve just endured a pandemic and might soon endure a war.

One of the first Vice magazine articles I recall was about “How Much Corn Do You Need to Eat for Your Poo to Be 100% Corn?” Photos accompanied this. It was classic Vice bro trash, but funny. Who doesn’t want to know what makes you corny enough to write that kind of piece? 

A similar inside joke lives in my head, less scatological albeit, about my favourite brunch place in Montreal: Dandy. How much Dandy do you need to eat to be 100% dandy? I’m finding out.

I didn’t so much hear about Dandy. The lineup announced it, out the door and around the block on Sundays. What’s the point of waiting in line for breakfast, I wondered? It’s frigging eggs.

At other off-times of day, mid-week, Dandy doesn’t have a lineup, and that’s when I first tested the limits of dandyism. There’s a reason why people in orange toques wait 20 deep, I discovered. The food is excellent. I’ve overheard on nearly every occasion someone say, “this is the best _______ I’ve ever had.” Insert Ricotta Pancakes, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Salad, Roman-style pizza, Chocolate Peanutbutter cookie. Damn. Should I be proud or embarrassed to crave something from this menu 99% of the time?

Walking by a few Sundays ago, I snapped a photo of the lineup. This is ambivalence to me: on one hand, I love the food, I love the place, I love everything about it. I love that it feels like a Paul Thomas Anderson film set. And there’s so much more to love there. On the other hand, I wonder if we don’t have better things to do than wait in line for brunch? Don’t we have stoves at home, grocery stores nearby, basic culinary skills? A microwave? I’m asking this of my own self, too. What’s important about a nice brunch in a nice place?

My grandfather arrived here from Ukraine in 1929, right down the road from where I now live. The building that I call home was two years old. It was a bank at the time, definitely off limits to a newly arrived immigrant. He was 19.

His family conscripted him to come here, because they knew that if he stayed, he’d probably die. At that time, Ukraine was on the cusp of suffering genocide — “Holodomor” — the forced starvation of untold millions of people. Google it. First, passports were introduced so Ukrainians couldn’t leave their own country. The borders were sealed off, and then the population was systematically starved. The most accurate estimate is about 7 million ethnic Ukrainians died in the first few years of the 1930s. Those who resisted Russia’s iron fist faced certain death. Two of my grandfather’s brothers were shot and buried in mass graves, and another was sentenced to seven years of hard labor in Siberia. We didn’t talk about him.

The boat to Canada almost killed my Gido. He was seasick, as well as homesick. A man from his village named Alex Lozerenko befriended him and kept him alive, feeding him balled up bits of food when he could keep anything down. Alex’s mother had given him a loaf of bread and two bulbs of garlic for the journey, and that’s what my Gido ate for three weeks. But there would have been no bread in Ukraine that day, so some bread on a boat was the better option.

Ukrainians were the dirty and unwanted new immigrants at that time, equally hated by the English and French. When my grandfather arrived, he went straight across the country to work in a Uranium mine in the Northwest Territories — that’s what ended up killing him years later. He endured beatings in the work camps for speaking Ukrainian, so he rarely spoke at all. He had no formal education, he never had an opportunity for one. That’s why Gido always said to get an education, because “they can’t take that away from you.” I didn’t know what that meant  — how can anyone take anything away from anyone else? But I got an education anyway. I didn’t realize until later in life that I thought nobody took anything away from anyone because Gido came here. I was able to grow up believing that nobody ever took anything away from anyone, that life was fair, that God was good and that everyone had bread.

Earlier this winter, much further down St-Jacques Street, a homeless man died. He froze to death overnight as the temperatures dipped into the minus 30s. On another particular Sunday, I remember walking by Dandy and seeing that lineup — a similar scene to this one — while a homeless person slept in a sleeping bag under an exhaust vent on the other side of the street. On one side, well-heeled hipsters; on the other side, homelessness. How to reconcile this?

Gido Diduck never had ‘fun’ in his life. He worked, he raised four kids and then he died. And I sometimes eat Dandy because of that. I even poo Dandy. I am definitely not homeless, in part, because Gido didn’t die in a forced famine-genocide, he didn’t die on that boat and a whole bunch of other times he didn’t die. If you believe that things have meaning, then that must mean something. To me, it means gratitude. I’m grateful to be here, in the exact location that Gido arrived in 1929. Canada didn’t make it easy to come here, but he and other Ukrainians came anyway. Gido never had a fancy brunch.

I’m reminded of a story about the enormous popularity of lipstick in France immediately following World War II. It wasn’t so much the bread or other basic necessities that people missed when the Nazi occupation ended; it was the small indulgences, like lipstick. We just endured a war — at least that was the metaphor that everyone used — and we might endure another one. A month before I took this pic, the province couldn’t line up for brunch. Now we can. Dandy is our lipstick. ■

For more on Dandy, please visit the restaurant’s website.

For more articles by Ryan Alexander Diduck, please click here.