DROPPING a fork on the floor is embarrassing wherever you're eating but at Elbow Room, it could be excruciating.
Patrick, the co-owner, comes over, ready to launch. To my surprise, he picks up the fork and puts it back on my plate. "You're t-too kind," I stammer.
"Not many people say that about me," he replies. "But if you like, I can get my strap and spank you."
Elbow Room is a remarkable twist on the traditional breakfast hangout. It dishes out an impressive range of speciality burgers and seemingly hundreds of variations on the bacon-and-eggs concept; however, it specialises in dishing out barbed comments.
Elbow has long prided itself on an "eggs and abuse" ethos and, during busy periods, people will queue down the street to receive the rudest service imaginable. The menu includes gems such as, "This is not the public library, so stop wasting time. Hurry up and order something!"
Over the years, blunt service has evolved into something that borders on theatre. Anyone asking for a glass of water will be told to go and get it themselves and attempting to substitute any item in the dish is liable to be met with withering scorn and point-blank refusal.
This, believe it or not, is what people come for. The breakfasts - particularly the pancakes - are good but it's the entertainment that Elbow Room is famous for. Sexual innuendoes are fired in scatter-gun fashion, anyone daring to leave the door open for a second too long will be met with a pithy dockland form of address and Patrick will happily yak away or read the paper while customers try to gain his attention.
The fun comes either in watching others taking rocket after rocket or in playing along yourself. Reply to thinly veiled filth or waspish chiding with a little of your own and it's game on. It's not abuse just for effect, however. Local legend Patrick clicks into gear only when asked a stupid question or sensing game that wants to be chased. Most customers will ask for lemon in their water or extra butter just to see what happens. Elbow Room has developed a celebrity following, too. The walls are covered in cheesy, '80s-style signed photos, mainly from obscure Canadian stars but occasionally from the likes of David Duchovny. One burger was named after Tom Selleck after he kept asking for pineapple and peach slices on it. There is also a Hilary Swank "Please don't make me cry" burger on the menu. No prizes for guessing how she felt about meeting Patrick.
This is possibly the only place in North America where you don't feel compelled to leave a tip but Elbow Room coaxes the extra out another way. The cafe raises an awful lot of money for AIDS charity A Loving Spoonful. Admittedly, it does this by forcing anyone who doesn't finish everything on the plate to make a donation - but its heart's in the right place.
I get away relatively unscathed until the end, when I tap in the wrong PIN while paying by credit card. Patrick asks in family-unfriendly terms why I can't remember my number, to which
I give the usual excuse of never remembering which number I use for which card.
"Why the hell don't you just use one for all of them? And don't give me that security bullshit; do you give your PIN out to everyone you screw or something?"