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Feb 13, 2007 02:04 PM

Johnny's Snack Bar, Halifax

Every day I drive past Johnny's Snack Bar on Almon St. in Halifax, and it's always busy. I've never set foot in the place because it looks unpromising: an old-looking diner set into what looks like an old house. But I keep hearing subtle comments about it, that it has a certain something different. Can anyone clue me into what to try when I finally take the plunge and go inside?

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  1. Went for supper there tonight. Johnny's looks like any other old diner in the city. Sagging booths, round mushroom stools along a bar, and some tables with what I seem to recall were actually red and white chequered tablecloths, but don't take that as gospel, I may have hallucinated it.

    The Menu was on the table. One per table. Specials handwritten on a small piece of paper proclaimed chopped beef and pan fried haddock as the specials. There were some older people, Greek, I think that is the language they were using, sitting chatting with the cook, who was standing over them.

    The waitress, who is closing in on 60, was at our seat pretty quickly to see what we wanted to drink. Alas, the milkshake machine is broken, so my first choice is relegated to a later visit. But will there be another visit?

    I decide to order what is, for me, THE TEST, when in a place like this. They have Fried Chicken on the menu. Normally, this ends up being a deep fried frozen very salty breaded product. One of those that looks like the batter was applied by an automobile undercoater. I figure that if I get real fried chicken, I have found a place to rely on. L ordered the sausage dinner.

    In a fairly short time, I have my answer. Three big pieces of fried chicken are lined up side by side on my plate separating my fries (unfortunately, these are of frozen origin) from what looks to be homemade coleslaw and some cranberry sauce. And they are real. Some of the chicken is missing bits of the very simple batter. It is not too salty. It is crunchy in some places and not in others. Gee whiz, Granny, that's fried chicken! Now before you get too excited, I think it had been perhaps baked or precooked a bit and then fried up for me, because some of it was a bit dry, but it was not some industrial food product.

    The fries had probably seen the inside of the Florenceville Factory, but they were cooked about as good as frozen gets. The waitress casually tossed some Heinz Ketchup packs at my plate on her way by. I ate all the chicken, half the fries, most of the cranberry and all the coleslaw.

    L's sausages were very brown on the outside, but she said they were not overcooked, and were tasty (I never got to steal any...). Her mashed potato was very good, creamy and light.

    Things had happened so fast (you haven't seen me around fried chicken before) that we had time for a dessert. Not wanting to completely ruin things, I had to ask what the "Cream Pie" on the menu meant. Seems it meant, at least for today, Coconut Cream. That falls into my list of 50 greatest weaknesses. So I order a piece. It was homemade, the crust being a bit like my Mom's, the filling not as rich as I am used to, but very coconutty, and the topping was a whipped cream, but I think from a can or container. I don't think it was synthetic, it did seem to have come from a cow in its past..... and there was toasted coconut scattered on top. The pie was very good. I could have had more, as I let L eat along, which is a sure sign you're not going to get as much as you thought you were.

    So, yes, it's a diner. No pretensions whatsoever (unlike the place around the corner that I have given up on). I just can't believe I had never noticed it before. It is almost like one of those twilight zone things - read about it on the net, sure you never saw it before, but there it is, a 5 minute walk from your house.

    Oh, and the cost of the meal that included a Coke, water, fried chicken platter, sausage dinner, and coconut cream pie, was $19.50 tax included, plus grat.

    I plan to return, probably for breakfast. They do a cheap B&E, and they have cinnamon toast!

    1. I made it there today for lunch. Place was busy, but not overly so. Those booths are small!! The order of the day seemed to be fish and chips although the daily specials were roast beef and a hot turkey sandwich, each of which came with soup (guy asks the waiter, "what's the soup?"; waiter replies, "What's today, Thursday? Then it's barley.") and coffee/tea.

      I order fish, no chips, which comes with coleslaw, 4 pieces for $6.25. Friend orders a cheeseburger and fries. Food arrives quickly, in my case 4 good-sized pieces of fish in a pancake-style batter, along with good coleslaw and a mountain of ketchup packets and tartar sauce packages. The cheeseburger looks good, with fried onions and a sesame bun. Fries are frozen, as noted; I don't miss them.

      The fish is quite good. The batter is on a little heavy in parts, but it is good batter so I don't mind. The portion turns out to be a chore to finish; 4 pieces of this fish is a load. Cheeseburger gets rave reviews.

      This is a gritty place but I loved it. Only disappointment was the absence of either corned beef hash or fish cakes on the menu. However, I will be back -- I hear the pork chop special on Tuesday is worth the trip and the pea soup on Wednesdays is the insider's hot tip.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Greg B

        Went back to Johnny's on Friday as a single. Took a seat at the counter. It is very narrow behind that counter; I felt like my face was almost touching the glass pop cooler doors opposite. Soup of the day was clam chowder; wanted something to go with it and options were limited, so I ordered a hamburger. From my seat I could see mom and pop working the kitchen (she also did some counter work) while their son or grandson worked the floor. The place was busy but not full.

        Clam chowder arrived in about 2 minutes, accompanied by a very fresh tearaway roll on aplate with butter and crackers. Chowder was the type thickened with corn starch, which don't prefer, but tasted good and was a generous potion. After finishing it I realized didn't need the hamburger but it arrived too quickly. It was everything a burger should be: a good-sized patty that had never been frozen on a sesame bun, fresh and hot off the grill (sounds like a Wendy's commercial I know). In and out in 20 minutes for just over $7 including a "large" glass of milk (don't order the small). Given the choice between this place and Brooklyn Warehouse next door I'll take Johnny's every time.

      2. I stopped in there for lunch today, from where I work it's about a 10 min (give or take) walk. I went alone, so i sat at the counter because almost all the booth's were full of what appeared to be employees from around the various locals (including the canadian post building nextdoor). I got a normal hamburger, fries and a pepsi. I like how they give me the can and the glass to put it in if i so choose. The food came very quick. ma and pa worked quick making, and the older of the 2 boys was quick to serve. The burger was very good, thrown into a patty from what looked like ground beef, a good thing. As for the fries, while being rather plain jane frozen ones, were still tasty. All together the meal came to 6.25, a very decent price. Only major downside (aside from the size maybe) was that they do not accept debit, only cash. Fortunatly the post office across the road has a bank machine in it.