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Feb 16, 2011 04:18 PM

Thoughts on Red Wagon (faux diner) on east hastings

You've got to ask yourself if it really is progress that crappy greasy spoons are slowly being replaced retro-styled diners serving very similar food. Yes, I've written about this before with the case in point being the emergence of Lucy's Diner on Main Street. This time I'm at Nanaimo and Hastings at the Red Wagon and I'm getting a serious case of deja vu. Not, unfortunately, for the lost innocence of days gone by, but for the grim experience of having sat in one too many of these restaurant theme rides.

The Red Wagon is spacious; I'll give it that. And there's a nice 50s turquoise running all over the cupboards, tables and stools. Wood panelling running up the chair-rails evokes the basement suite aesthetic while the highback dining chairs with curvy backs take you back to the 80s, if you can go back that far.

The menu harkens back like the cocktails list at a retro bar. Among the diner standards, you'll find the unlikely reemergence of Cobb salad. One item did stand out for its sure audacity: a pancake sandwich with pulled pork and syrup. It's pretty hard to find a Western-style restaurant these days that doesn't serve pulled pork somewhere on their menu, but this particular execution is inspired. Couldn't bring myself to order it because I think the best thermometer for the quality of a crappy (or faux-crappy) restaurant is how good their burger is. So I got myself the old burger and fries - and it wasn't terrible. The bun was soft and toasted on the inside. The meat did not immediately evoke a frozen frisbee. The lettuce was even thoughtfully shredded, providing a little spring. The fries, happily, cut from potatoes with skins left on, were nicely crunchy and moderately salted.

While the coffee didn't appear to be produced by one of those multi-headed commercial drip machines you used to see in real diners, it still wasn't very good (moderately warm, harsh acidic notes indicating over-roasted beans). That degree of authenticity was well handled. In the end, I couldn't resist the apple pie and this was the highlight. Soft caramelized apples swimming in a dark paste wrapped up in a mouthwatering shell and topped with little boulders of crunchy sugar. Yes, that pie took me back to a time I wasn't alive for, when you could, as they say, walk the streets without fear, leave your doors unlocked, trust your neighbours and all that mythology. I believe it was also a time where non-whites had to eat at separate counters but that thought is enough to ruin a perfectly good meal.

My nostalgic rummaging through history came to a close when the bill arrived - $30 for a couple of entrees, a coffee and a piece of pie. Could have cut that in half at a real greasy spoon, but then the ambience at those places is like a fake diner that isn't fake. That, these days, doesn't make any sense at all.

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  1. Price notwithstanding that is a delicious lookin' piece o' pie!

    1. Sorry to hear about your bad TOFTT, TD.

      Go to The Sunshine Diner on Pender. You can prolly walk out having eaten the same food for under $20.

      2 Replies
      1. re: LotusRapper

        LR your link is off -- do you mean the Smile Diner?

        1. re: grayelf

          Oooops, yes :-)

          And Sunshine always makes me Smile :-)

      2. I had a similar experience at this faux diner. Ordered the pulled pork benny. The food was good, but I thought they could have given me more potatoes. I like the pull pork from Re-up a bit more.

        I was also taken a back by the use of the old school chinese plates; the ones with the pink & gold trim with flowers as in Tangentdesign's burger picture. Haven't seen those in years, but realize the space use to be a chinese restaurant.

        Overall, I think I prefer Acme Cafe as my Faux diner.

        3 Replies
        1. re: moyenchow

          hmm haven't been to Red Wagon but Acme jus t didn't do it for me at all especially after tthe waitress/owner rollled her eyes at me when i decided i would just stick tto coffee and didn't want to order any food after perusing the menu for a few minutes, the menu was waay too predictable "diner" classic food, nothing out of the ordinary ( which would have been a good thing) and the prices were on the high side for that area

          1. re: vandan

            Vandan - try the pie at Acme. They're also one of few places that serves a housemade gluten-free bread. There tends to be off menu specials pretty regularly that you may want to ask them about. But in general, you may want to actually try the food before you write it off as being too predictable.

            1. re: clutterer

              i don't have to try the food to say that the offerings i saw on the menu were predictable< i wasn't commenting on taste/quality, just what was actually on offer from the menu

        2. Yeah, I don't know why everyone is writing this place up. I've tried 3 times and each time was a disappointment. The only consistency I found here is greasy food at an inflated price. That and a lot of Hastings hipsters.

          1 Reply
          1. re: juddc

            I had a goat cheese benny here--very nice hollandaise. GF had the pancakes which were twice as good as the Slocan down the street--and real maple syrup for a change.