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Thoughts on Red Wagon (faux diner) on east hastings

tangentdesign | Feb 16, 201104:18 PM

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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