The Red Wagon Restaurant is every bit the neighbourhood eatery that you want so badly in your neighbourhood that you’re willing to drive across town and pretend for one plateful that it is. It’s a classic, but better.
I hit the joint with my East Van Brunch Buddies to sample as much guilty pleasure as one can handle at nine o’clock on a rainy Sunday morning. I got there at 8:55, five minutes to opening, to find my friends already in a line-up. Be prepared, the waitress told us the line-up is solid on weekends until long after two o’clock. There’s a reason for it; the food is that good.
When you finally make it inside what you’ll find is a classic dive diner. I think I can say that since the restaurant did make an appearance on Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. The furniture is mismatched, there’s classic worn out Coke-a-Cola signs on the walls, and a well-used diner counter at the back. The decor may be divey but there’s nothing low brow about the food. It’s classic diner food given a great deal of attention and love.
We ordered the following three dishes:
- The Trucker; 2 eggs, 2 buttermilk pancakes, home fries, toast, plus your choice of bacon or sausage.
- Crisp Pork Belly; 2 eggs, confit pork belly, griddled tomato, salsa verde, hollandaise, home fries, and toast.
- BBQ Brisket and Eggs; 2 eggs, house made BBQ brisket, jalapeno cornbread, and home fries.
I’m not sure where to start. The pancakes were exactly what diner pancakes should be, light yet chewy; the kind of pancake that holds up to dipping it in a runny egg while still soaking up the necessary amount of syrup. The bacon was crispy and packed a bacon-flavoured wallop to the taste buds. Generic bacon can often fall short on the smokiness but not these crispy rashers. It’s got all the goodness that’s fit to consume.
Don’t be afraid of the confit pork belly, it isn’t greasy, just down-right delicious. How delicious you ask? So delicious I forgot to take notes on the whole dish. The one thing I do remember chatting about were the potatoes, probably because there were some on my plate too. The Brunch Blog Boss always complains about deep fried home fries. Well, looks like she’d be a fan of this joint because the home fries are made on the flat top and are fluffy, fluffy, and oh-so-fluffy. They received three thumbs up.
Drum roll please, let’s talk brisket. The BBQ Brisket is only on the brunch menu and not on the week-long breakfast menu. It’s slow cooked in house and to prove it, I didn’t need a knife to cut it. The dish is a mountain of layers. The jalapeno cornbread rests on the potatoes. The brisket (and bbq sauce) sits atop the cornbread, and the eggs act like the snow on the mountain, sitting at the apex of the summit. I was scared that the bbq sauce would be too strong that early in the morning, but it was delicious; subtle, and served in just the right amount to saturate the cornbread without making it too soggy. I loved the dish but don’t expect to eat for a week afterward. It’s that rich.
My only warning about the Red Wagon is that it isn’t the place you go to have a leisurely brunch and chat with friends. The growing line-up outside the door makes it difficult to relax and stay a while. The staff are great about handling the load, but I will say, the bill does show up fairly quickly after your plates are cleared. It’s a diner and honestly, that’s the way it should be. Respect that they have a living to make and move along in a fair and timely manner.
If you’re looking for classic, scratch made, diner food then The Red Wagon is for you. I loved it, and so did my Brunch Buddies. It’s what a neighbourhood diner should be, just better; a lot better.
Movie Recommendation: Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles’ brilliant and defining film. It’s a classic, but better. It’s topped many a top 100 list of the 20th century.
2296 E Hastings
Open for Breakfast from 8 am weekdays
Open for Brunch from 9 am weekends
Michelle Muldoon is a writer, filmmaker, and avid foodie. You can find her on twitter @chat2michelle.