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Save-On-Meats does quality diner food at pocket-friendly prices, putting trendy comfort food to shame.
Mark Brand, the man who saved Save-on-Meats which reopened June 22, at 43 West Hastings, is not the easiest person to get a hold of. Mark is a busy guy. He’s also the restaurateur behind Gastown watering holes Boneta, Sea Monstr Sushi and The Diamond.
But when I went to sample the fare at Save-on-Meats, there he was, sitting in one of the seven leather booths with some regulars. I lost sight of him while I pondered the virtues of the ‘Damn Fine Reuben’ versus the ribs platter. I spotted him again chatting with a film crew, then making small talk with a hipster.
The reopening of Save-on-Meats is a huge coup for Brand and for Hastings, and it’s attracting a heck of a lot of attention. Save-On-Meats first opened its doors in 1957 and under the ownership of Al DesLauriers, the butcher shop was one of the few surviving businesses in the Hastings retail corridor as the street went into deep decline, enduring until 2009, when DesLauriers retired at 78.
But DesLauriers didn’t want to sell to just any old investor with an eye towards gentrification and condos. He wanted to pass the pork chop to someone who would participate in the Downtown Eastside community.
That person was Brand, who swept in with a million dollar renovation. Brand showed his respect for the 100-year-old-building, keeping the infamous flying piggy neon sign from the 1950s and the butcher shop, while adding a 40-seat restaurant and a take out window.
Save-on-Meats’ banana split is a bowl of goopy, sweet goodness.
Brand’s plans for community involvement extend further than just providing the community with affordable, locally-sourced food in the diner. These ideas range from opening a ‘food incubator’ for DTES residents to growing food on the roof, but I’ll save that for another post.
I decided on the ribs for $9, which come with fresh veg and a choice of fries or mash. I went all out, adding a soda fountain treat—a banana split for $5—to the mix. Although it was after the lunch rush, the kitchen wasn’t particularly fast, but the Neil Young playing from the vintage Prestige jukebox mitigated the wait.
The behemoth banana split arrived first, delivering all the goopy, sweet goodness a split should have, plus two cherries and chopped walnuts. Then came the entree, which was worth the wait. The pork was tender, falling off the bones. The mixed peas and carrots were firm and glossed with a pleasant herb butter. The fries were basic, thick-cut diner fare.
Tender pork ribs falling off the bone, fries, peas and carrots. Is your mouth watering yet?
I found myself craving an ale to wash it all down. The server said they’re hoping to have a liquor license approved in the next two weeks (mid-July 2011.)
There’s a big difference between curating trendy, retro comfort food (often at exorbitant prices) and recreating a historic landmark’s original working class tone. Save-on-Meats has nicely achieved the latter. And it’s cheaper than chains like Cactus Club and Earl’s.
While Brand is not caught up on email, he was more than happy to settle down in my booth for a chat, an act which sums up the spirit of Save-on-Meats. It’s a place of friendliness. The diner brings together different types of folks from Hastings, Gastown and Downtown to form a community, just like the gravy on the plates joins the meat, veg and mash.
Brand said he anticipated having to explain himself to DTES residents, but he found out saving Save-on-Meats wasn’t about him at all, it was about the city. Everyone is glad to have this Vancouver landmark back.