Save-On Meats Coffee Shop (Diner)

Restaurant: Save-On Meats Coffee Shop (Diner)
Cuisine: Diner/American/Breakfast/Ice Cream
Last visited: July 31, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown/Downtown)
Address: 43 W Hastings St
Price Range: $10 or less, $10-20 ($8 lunches, $11 dinners)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: n/a (didn’t try enough)
Service: 2.5
Ambiance: 2.5
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • Under $12 menu
  • Old fashioned diner food
  • Fresh, house marinated meats
  • Very simple comfort food
  • Extensive menu
  • Average portions
  • Popular for burger
  • Daily specials
  • Home made desserts
  • Home made ice cream
  • Long lines/waits at peak hours
  • Cheap eats/budget friendly
  • Family friendly
  • Iconic location
  • Dine In/Take out
  • Bike delivery
  • Breakfast Menu:  Mon-Sun 7am-11am
  • Lunch/Dinner Menu: Mon-Sun 11am-10pm

**Recommendations: Burger. I think the Damn Fine Ruben is a solid bet here, and it seems to be a favourite, although I haven’t tried it.

Save-On Meats is an iconic and historical part of Gastown, in downtown Vancouver, and it comes with a lot of history. It’s been there since 1957 and it’s only been re-established this year. The original owner retired and closed it in 2009 but local restaurateur, Mark Brand, rescued the iconic gem. Keeping the name, it has remained a butcher shop, but with an added coffee shop and diner next door, and take out window up front. I loved the intent, concept and the under $12 menu, but for me it didn’t really go any further than that.

The Save-On Meats Butcher Shop and small homemade cookie shop on the left.

It was a shaky start, and I’m not referring to their milkshakes either, but the whole experience was just a bit underwhelming. I tried ordering the Salmon Burger (special of the day) and that was out and then the Savoury Pie was also sold out. Then for dessert I tried ordering three desserts and all of those were out, so all together five listed items were all out, and it was only about 3pm on a Sunday.

I think my expectations were a bit high too. I was assuming it was going to be some trendy modern diner since it’s part of the Mark Brand Restaurant Group. Most of their restaurants are quite stylish so I thought that theme would continue. Instead it was quite the opposite, and it really just felt like an ordinary truck stop diner. There was no charm unless you knew the history behind it.

The diner is a very large space and it’s very long and narrow, but it’s also quite cold and bare and at times it felt a bit “prison-ish” or cafeteria like. I have no problem with the somewhat sketchy area it’s located in, but it was the ambiance that felt hollow. Perhaps it was because I was there at a slow hour that the ambiance really got to me. Apparently the peak times are packed with hour long line-ups, so it might feel more “fun”, but for me line-ups aren’t that fun.

I only tried a couple recommended items, but from what I had, the food was a bit on the junior side and the recipes just seemed a bit under developed and mass produced at times. Being that there was a butcher shop right next door I was expecting really well-treated and executed meats. It just seemed very “cut corners” and “minimal cost”, which is understandable, but it didn’t have to be so obvious at the same time.

I think they tried keeping things really simple so that anyone could be in that kitchen, which makes sense from a business perspective, but I wish it translated better to the diners. I know it took a year and a half of planning and renovations, but I just wanted to be more wow’d by all the food and not just the iconic burger. I’m not writing it off though and I will go back to try more because I didn’t make a big enough dent in the menu. I’m still curious.

Another thing I should mention is that apparently there’s big initiatives to be local, sustainable and eco-friendly. There’s a “self-powered organic rooftop green house, in house composting and bike delivery”, so I was taken off guard when I got a Styrofoam take-out container for my food to go. Hopefully we’ll see a change in that soon… baby steps, but I do respect their effort in other areas.

On the table:

Chicken Soup – 2.5/6

  • Home made magic. Served with salty crackers or a fresh biscuit. Cup $3/Bowl $5
  • Is there anyone that would choose the salty crackers over the fresh biscuit?! That was an easy choice for me. Biscuit please!
  • Definitely not my choice to order the soup, but I did pick the chicken soup if we were getting a soup.
  • The “Savoury Pie” was sold out and I thought this might give me an idea of what it would be like.
  • I was expecting a thick hearty chicken stew made with lots of chicken juices and shredded chicken, but I think my expectations were set too high.
  • It was almost like a Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Noodle, but less chunky with better broth that wasn’t neon yellow. I still think there’s chicken bouillon powder in it though.
  • This was the most standard chicken soup and it felt like it was more for kids, especially with the mini seashell pasta noodles, which were a bit overcooked.
  • It was a very basic recipe of carrots, onions, celery and then chunks of chicken.
  • It’s quite salty, not watered down, and there was a slight heat to it, but it wasn’t spicy.
  • It didn’t have a strong chicken flavour and it wasn’t greasy or oily, but just very simple and basic.
  • I wouldn’t say it’s magical because you could probably recreate this magic at home, but it was okay and the chicken was good, tender and moist.

Biscuit2.5/6

  • There’s nothing wrong with the flavour of this biscuit, and in fact the flavour was incredibly buttery and delicious, but it was texture of it.
  • There was lots of fresh herb flavour (thyme?) and it was very rich with butter, but the texture just didn’t work and it didn’t have a crispy exterior either.
  • It was a pale yellow colour and it seemed like it was infused with melted butter plus the additional chunks of butter to get it so flaky.

  • It was flaky and more like a scone than a biscuit, but it was dry. If you never had a good scone you might consider this moist, but it’s not. It’s dry.
  • It wasn’t dry and crumbly, but it was definitely still dry and you couldn’t have it without water.
  • I saw some specs of what I think was cheddar cheese in it, but I couldn’t taste any of it.
  • I saw a couple others come out and some seemed really brown, so there might be a consistency issue.
  • Vancouver isn’t a “biscuit city”, even though they’re not hard to make. Just for comparisons sake, the best biscuits I’ve had are from Urban Solace – see Famous Cheese Biscuit, or Hash House A Go Go – see here.

**The Save-On Meats Burger – 5/6

  • With bacon and cheese. All sandwiches served with a choice of fries, mashed potatoes, slaw or tossed salad $6
  • This is what people rave about. The burger is a must try, and for $6 there’s not much to complain about.
  • A $6 burger and fries and I get a chair to sit down and eat it, I’d rather have this than something from a food cart.

  • It’s a simple good old fashioned burger with nothing fancy, but the ingredients are fresh and the patty is well made.
  • The sauce was mayo and ketchup and it was simple and good.
  • I could have used more cheddar cheese, but the house made bacon was nice and salty and fried very crispy.
  • I didn’t really care for anything else in it, but the highlight was the patty which was made of coarsely ground beef that was incredibly fresh, tender, juicy, and the perfect balance of fat and lean meat.

  • The meat isn’t greasy, but it’s very loosely packed together patty and it almost falls apart, but not from being dry at all.
  • The bun was supposed to be a brioche bun, but the quality isn’t great and it’s likely a “wholesale” type of brioche burger bun. I liked that it was somewhat soft, but it was a bit dry and not as buttery. Again, for $6, it’s easily overlooked.
  • It would have been nice to have the patty a bit bigger so that it covered the surface of the bun, but the thickness of it was good and it was still the part I could taste the most.
  • The fries were made with noticeably fresh oil, and they were well seasoned, but not very crispy. They’re very ordinary fries, but the temperature on the oil needs some adjusting.

Ribs – 2/6

  • Fall apart tender with fries or mashed potatoes and a warm biscuit $11
  • This used to be $9 and now it’s $11. I found it pretty cheap either way, but the portion has stayed the same.
  • It was a lot of ribs, but I didn’t like the marinade or sauce on them, and they were a bit on the dry side.

  • These aren’t your BBQ house ribs so you can’t expect that smokiness or intensity.
  • These were your ordinary Sunday night oven baked ribs.
  • The ribs were likely boiled first from the way they just slipped off the bone, and to be honest, I actually don’t mind that as long as the flavour isn’t too stripped away in the process.
  • The ribs came off as extra dry due to the sauce, but the meat itself actually wasn’t that dry. It wasn’t juicy, and it was tender, but still on the drier side.
  • The sauce just tasted like plain old Hunt’s canned tomato paste and it wasn’t sweet, spicy, peppery, tangy or really anything. I guess it was a bit tangy, but it was almost a dry sauce and it reminded me of pasta sauce for kids. I really was not a fan of the sauce.
  • I give it that the meat did fall off the bone, but that’s as far as my love really went for it.
  • I love ribs, but the sauce was just seemed very junior and I’d personally prefer a rib platter at a Greek restaurant or even the premade ones at Costco (which are actually really good).

  • Mashed Potatoes3.5/6
    • This was good! They were a pale yellow colour and made with an incredible amount of butter. They weren’t overly salty, but very rich and buttery.
    • They were smooth and creamy, made from real potatoes, and still a bit fluffy with a slight tang from probably buttermilk.
    • They weren’t garlicky, herby or peppery and they weren’t complex, but just good old fashioned buttery mashed potatoes.
    • I would have preferred them to have gravy poured over top, or at least served on the side. It suits the style of the diner anyways.

Desserts

I was actually really excited for the desserts, and being in a diner meant “ice cream” was almost in everything, my kind of place! However I didn’t know the ice cream was home made so I decided to check out their other specialties.

I tried ordering the Pound Cake, the Coffee Cake and the Black Forest Cake and all three weren’t available even though they were all on the menu. It was pretty frustrating and I took the drastic route and just passed on dessert completely. I know, but I was getting to the point of not enjoying the experience, so I just ended it here.

Just a quick tip, but they sell the cookies 2 for $2 at the diner, and next door at their butcher shop it’s the same cookies + more for $.75/each if you want to take them to go. Some flavours sell out fast again, like the Bacon Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookie ($.75) and they also have an occasional Dark Chocolate & Chili Cupcake with Smoky Butter Cream and Black Seat Salt ($1.25).

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Save on Meats Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

12 Comments

  • Two thoughts –

    1.) Save-On was designed to be accessible to the DTES resident along with the odd person looking for some cheap, homestyle eats. Given this mandate, it’s almost impossible to have anything of foodie calibre quality coming out of the kitchen. If the food is safe, simple, and reminds you of Sunday dinner for under $10 I say that alone is a win.

    2.) I’ve heard mixed reviews so far, and have yet to actually go check it out myself. Logic being that places like this usually take at least a couple months to iron out the kinks, and calm down to a normal pace (ie not huge line-ups for unrefined food). I’d highly recommend going back in a couple months and seeing how they have improved.

    3.) That burger looks like the reason I may shorten my waiting period by a couple weeks. $6? Insanity for a place like Vancouver. You’d have to head to Portland to get something of that quality for that cheap.

  • Mijune says:

    @Cbjerrisgaard

    1) Thanks for the extra info! However some of the things were a bit like a Sunday dinner you kind of dread… o.O Again even for the price, pre-made Costco ribs you can pop in the oven at home were personally more exciting for me.

    2)I think the mixed review is totally due to the hit and miss menu. I’ll certainly go back as well and my wait time is usually a standard 5 weeks for a restaurant to settle down. I will go back though because the few thing I had isn’t a fair enough representation.

    3) Just go during Sunday 3-4pm… it’s almost dead! Portland!! I’m going in a week! 🙂

    Love your points Chris and thanks for sharing them!

  • Bow says:

    Save on Meats has a long history in Vancouver’s East side. Too bad it wasn’t better, considering the people involved in it now. The burger definitely looks sad; the ribs look like something from Denny’s…Considering the restaurant group behind it, I too expect more finish and thinking in the food prep…you can have excellent foood at low cost w. some effort and imagination…rustic ethnic style food isn’t expensive. I know they mean well and keeping a butcher shop/diner in this location continues a history of serving the poor but it still could be done better.

  • @Mijune if you want some good places to check out make sure to stop by:

    Grain and Gristle – http://www.yelp.com/biz/grain-and-gristle-portland
    Cheese Bar – http://www.yelp.com/biz/cheese-bar-portland
    Burnside Brewing – http://www.yelp.com/biz/burnside-brewing-co-portland

    Grain and Burnside were probably my best meals in Portland (all sub $40 for insane amounts of food and beer). Locally sourced when possible style places. Lots of red meat, cheese, and house pickled things.

    Oh and if you hit Burnside make sure to ask for the Cohiba. A Duck Confit, Crispy Crepe, Wrapped in Collard Greens- that has the interesting presentation of being presented to look like a cohiba which is actually a premium “Cuban cigar”. Dehydrated duck fat for “ash”.

    Cheese Bar was just a cheese & charcuterie wet dream….

  • Mijune says:

    @bow – The burger isn’t sad at all though, it was the best thing I had! you just have to try it… I know it doesn’t look that good. I agree with the excellent food at low cost thing with some effort… very true.

    @Cbjerrisgaard – did you just give me a recommendation for “Cheese Bar”… crap!!! I will thank you for my heart attack.. I have no control when it comes to cheese. It’s bad. I love and hate you for that one. Okay you had me at “duck confit” too… that’s my thing as well… btw you had a burger rec too didn’t you?

  • @Mijune haha… Burnside as well. Duck fat cooked burger. Med-rare of course. It was phenomenal.

  • vivian says:

    So excited you are heading to Portland, I love the food scene there! My fave there is definitely Toro Bravas, best tapas I’ve had so far outside of Spain. Have fun!

  • Mijune says:

    @cbjerrisgaard – Burnside!! That’s the place… if I look like Guy Fieri when I’m back… I’m blaming u.

    @vivian – Okay I’m noting your rec too!!! Thanks viv!

  • Linda says:

    did you know that guy fieri is actually heading over to save-on-meats for an episode of diners, drive ins and dives?!?!?! kinda crazy!! i think it’ll be his first canadian restaurant which is insane!

    i’ve actually been meaning to try this place for a while now and i’ve been putting it off – maybe i’ll head down this week sometime for lunch! the burger looks really good and for $6, this place can kick mcdonald’s butt anyday! i better go early just in case because everything you wanted from the menu was GONE 🙁

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – what?! Really?! why?! there’s so many other options! not that this is bad.. but really! There are!! Did you like it?!

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