Ever since I started splitting my work week between Commercial Drive and Hastings & Nanaimo some 6 years ago, I’ve often, unfairly, compared the food selection between the two areas. While Seri Malaysia and Koko have been, in my opinion, beacons of light in Hastings-Sunrise, I didn’t find other noteworthy establishments until recently. And in between the likes of Bo Laksa King and El Barrio stood The Red Wagon.
One day last October I walked out of the office to grab lunch and noticed the mom-and-pop diner across the street had closed down. In its place a Radio Flyer was painted on the side wall and a new red canopy was put in place. The joint was aptly called The Red Wagon – a greasy-spoon style breakfast/brunch joint located on the SW corner of East Hastings & Garden Drive, one block west of Nanaimo. After reading some recent reviews I decided to sample there offerings, in particular the confit pork belly breakfast a lot of diners have raved about.
Before my first visit I had assumed – incorrectly – that all menu items were offered all-day. It turned out there was an 11:30am cut-off time so it was no pork belly for me. Staring at the two-page menu, I knew I didn’t want the standard breakfast spread. And even though the pulled pork was another supposed specialty, I wasn’t in the mood for some, let alone having them layered in between three buttermilk pancakes. (Yes, you read that right. They do offer pulled pork pancakes.)
Hoping for some inspiration, I turned my attention to the kitchen counter and the dishes that were coming out. The burgers and sandwiches all looked good but I just wanted something different. Blessed my server, she recommended the lunch special which I ended up ordering: Home-cured porchetta with a fennel-arugula salad sandwiched in a warm, lightly-toasted ciabatta bun, with a side of fries served on a classic Chinese oval-shaped plate. (Which I had to mention because I got a kick out of seeing that).
The porchetta was not salty, had a fairly even fat distribution yet wasn’t too oily. In some ways it reminded me of the cured meat in a Vietnamese sub but only way fresher and better in quality. As explained by my server, all the meat served at The Red Wagon are organic and free range, which you can certainly taste the difference. As for the salad, it added a nice crunch to the sandwich as well as balanced out the fattiness of the porchetta.
Not a bad first impression but I vowed to return.
So that’s what happened about a week later as I ordered what I wanted all along. Confit pork belly served with two eggs (poached was my choice), home fries, griddled tomatoes, salsa verde, hollandaise and toast. For someone who’s been mindful of portion size, it was just right for me. At the same time, I felt like I got what I paid for.
As I dived into the pork belly – never thought in a million years I would have it for breakfast – I was pleasantly surprised by how light and crispy the skin was. Combined with the smokiness of the meat and a thin, flavorful layer of fat, the taste rivals some of the best Chinese roast pork I’ve eaten, but more refined. Towards the end, I found myself chewing slowly while savoring the last morsels.
Pork is, indeed, wonderful.
Overall, I would definitely recommend The Red Wagon as they served quality organic and free range ingredients at a reasonable price.
IMHO, if Sophie’s is the hip breakfast joint on the west side, the Red Wagon has the potential to become the east side version.