Red Top

image300-filtered8 Stars. September 26, 2010.

The Red Top Restaurant. 219 St. Mary’s Road

Wheelchair accessible.

Breakfast Special – $3.68 until 10 am, otherwise called the Classic breakfast for $6.99. Bottomless coffee $1.59, breakfast served all day.

It’s been 2.5 years since our last visit to the Red Top, and since then, this diner-tastic breakfast house have printed a new menu with raised prices all around, but that’s about all that has changed. It was again super busy at 10 am (almost completely full), the six-patty burger was still posed as a challenge on their wall-bound, drawn, sprawling menu, and the drive-in is still spelled “inn” and does not exist. It’s a “sitt inn”.IMG_0360

We were given some truly unfortunate coffee while we perused the new menu. The burger portion featured “cheez” burgers. I asked if that was an effort to make their food accessible to the young and internet-obsessed, but the server said no, “It’s just a way of spelling it.” When asked if it might be related to Kraft Cheez Whiz, she said no, there are cheese SLICES on the burgers.

There was a slight potato conundrum where breakfast was concerned. If you order the Special before 10:00am, you get hashbrowns in the form of buttery-good chopped potatoes. If you order the Classic or an omelette, you get fries (and coleslaw with the omelette), but if you order the Combo (three meats instead of choice of choice of), you get hashbrowns. The questions is: do they allow substitutions?

IMG_0357_1Since I got the combo, I got the tasty hashbrowns. I was impressed how they were cooked all the way through without becoming mushy or staying starchy in the middle. Good grill technique. Leif’s fries were out of place beside an omelette and were completely tasteless. Needed salt, or something. Anything.

In our last visit to the Red Top (below), I noted how greasy the breakfast was. I can now note that their slurge was not as epic as, say, Junior’s was. In fact, I have to admit that my previous review was a bit unfair, though I noted that fact – my palate had recently been changed by the glorious Black Sheep Diner, and after that, nothing was any good by comparison.

I liked the Red Top better this time so we decided to give them and extra half star. The bacon was grilled well and was tasty, the pancakes were better than the ‘Jemima standard and the good service has to be noted. We’ve had way longer waits for food in way less crowded restaurants. However, the coffee was ugh-ful, French fries do not belong at breakfast and also the Greek omelette was more like an egg burrito (skin so thin!) wrapped around veggies that were pretty raw.

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The booths were so small it forced Andrew into a T-Rex cutlery  handling approach.

I’m really not sure what it is that makes The Red Top so busy. The nearest breakfast competition is the execrable Salisbury House on Goulet (yuk) and Loona Rossa on St. Mary’s (yum). The Red Top is a solid diner that’s been around for 50 years (opened in 1960), so really, that might be enough right there. Check it out. If you survive eating the six patty monster burger, let us know (but don’t send us pictures – we’d rather imagine the greasy mastication on our own).

March 1, 2008.  The Red Top Drive Inn. 219 St Mary’s Road

Hours of operation:

Mon – Tues       8 AM – 8 PM

Wed – Fri          8 AM – 9 PM

Sat                   8 AM – 8 PM

Sun                  9 AM – 2 PM

The Red Top is another Winnipeg institution that’s fallen behind the times. They boast “Serving Good Food for 46 years,” but hasn’t ‘good food’ changed a bit in that time? Classics are always good, but I find myself again having to cite one of the newest breakfast places around, The Black Sheep Diner as an example of how progress can be good. The Red Top has a classic look not available many places anymore; and rumour has it they’re actually not able to renovate at all unless they want to give up their ginormous sign on top. Some weird property deal, I don’t know.

image319-filteredThe Red Top is not just a fancy name, it’s the decorating style. Yes, it has a red top outside. Easy to spot. Inside, the red theme continues with the fake vinyl (finyl?) seats, and the menu. The redness is broken with the fugly yet classic brown glass ceiling fans and the not-quite-so-ugly frosted glass dividers. Definite retro feel there.

I have been here once before, years ago and the thing that stuck in my mind the most was the fact that while most places offer you ‘bacon, ham or sausage’ this place offers ‘bacon, ham AND sausage’. One little word can make all the difference.

A funny aspect of the menu is that they implore you to not make any substitutions. Vegetarians were a strange thing 46 years ago, I figure. The red top offers them no leeway and they remain restricted to the non-special items.

I called a few days prior to us arriving, and was thankfully advised that if we were to come for 10 AM we would be waiting. Most of us arrived at 9:30 and were able to find a cluster of booths together. There is absolutely no seating for more than four people, and those four better be slender.

At 10 AM the place was packed.

Our server was evidently very experienced as she shrugged off any comments made by us to amuse her. An offered compliment was taken with a facial expression that said “I know…” which was sort of infuriating. Aside from this, we were served very quickly and got our coffees refilled a decent amount of times, with a satisfying payload of creamers delivered to our table.

The breakfast special was interesting, mainly because it’s called the “Deluxe Special” and all other breakfasts don’t come with hash browns. The deluxe has the three meats described above, but small portions of each. I’ve received more in meat quantity from other places without as much variety.

I think I’ve come off negatively so far, but it’s not so bad. The bacon was quite good actually. Possibly the best bacon I’ve had yet, but I couldn’t tell you why. Not cooked to a crisp, it was floppy and plump but floppy and plump in a good way. Yum.

The ham was good, real ham and singed, but the sausage was a kinda gross breakfast link. Overall, this plate was extremely shiny. Obviously cooked in butter, the potatoes tasted like nothing but, and everything else shared its sheen. A few onions were mixed in, so that was good. The toast was amply buttered, almost too much.

The superstar part of the breakfast was apparently the pancakes. One breakfaster got them and couldn’t stop raving about them. Describing himself as a “pancake person”, he went on to say that his were “Heavy. You get six pancakes worth of pancake in three. They’ll stick to your ribs, where sometimes they can be too light and fluffy and just fall apart. These are 9/10.” This was all backed up by the fact that he polished them off before most of us could get halfway through our Deluxe Specials.

Other breakfasters got non-specials which included fries instead of hash browns (again, the ‘no substitutions’ thing rears its head), showing us that all the potatoes taste the same in that place. Home-cut potatoes to be sure, but buttery and soft.

The only hot sauce they had was Tabasco. Tsk tsk. It’s always the default hotty sauce.

The bathrooms were clean, and the ladies’ room was described as being decorated in ‘old lady tiles’. So it’s the “Old Ladies’ Room”?

As I went to pay with my complicated bill (impossible to decipher) I noticed that they carry, of all things, Health magazine. I couldn’t help but laugh, seeing that magazine after eating the greasiest pile I’ve had in a long time.

So, all in all, this wasn’t a bad place to go. It’s got unique décor and scores high on the kitsch factor with the snow-scene paintings and hockey trophies about. The breakfast could have been toweled off a bit for my taste, and apparently the omelette was pretty bad.

If you don’t want the brekkie, pit your gastronomic system against the six-patty hamburger.