1940s-style cafe’s menu is the ‘heart and soul of comfort food’
AT A GLANCE
Where: 51 W. Hastings; 604-569-1022.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The trend of restaurants pushing deeper into the raw fringes of the city accelerates.
Two Chefs and a Table made the boldest move a couple of years back, plunking down on the 300-block Alexander. Salt and Judas Goat settled in the middle of nitty-gritty Blood Alley; Campagnolo is on an edgy part of Main Street and even Au Petit Chavignon is a bit of swish on an iffy block of East Hastings. Calabash, a Caribbean restaurant, just opened on Carrall Street, and the iconic Save-on-Meats location has been leased by Gastown restaurant mini-czar Mark Brand, who will no doubt be doing something cool with it.
Acme Cafe sits on a boarded-up kind of street at 51 W. Hastings. It’s a throwback to an era when this street was young and vibrant. Pierre Paris and Sons was a shoe and boot shop in this building, which was redeveloped into condos.
Owners Peggy and Alan Hoffman say city officials put the location in Gastown, but the Gastown Business Association doesn’t agree. “They said Gastown doesn’t go to Hastings,” Alan says.
Peggy has worked in the restaurant industry since she was 15 as a server, and spent eight years at Bishop’s restaurant. Alan says his father was a butcher as was his grandfather. his granddad’s recipe is used for corned beef in the cafe’s Reuben sandwich.
“We use my grandfather’s Berkel meat slicer which has been in storage for 40 years,” Alan says. “It’s a beautiful old thing that slices better than an electric one.”
Walter Messiah is the chef. Until a few years ago, he was the head instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. He went to Europe, travelled around on a motorcycle, started a restaurant in Provence, sold it and returned to Vancouver.
He likes the idea of working in a place where he can see the customers enjoying the food (from the open kitchen).
They’re trying to capture the feel of a real cafe from the 1930s and ‘ 40s.
“It’s easy to cross the line and become kitschy,” he says, explaining why they didn’t install jukeboxes at the tables. They found a chrome furniture maker to do up tables and seats with Formica, Naugahyde and aluminum edging. “We want it to feel like it’s always been there, solid and homey,” says Alan.
The menu is simple and straightforward as they tended to be back then. Lunch and supper plates are chicken pot pie, mac and cheese, meat loaf and stuffed peppers. There’s also soup, a couple of salads and daily features of quiche and a crockpot dish. It’s the heart and soul of comfort food or home cooking. It’s not meant to astonish or excite, but it does hit the spot.
They do have a thing for pies. “Keep your fork, there’s pie,” is the server’s mantra there.
I’ve always thought the charming phrase traced back to a royal visit. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth visited this country shortly after her coronation and the server at a community function told him: “Keep your fork, Prince, there’s pie.” (In different renditions, I’ve heard it was a visit to the Prairies, Prince George and the Northwest Territories). Further investigation says it could have been the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Another version says it’s from a short story — a dying woman wanted to be buried with a fork because all her life, she’d heard that expression at potluck dinners and church socials and keeping her fork meant the best was yet to come.
I digress, don’t I? Just keep your fork, princess. Order the Millionaire’s Pie with cream, pineapple and pistachio. “It’s healthy,” our server said. And order coffee. It’s good.
Acme is open for breakfast and it provides the perfect homey feel to start the day.
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