Acme Cafe has pie - lots of scrumptious, deep-dish pies with soft flakey crusts and fresh-fruit fillings.
Mid-morning is the ideal time to visit: early enough to find pie still warm from the oven; late enough to order a slice after breakfast and not look like a glutton.
Sidle up to the horseshoe-shaped counter and give your stool a twirl while chewing over the meaning of these sweet-smelling pies, temptingly displayed in tiered cooling racks on the sideboard straight ahead.
They taste of simple nostalgia yet evoke a surreal sense of unease.
On the surface, Acme Cafe feels like a page ripped out of an Archie comic book, reinterpreted by Wallpaper* magazine. Owners Peggy and Alan Hoffman have created an old-fashioned soda shop with clean, modern lines that offers a picture-perfect hangout for their new hipster neighbours.
Look at that cute couple we encounter one evening, she in her vintage paisley frock and he in his oversized, thick-framed nerd glasses. Are they Woodward's condo dwellers, art students or fashion models in a photo shoot?
We sink into a deep, comfy booth that's wide enough to accommodate six skinny people and admire the 1930s inspired art-deco decor. The room really is quite beautiful with its languidly rotating ceiling fans hanging from the partially lofted ceiling and a monochromatic palette of warm cream and chocolate browns dotted with a scattering of green potted plants. Imagine Pleasantville as seen through a softly diffused lens.
In an open, counter-side kitchen stylishly backed by a long wall of red brick, chef Walter Messiah cooks diner-style comfort foods with contemporary nods to heart-wise health. (Note the absence of deep fryers.)
Meat loaf ($11.50) comes in two moist, herbaceous slabs that are smothered in lightly sautéed onions and deeply delicious, dark-brown gravy flecked with cracked pepper. Roasted new potatoes - crispy on the edges, soft in the centre - make a fine substitute for fries.
If you're really feeling decadent, add a side of thick and gooey Mac 'n' Cheese ($4.25), topped with melted cheddar and buttery gratin.
Chicken pot pie ($12.50) is covered in a fragile, egg-washed dome of golden puff pastry that is crusted halfway down the outside of a hot crockery pot. You'll want to pick it off with a fork for dipping in the creamy, broth-thickened stew bubbling and bobbing with big chunks of chicken breast, a fresh bay leaf and veggies galore.
The only disappointment is the too-tart vinaigrette served with a side salad of mesclun greens, Belgian endive and pre-cut baby carrots. (Why are baby carrots all the rage these days? To me, they taste of nothing but refrigerator burn.)
On another day, the salad dressing is lighter on the Balsamic. But the broccoli-almond-cranberry coleslaw is so creamy, crunchy and lip-smackingly addictive, I suggest you order that instead.
"The secret is the buttermilk," says an amiable young waiter, who seems justifiably proud of the food he serves.
He doesn't have to talk us into dessert. Unfortunately, there's only one sad-looking slice of apple pie left. The pies are baked fresh each morning and usually sell out by dinner, our waiter explains, pointing to Mr. Hoffman, who is hauling in three flats of cherries for the next day's batch.
We settle for a homemade Oreo ($1.50) with a sticky marshmallow-fondant centre pressed between two chocolate cookies and a crumbly butter tart ($2.50) kicked up with chocolate and espresso.
They satisfy the sweet tooth. Still, I vow to return the next day for a piece of cherry pie and a better look at an odd collection of photographs that keep drawing my gaze inward.
The photographs, placed high on a back wall, well above the seated sightlines, are easier to view in the daylight when the sun washes through the restaurant's tall, front archway. The haunting images are of deserted highways and a derelict tugboat docked in the muddy waters of rusted port.
They belong Mr. Hoffman, a well-known art photographer who has earned cult acclaim and many a comparison to director David Lynch for his dreamscape collections of vernacular architecture - Vancouver specials, vintage tire shops, the El-Rancho Motor Hotel - devoid of people, saturated with unnatural colours and shot with shifting fields of focus.
We take a seat in the front window and lazily contemplate the breakfast menu while watching emaciated crack addicts skitter along the sidewalk and bleary-eyed old men stumble past.
Located in Gastown's historic Paris Block, the restaurant sits between a construction site slated for condo development and a Model Express, a store that sells thigh-high red vinyl boots. Across the street is a weed-infested lot surrounded by chain link.
Breakfast is imbued with melancholic disappointment. There's nothing wrong with the French crepe. But the portions are small and the prices - $10.50 for two eggs; $8.50 8.25 for granola - seem awfully steep for the average student, never mind a drug addict on social assistance.
In the bright light of day, the contrast between the neighbourhood's trendy new hipsters and the down-and-out old timers is thrown into stark relief. It's Happy Days with a dark underworld at its doorstep.
But the pie sure is delicious.