It looks like Disneyland.
This is my first impression of the shiny Truck Stop diner at Red Truck Beer Company. Set at the back of a large asphalt parking lot, the white clapboard brewery, replete with a fully functional 25-metre water tower lit in red neon, rises over the industrial Brewery Creek district like a Main Street USA craft beer theme park.
Craft beer? Theme park? Yes, it's a bit of an oxymoron.
Despite large corporate appearances to the contrary, Red Truck is one of Vancouver's most renowned small craft brewers. And its new production facility – part 1950s-era factory, part classic Americana diner – really does resemble a sleekly manufactured magical kingdom of sorts. It's a place where fairy-tale dreams can come true – for frat boys.
We step past a 1946 Dodge pickup, one of several fire-engine red trucks parked in the lot, and enter through a growler filling station and retail shop lined with cheekily branded merchandise: "You Never Forget Your First Truck" for instance, and "I Got Trucked Last Night."
The tasting room-cum-diner is designed in an industrial motif. Behind the walkup service counter is a large bank of windows offering a view of the working brewery, above which another vintage truck is suspended from the rafters. An open kitchen is encased in a shipping container painted in distressed blue and grey to appear old and weathered.
We order a flight of beer and few bites at the front counter. Toting a numbered flag for our food, we squeeze into a back corner.
It is Friday night, and the room is packed with customers in their late 20s and 30s. The seating is (pointlessly) communal at long high-top tables.
The menu is a small world unto itself spanning numerous cuisines and styles, all frolicking together in a spirit of deep-fried, high-fat unity. There are diner standards, including an all-day breakfast selection; pub fare; a few salads; an extensive hot dog list; and an Asian option in almost every section, among them Hobo Eggs Foo Yung with Texas Toast.
We try pork belly bites – deep fried balls served in a plastic, wax-paper-lined tray with thick, dark panko crusting, dry meaty filling and squirted drizzles of sweet hoisin sauce.
Beer-battered French toast is slightly more edible, albeit buried under big dollops of whipped cream, sprinkled icing sugar and syrupy strawberries. The sweetness and yeasty batter complement the more bitter, hoppy beers by coating the mouth with fat. It reminds me of PNE food. "You have to eat it fast before you regret it," my friend notes.
On our way out, we overhear two guys in the parking lot admiring the old Dodge.
"Imagine if you took that truck to Langley, how many tramps you could pick up," one says to other.
I dread going back for a second visit. I don't like the vibe and the food doesn't compel me. Yet I feel like I should review it. Truck Stop isn't just a diner; it's a trailblazer.
Vancouver boasts one of the most vibrant craft beer scenes in all of Canada. Red Truck is a must-see showpiece on the bustling East Van craft beer tour circuit. It's the biggest, the brightest and the first to take a serious stab at in-house food service.
To be fair, I return with a friend of a friend who says she "loves" Red Truck. We grab another girlfriend and go on a Friday night. I am determined to enjoy myself and take it a little less seriously.
The featured musician is a guy who plays accordion and trumpet – at the same time. Now it's our turn to make the sophomoric jokes.
We order chili fries and wings. They are exceedingly ordinary. The server does not bring enough cutlery rollups with the food, but she is quick to source two spoons when my girlfriend decides she wants to play along with the accordion.
Mac + Cheese is the most boring, bland rendition I've encountered since my high school cafeteria. There is no sharpness in the cheese, no seasoning, no garnish. And still, we cannot stop eating it. Pure fatty junk food actually goes down really well with beer.
The chicken burger is a pleasant surprise. It's made with tender skin-on chicken thighs that have been marinated for 24 hours then grilled. The soft bun is smeared with tart shiitake relish and hot mustard mayonnaise. It's a very good burger. And it sparks an interesting conversation.
"Why doesn't the kitchen put more love into the rest of its dishes?"
"Why is the menu so unfocussed?"
"What is this place supposed to be anyway – a diner, a brewery or a pub?"
"Should we get another round and stay a bit longer?" I ask my guests.
We all look at each other. Nah. It's not that interesting.