REVIEW: Consistently underwhelmingly, quintessentially Canadian
Hap’s Hungry House
16060 Stony Plain Road
The Stony Plain Road Diner is so busy on weekends, there’s usually a healthy wait for the booth tables. And increasingly common? Reservation place-settings.
Yep, a good ol’ fashioned greasy spoon….taking reservations.
I’ve been to Hap’s several times and found myself pondering this phenomenon, which is repeated in several Denny’s locations each weekend as well. What is it about an oversized greasy breakfast that is quintessentially Edmontonian, or even Canadian?
“I think it’s because we like things that are comfortable. You know, sort of predictable,” says Dave Allen, who admits to hitting Hap’s twice a month. On busy days, when he can’t get a table with 10 minutes or so, he’ll head to the Denny’s down the street and order a breakfast that he admits “is pretty much the same as at Hap’s. It’s pancakes, and eggs, and sausage, and coffee. Nothing exceptional.”
“Nothing exceptional,” of course, isn’t exactly a positive sentiment in most cases, particularly when going out for a meal.
But in this case, Dave might have something. Normally, “nothing exceptional” is damning with faint praise. However, when it comes to socializing and the whole breakfast/coffee thing, Canadians seem to dig “consistency” over all.
Hap’s fried eggs are invariably near-perfect. They’ve got the timing down to a science, so if you ask for them “lightly over easy”, that’s always pretty close to what you get. Meat is another matter; I’ve never had a good piece of bacon in any Canadian restaurant without deliberately having them “undercook” it; otherwise, Canadians overcook bacon so badly, you’d think a consortium of short-order cooks had destroyed the ozone layer.
The portions are smaller now than they used to be, or at least seem that way, but that’s OK. They’re still huge. I mean, really, who needs a whole potato’s worth of homefries with their breakfast, anyway? Unless you’re working construction and burning 4,000 calories an hour, no one. Give your heart a break.
So it’s a decent enough breakfast. There are no special touches, like Lazia’s chorizo sausage and fresh-squeezed apple juice, and it’s not cheap at basically $10 for about $1.50 worth of produce. Service tends to be slow, because the place is crushingly packed on weekends, although weekdays are much more reasonable. But the servers are professional and usually get everything right. The coffee is …bleah, pretty poor. Weak, and a bit flavourless, sort of like an underbrewed Tim’s.
And speaking of Tim’s, it occurs to me while mopping up egg and beginning to feel marginally claustrophobic that perhaps Hap’s and Denny’s succeed for exactly the same reason Tim’s does: the predictable nature of that consistency is a break from an otherwise typical, stressful middle-class life.
We work hard, we all want to know that when we sit down with our friends and families for a quick, cheap meal, we know what we’re getting. We don’t get that at work. The idiots we work for don’t have the humility required to develop consistency.
So it’s a function of community, of getting a break, and a quick glance around Hap’s confirms this: there are about 120 seats in the place, if I’m counting right, and there are no solo customers. Not one. Everyone in the place is there to spend an hour-to-90 minutes talking with family and friends.
That capper to that successful trip out is a simple one: the assurance that they know they are going to get exactly what they expect.
I’ll let you in on a secret (if it is a secret; probably not.): the food at Hap’s is pretty average and a bit overpriced. Same with Denny’s. Eggs are cheap. So are home fries. And the service doesn’t warrant the markup.
And Tim’s coffee? As an experiment, a work colleague took me up on my assertion that it was made from freeze-dried, musty tasting beans. He drank fresh ground for a month. “You don’t have to spend a bunch of money,” I’d suggested. “Just get the generic whole bean coffee from Safeway.”
He did just that. A month later, he admitted the truth. “Yeah, Tim’s tastes like weak, flavourless crap now,” he said. “Love the fresh ground. Love it.”
I nodded sagely, but he continued.
“So now I have to wean myself back onto Tim’s. Thanks a lot man,” he said, not sounding like he wanted to thank me even a little.
I stared questioningly.
“Yeah… I know. But it’s everywhere. It’s cheap, and it’s really convenient….and I go there with my buddies after work, or after hockey.”
Like I said, quintessentially Canadian.