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11-9255 Woodbine Ave.
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Hastings Snack Bar offers Polish fare along with drinks including coffee and tea.
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Review: A little off the top with a side of perogies

 
By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on May 05, 2016

How many restaurants can boast they’ve lasted 50 years? Well, John Chong is one of the eminent few with his Hastings Snack Bar. In the same spot since 1963, the Leslieville early morning eatery was once a haunt for the area police precinct, TTC workers and locals...

How many restaurants can boast they’ve lasted 50 years? Well, John Chong is one of the eminent few with his Hastings Snack Bar. In the same spot since 1963, the Leslieville early morning eatery was once a haunt for the area police precinct, TTC workers and locals long before Leslieville, was, well Leslieville. Over the years, Chong fielded numerous offers as his property value exploded. He turned everyone down.


If you aren't familiar with the place, you'll miss it in the blink of any eye. So look for a barbershop that fronts it at the corner of Queen and Hastings. Uh huh, a barbershop in front, a breakfast/lunch counter at the back. From Wednesday to Sunday (8am-4pm), peppy servers offer everything from perogies and cabbage rolls to a classic Polish breakfast, not to mention a superb cup of coffee. But be forewarned: Chong may still own the building, but he no longer runs the restaurant; the Barbershop does. And that may turn out to be the biggest problem of all because the friendly sorts of the "new" Hastings Snack Bar have a lot to learn about the fine art of the greasy spoon.


All that's left of the old place is an original arborite counter in pretty great condition considering its years, not to mention original stainless stools, which have been recently recovered. Add to that more ubiquitous barn board and, well, you get the gist. And it's as friendly as any restaurant can be in the service industry; servers seem to want to bend over backwards to please, and they do. People aren't the problem here; the food is.


Behind the counter, an elderly lady in a hairnet and an old-fashioned smock slaves away at homemade perogies before washing dirty dishes by hand. A super nice barista/barber helps out when the crew is short staffed. And boy, does he know how to make one mighty fine cuppa joe. I guess his training at Cabbagetown's Jet Fuel came in handy. Also behind the counter is a young Polish woman who seems to do all the cooking. She can't help but to kvetch about how busy they've been and how much work is involved preparing the dishes from a chalkboard menu that's about as small as the kitchen itself. She certainly can't be referring to the Polish Breakfast ($9), can she? It consists of two sunny-side up eggs, a long Polish weenie, two potato pancakes and some slices of Polish bread. How involved can that be? The veal wiener, more like a foot-long hotdog, is store-bought. So is the bread. The only thing that could possibly take some extra time are the potato pancakes, but why bother for these thin, mushy, frighteningly greasy potato latke wannabes.


Okay, so with the Hungry Tata’s Lunch Plate ($13) perhaps there is more effort for all the food prep: one cabbage roll, one kielbasa, four perogies of your choosing (cheddar or cottage cheese, meat (local, grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free) or blueberry, depending upon availability and, soon to come, sauerkraut with mushrooms), sauerkraut, pickle and more Polish bread. The cabbage roll is nicely plump stuffed with beef and pork, but the sauce topper looks and tastes like something poured out of can of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup. (Cabbage rolls also available $8 for two, in meat or vegetable.) An amazing kielbasa (available on its own, $7 for two) with Polish mustard is grilled just right, but doesn't wow any more than what the street carts already peddle. What is stunning, however, is the house made sauerkraut with cabbage and carrots. As is the full-sour pickle that, while not made in-house, is locally made and one of the best around.


Not so much the boiled perogies ($5 for four; $8 for 8, $11 for 12) made with organic flour and served with sour cream and sautéed onions. Considering Hastings Snack Bar is a Polish diner, not to mention how much heart is poured into these dumplings, it's telling that they're pretty much a disaster; a crime against babcia’s everywhere. They should be doughy delights. Instead they are gummy and not unlike chewing on wet cotton balls. Should you go ahead against my better judgement and see for yourself, skip the cheddar cheese and potato variety and opt for the classic cottage cheese ones. With the less dense filling, you won't have to masticate quite as strenuously.


Even for desserts they rely on baked goods from Pain Perdu. How hard would it be to do some sweet cheese blintzes, which can be made in advance and heated on a skillet when ordered. So the only sweet option is to revisit perogies, only this time stuffed with blueberries. And, well, you can pretty much figure out how well they turned out. I get that Hastings Snack Bar is a small operation, but barely anything is made in house other than the dreadful perogies and a so-so cabbage roll. And being so small, you'd better come with cash as they do not take any cards. The bad news is that their aren't many ATMs around. The good news is that if you hop over to the beer store across the street you can get cash back with the purchase of any beer. I'll have a tallboy please.


John Chong may have run Hastings for more than 50 years, but something tells me that time is running out. Out of his hands and barring any dramatic changes, Chong will either be taking it back or looking for a new tenant. After all, what can a barbershop owner know about running a restaurant anyway? For now the only draw that Hastings has going for it is a bunch of nice people trying ever so hard to please but clearly out of their element.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
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1 Comment for Hasting Snack Bar

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Steve Fitzgerald may recommend Hasting Snack Bar

Me and some of my friends delivered flyers for them on the way to Woodfield Rd school around '68
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