Can love conquer all? I mean, can affection for a restaurant’s past make up for its present shortcomings?
For me, the answer is yes, when it comes to the new Slickity Jim’s Chat ’n’ Chew.
Despite the server who mistakenly seated many parties ahead of us; regardless of the long, long wait for coffee and food on both my visits; and even though we showed up to a shuttered restaurant one night when there was no indication it would be closed, Slickity’s is still the bedrock of East Van diners.
I started my love affair with the restaurant when it was at Main and Broadway, the location owner Mike Zalman opened in 1999. Back then, I was a broke student living in the area, a neighbourhood that was both bland and sketchy. Slickity’s was a local revelation; $3.75 for perfectly executed eggs and toast with hashbrowns, in a cool, cozy, neighbourhood-defining pod. Utopia.
So when the building burned down in November 2009, I felt the loss personally. The new, sleeker space near Main and 19th opened in March. Even though sole proprietor Zalman, 41, has been riffing on Slickity’s for years, the rough stuff at the current location is forgivable. So far, East Van is loving this place into a kitsch-encrusted mess.
“There was such a buzz, the moment the [new] restaurant opened, we were slammed,” Zalman explained in a phone interview with the Straight. “Not a lot of new restaurants have that happen to them. They slowly get people in and figure out systems as they go. We opened a restaurant and we had 45-minute lineups that day”¦.I could name a thousand problems I see and how they can get better. But we were absolutely slammed that first month, so there was no time. It was basically, ”˜We’re all going to work 14 hours a day and just hope to get through it, and do it again tomorrow,’ because there’s nothing else you can do.”
Other restaurant owners would kill for Zalman’s problems, but he never set out to own a hot spot. After dropping out of cooking school in Ottawa and moving to B.C., a late-night brainstorm in his mid-20s inspired his first business: selling soup to cafés. When orders grew to 150 litres of soup a day, he rented the old 20-seat Eagle Grill diner at Powell and Victoria, and opened the first Slickity’s, which became a hangout for artists, hookers, suits, and drunks. After the ceiling caved in, he moved to 2513 Main Street in 1999, where he cranked out inspired eggs, sandwiches, and salads until the fire claimed the spot.
The new restaurant has double the space of the last, with 49 seats over two rooms. Dinner and late-night service have been added, along with a full bar featuring vintage 1960s stools sourced from the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Live music is coming to the back room, which features French doors that open onto kid-friendly Grimmett Park. Clearly, this warm room is what the area needed, as evidenced by the perpetual crowds spilling onto the sidewalk out front.
For breakfast on a recent Saturday morning, I had the We Don’t Need No Eggs and Bacon ($8.75), a flavourful, herby tofu scramble with toast and roasted potatoes. The dish satisfied me even as a carnivore. That inimitable tangy tofu taste complemented rather than overpowered the cilantro and chilis. My companion’s Fun Gus benny looked spectacular: mounds of sautéed mushrooms and bacon smothered in hollandaise with a heap of hashbrowns. It also featured a long hair, so he asked for a new dish. The replacement Fun Gus wasn’t nearly as generous, but the server took the $10.50 off our bill. The kiddies shared a basic scrambled egg plate ($5.50), with a side of extraordinary bacon. Coffee: very drinkable. Apple juice: delicious pressed cider. Eggs: free range. Our total came to $34 including tax and tip. (It would have been more with the Fun Gus.)
On Good Friday, we hoped to try the burgers for lunch. But when we were seated after waiting 45 minutes in line, the server told us that only the brunch menu was being served on the holiday. So we ordered sammies, which came with hashbrowns or coleslaw, as the deep fryer was off. The $9.25 Sandwich of Champions featured a grilled portobello cap on a multigrain Kaiser, with baked brie and artichoke hearts sliding out. Alas, despite the roasted garlic, it desperately needed some zip. A mound of thinly-sliced prosciutto was the star of my companion’s Madame in Bed ($9.75). The sandwich was dry, and although it was supposed to come on a baguette, the kitchen was out so it came on a white Kaiser. With no kids’ menu, I opted for the $8.25 large fruit plate for my two kids. It consisted of cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and oranges—all rough-chopped with their skins still attached.
We also tried going for a late-night dinner around 10 p.m. on a recent Tuesday night, but the restaurant was inexplicably shut even though we called in advance and the website confirmed that it was open until midnight.
Who cares about these insignificant details? Frankly, the food is good enough. But that’s not the draw. Squeezing a too-large group into a too-tight school bus–style booth, people-watching the dapper customers and staff, and revelling in the happy vibe are the reasons Slickity’s remains a Vancouver icon.
Let’s hope this location is here to stay.