One night when I rolled up to the Red Top Drive Inn, there was a big old car with vintage plates parked next to the diner’s unchanged red and white exterior. I felt for a moment like I was time-travelling, maybe transported by some kind of movie magic back to 1960, when this Norwood joint first opened.
Red Top Drive Inn
219 St. Mary’s Rd.
Throwback Thursday: Red Top Drive Inn
219 St. Mary’s Rd.
Go for: good diner food — and lots of it — and friendly diner service
Best bet: the old-school burgers
Burger platters: $10.60-$15.20
Monday-Wednesday, Saturday: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Thursday-Friday: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday: 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Noise level: low
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Kids’ menu: yes
Licensed: yes, beer and wine
★★★★ Very Good
No stars Not recommended
The Red Top was owned for decades by the Scouras family. Even after changing hands last year, it has kept its nostalgic vibe, slightly scuffed but still optimistic, serving up scratch-made favourites in booths with Arborite tables and red vinyl seats, with thick white crockery and plastic cups.
The atmosphere is friendly — and I mean diner-friendly — with veteran servers pausing at regulars’ tables, coffee pot in hand, to trade news or chat with grandchildren.
With big ’60s-style portions and a righteously retro passion for carbs, the Red Top menu mixes up standard drive-in items — burgers, hotdogs, chicken, fries and shakes — with a few Greek specialties, as well as some real throwback diner dishes (ham steak; minced steak; hot beef sandwich; three meat patties smothered with raw onions; spaghetti and chili). Just to make sure you don’t go away hungry, many already giant platters of food are served with buttered toast alongside.
In true diner style, breakfast is served all day.
Best are the hamburgers, fresh, meaty and dressed classic Winnipeg-style with fine-ground meat-only chili sauce, mustard and tangy pickle. The chili sauce levels are perfect — tasty without being napkin-after-napkin messy.
Big fresh-cut russet fries also hit a nice spot between potatoey and crispy. And while you often get a token amount of coleslaw on burger platters — just enough to make you feel better for eating so much meat and potatoes — the Red Top gives you a real serving of cabbage, sharp and vinegary.
There are also crazy stunt items like the Monster Burger — six patties on a raft of bun, looking like something out of The Flintstones. (Those who survive the Monster can get their picture on the wall.) Less extreme but still ambitious burger variations include the Mayor, topped with onion rings, bacon and gyro meat.
Fried chicken is good, the skin crackly crispy and dark and the meat moist. It’s pressure-fried, a method a lot of fried-chicken fans swear by.
Milkshakes are also good, properly mixed with lots of hard ice cream rather than extruded from a tube.
The Greek items are a bit of a letdown. The gyros, with beef and lamb, chicken or veg wrapped up in soft, thick Greek-style pita, could use more flavour. The Greek salad is a bit soggy and included carrots, which is certainly unorthodox and possibly heretical.
There’s a limited liquor menu offering beer and wine (the choice is red or white).
All in all, the Red Top serves up nostalgia while offering tasty food, good value and friendly service for the present day.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.