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Restaurants

Gale's Snack Bar

Posted by Frank / Reviewed on March 2, 2009 / review policy

Gale's Snack Bar InteriorNow that the economy's sputtered and stalled worse than your over-heated vintage 1969 PX150, places like Gale's Snack Bar appear less a quaint anachronism or dusty relic than a sanctuary from the $5 lattes and $12 burgers you find littering the edges of Leslieville.

Walking these isolated, empty blocks along Eastern Avenue, it's easy to see why cheap eats make sense. There's nothing much along this desolate stretch of strip besides the corpses of shuttered warehouses, the omnipresent phantom odour of fresh-baked bread bleched out of Weston Bakeries and the hoarding board promises of condo developments whose erections, thanks to our current economic woes, are now less likely than a flaccid octogenarian suffering Viagra withdrawal. So having a price point cheaper than most vending machines is pretty much a guarantee of getting butts in booths. And along with some stand-bys that haven't graced most local eateries since the 50s (ummm...sardine sandwich anyone?), there's one thing on offer at Gale's that prolly hasn't been seen in just as long: value for money.

Y'see Gale's is reputed to be the most frugal diner in the city and I'm here to test the theory. Along with three hungry friends and one $20 bill, I'm hoping to see exactly how much chow we can stuff in our slavering gobs.
Gale's Snack Bar Coffe Pots
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: there's no room for you at Gale's. At least not while we're there. The aforementioned booths are microscopic, there are three of them, and they're all perpetually occupied by a tattered collection of skinny, hollow-cheeked old men in oversized greasy coveralls and perhaps a cowboy hat here and there for curious effect. They are the 'regulars'. And as they look up in stunned silence from their amiable chatter and their surroundings of threadbare red vinyl and mid-century kitsch, we feel like we've walked into a frontier town saloon or intruded into some strange, working-class Masonic rite as we slide up and straddle one of the eight low-slung stools that line the vintage formica of the counter. Seriously, the four of us nearly pack the place this Saturday brunchtime and I understand that even without our intrusion, on weekends it often gets busier than my favourite local food blog's layout. Luckily everyone is super friendly and a little curious at the noobs, but warm up quickly beginning a long, generously meandering conversation between strangers more than happy to share a wonderful selection of stories.
Gale's Snack Bar Exterior
Generous also pretty much describes the menu. The most expensive thing on it is $3.00 and I'm nearly overwhelmed by a familiar creeping sense of Catholic guilt, feeling like I'm about to gorge myself at someone else's expense.
Gale's Snack Bar Sardine Sandwich
Sure the sandwiches come stuffed between slices of toasted Wonder but at $.95 for a Western, or $1.25 for the incredible, edible and surprisingly tasty time capsule that is the sardine sandwich (seriously, find me a single menu with a sardine sandwich on it nowadays) you'll definitely wonder what kinda mark-up there could possibly be on these items. The hot turkey ($3.00) features a raft of untoasted pieces of Wonder white groaning under the weight of thickly carved slices of daily roasted bird and soaking up a smother of chinese style, soy sauce enriched gravy. A healthy pile of McCain fries, a stray pea or carrot cube and a solitary tomato slice added more for effect than anything complete the arrangement. The hot beef ($3.00) is just as good, only...well...darker.
Gale's Snack Bar Hot Beef
The cheeseburger'll set you back a whole $1.25 and comes with a heaping side of nostalgia as you tuck headlong into summertime cookout childhood memories courtesy the plain white bun, and the Kraft single melting happily on top of a well-charred patty.
Gale's Snack Bar Cheeseburger
The raisin pie ($.85) is okay (kinda like a riff on a less sweet, oozy butter tart) but if you're jonesin' for dessert might I suggest the ultra-thick milkshake to sate that sweet tooth. Your standard selection of icecream flavours (Sealtest, natch) on offer, these shake's'll easily support a dozen upright straws and at $1.25, we mistakenly order too many but feel obliged to finish every delicious drop.
Gale's Snack Bar Chocolate Shake
So, the breakdown of our meal is as follows:

  • 1 hot turkey sandwich
  • 1 hot beef sandwich
  • 2 cheeseburgers
  • 2 toasted westerns
  • 1 sardine sandwich
  • 3 milkshakes
  • 1 slice of raisin pie
  • 1 cup of coffee
  • 1 tea

Gale's Sanck Bar Menu

Believe me, we were all full by the end of this meal and try as we might, taxes included, our bill only came to $19.60!


Gale's Snack Bar Register
Understand that this is not a chowfind or a foodie destination. What Gale's is, is utility food served in an honest-to-goodness greasy spoon diner. This vestigial tail of a neighbourhood eatery (that maybe along with  the Tulip and the recently departed Woodgreen Fish & Chips and Canary) is a dying breed in a city that's never been overly concerned with preserving its past. As I drain my cup of coffee I ponder how long this place'll be around. The chef's pushing 70 and I worry that there won't be anyone to keep this place up once he decides to retire. Best not to think about it. Thoughts and words return to convivial discussion with friends: some old and some newly acquired. I've been quickly charmed by this place and maybe if any good can come of an economic correction, it's that places like this might find patrons again and be spared the shame of being thrown on gentrification's tower of silence-- for a little while longer anyway.
Gale's Snack Bar Blur

Photos Courtesy Adrienne Tam and Tony Villanueva

Discussion

37 Comments

apetimberlake / March 3, 2009 at 09:35 am
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Fucking awsome...
Gloria / March 3, 2009 at 09:57 am
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I used to wonder about this place, since I only lived about five minutes away and my dad always drove us past it. I saw a review of it in the Star and was amazed it was actually an active diner.
Jen Ford / March 3, 2009 at 10:03 am
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I live so close to this place, but I've never been. That milkshake is kinda selling me on the joint.
Elle Driver / March 3, 2009 at 10:10 am
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Great review! (Hope you had enough money to leave a generous enough tip...)


Bernie / March 3, 2009 at 10:13 am
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That's a fine looking g-spoon burger! And those prices are incredible! Thanks for the write up!
Bubba / March 3, 2009 at 10:22 am
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it's like time has stood still in this place, greasy spoons are my favourite.

Can I get me another cup of java!
Maria / March 3, 2009 at 10:32 am
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You should try Stavros on Queen and Sorauren. Such a good deal, and a family restaurant/greasy spoon. We love it.
frank replying to a comment from Elle Driver / March 3, 2009 at 10:59 am
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I actually left $25 cos I felt so guilty about piggin' out on the cheap like we did...
apetimberlake / March 3, 2009 at 11:41 am
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Stavros is mor ein my area..i will check it out aswell!
Michael / March 3, 2009 at 12:17 pm
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Hell yeah!

I'm loving these kinds of reviews.
Kate / March 3, 2009 at 12:32 pm
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I work down at the foot of Carlaw - the running joke when someone forgets their lunch has always been "Why dont'cha nip up to Gale's?"
We've never taken it seriously, assuming it's a waste of time - but this makes me want to check it out. Thanks for setting foot in a place we've always been afraid to step into!
stung / March 3, 2009 at 01:06 pm
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I, like everyone else, has been curious about the place for some time. Those prices are awesome! It's amazing they could still stay in business.
I will definitely be brunching there this weekend.
Thanks Frank!
Angie / March 3, 2009 at 02:34 pm
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I live right down the street and have never worked up the guts to try it - but this review has me convinced. Gale's it is!
Canadian Shield / March 3, 2009 at 03:56 pm
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Gale's has scared the shit out of me for the better part of 5 years.. Can't wait to tuck in to that cheese burger!! Thanks!
SteveM / March 3, 2009 at 07:54 pm
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I have wanted to visit Gale's for ages. Thanks for the inside scoop. For those looking for more simple food like this, you should check out the Logan Grill at Gerrard and Logan.

Alektoronto / March 4, 2009 at 01:28 pm
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Seriously retro: love it. Thanks for the review!
Not my hood but would try it out when in that area. How do they make money?
Nice pics 2 btw.
Cheers
david / March 5, 2009 at 12:25 am
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My mechanic is kiddie corner from Gail's. Whenever my car gives in, I groan about the bill I'm gonna have to pay to get it fixed, but cooo about the fact that I'm gonna get to have one of my favorite breakfasts in the city - bacon, egg and cheese on brown toast, hamburger and fries and gravy, all for $4.80! I always shake my head in disbelief when the daughter tells me the price and then leave a nice tip. I've been going there for almost 10 years and the prices have been pretty much the same, save for a few items. Biggest bargain in town, hands down, as the food is quite tasty!
david / March 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm
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BTW - the mechanic is Downtown Gas & Auto. Highly recommended!
maxxie / March 6, 2009 at 12:48 pm
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yeah i love downtown gas and auto.
pat, john and darren are fantastic!
megan / March 8, 2009 at 01:48 am
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My partner and I love this place, heard about it on chowhound a few years ago. The milkshakes are wicked. And, I have to say, the pie was stunning when I had it, so maybe you just got a bad batch?

And, we too generally feel guilty when we eat there, both of us leaving stuffed to the gills for $8 that includes a generous tip.
Christine / March 30, 2009 at 03:48 pm
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I love Gale's! The old-fashioned coffee maker is something else to watch.....especially if you've never seen one! The food is amazingly good and so cheap....you will definitely want to leave a generous tip. You really do feel like you are back in time....maybe around 1965?
Knowitall / April 27, 2009 at 09:32 pm
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What is it with trendification and gentrification that makes noobs move into an area?

"Gale's has scared the shit out of me for the better part of 5 years.. Can't wait to tuck in to that cheese burger!! Thanks!"

I guess people like these don't dare venture into kensington market or Chinatown...well they would do kensinton now...since it's cool.

.....I'll only check it out when it's written about or considered cool by some people first
piero replying to a comment from apetimberlake / May 4, 2010 at 07:45 pm
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best. article. ever.
Lily / May 4, 2010 at 11:00 pm
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I always wanted to try this place! anyone know the hours?
Terrence / May 5, 2010 at 01:34 am
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Funny - I used to come here during lunch time when I went to elementary school right up the street at Morse St PS. Never thought too much about it, but totally get the hip, nostalgic trendiness now.
So sad about Woodgreen Fish & Chips going under though. It was absolutely the BEST F&C ever and Reliable does not compare at all. I do think it's funny that District Sushi moved in though (fish&chips to sushi - fish themed food!)
Samantha / June 10, 2010 at 06:19 pm
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This is the place I have been waiting for my entire life.
Always passed it as a kid and wondered if there was anything even going on in there. Saw it on this site and decided I had to be adventurous and check it out. I went and it looked as deserted as ever. But then I smelt the french fries coming from the window. I opened the door and inside were the most amazing variety of people I have ever seen in my life- everyone from mechanics, little senior couples on a date and a man in a business suit and they were all packed together in the little seating. The wonderful lady does everything and manages to keep everyone happy and knows them by name. I had the most amazing clubhouse and french fries and next time I'm trying the milkshake. This really is the place I have been wishing was around. I think I belong in a different era!
THANK YOU!!!
Moi / October 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm
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This was by far my most fav. review of a diner......on my way there in a few days....can't wait:)
Smiley / November 28, 2010 at 12:52 am
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There is something definitely genuine and nice about this place. If you say you like this place very much, I think I can probably become your good friend. If you say this place is not worth it, I would probably stay away from you.
Josh / September 8, 2011 at 09:40 am
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The only issue I've ever had with this place is the wait time. Whenever I've been it's only been one lady cooking serving and running the till so it's completely reasonable that it takes so long and it's fine if you've got the day off, but if your just grabbing a quick lunch before heading back to work you might not have the time.
Wendy / December 3, 2011 at 11:38 am
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When I ventured into this place the other day for the first time, my heart skipped a beat and did a little jig.

What an incredible, wonderful, special place it is.

I had a clubhouse for $2.50.... which has gone up in price since this article was written. Oy vey!

I'm always on the lookout for authentic diners.... just like Gales.

Thanks for a great article.
Vay / November 25, 2013 at 04:52 pm
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I can't believe the wimps and sister boys who live around the corner from Gale's but have never tried it. I go out of my way to drop in at Gale's even though the hours are inconvenient for me.
Craig McKenzie / March 8, 2014 at 10:43 am
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This place is a laugh - right out of the 60's. Unpretentious and laid back. I go for a club house - $2.50 and cheeseburger - $1.35 and tip like a big shot. Sometimes takes a while to get your order as there is like 2 people working there but you grab a newspaper and listen to the classic rock station on the $20 radio. No phone orders/pick up - I've tried.
Pam / March 8, 2014 at 03:08 pm
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I had no idea this place was actually a going concern. I thought it was just an abandoned building. I'm not even joking.
StellsBells / March 9, 2014 at 02:48 pm
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"threadbare vinyl"? really?

BTW, the Tulip is well-gentrified. If you are looking for another east-end neighbourhood joint, Jim's Best Western is much more in keeping. Ditto Dangerous Dan's
stephanie / March 9, 2014 at 08:04 pm
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as long as l no its been there for ever well more then 40 years l lived up the street from it on carlaw, me an my sister all whys went there an to this day its the same good food an very cheep..
Nessie / March 29, 2014 at 12:44 pm
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Gale's Snack Bar in #Leslieville received "Conditional Pass" from the City of Toronto's DineSafe programme. Infractions include failure to ensure food isn't contaminated (crucial) and failure to provide adequate pest control (significant).
Link to report: http://bit.ly/1i3N2Zh
Apsley Dood replying to a comment from Nessie / June 11, 2014 at 11:09 am
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It passed with flying colours on the next month's inspection. Don't be a H8er!

Home cooking, cheap and unpretentious. Just like moi.

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