Date theme: ITS CHEAP [Uncle Willy’s, McFrugal’s, NoFrills]

What does one say about the spendthrift? My parents tell me it’s in my Scottish DNA. This is perhaps why, in 1999, my Dad decided to go to Uncle Willy’s in Victoria for dinner once, as some kind of exercise in shared culture. I remember it vividly: a huge cafeteria style dining hall like a mall atrium, all white and weird…A creaking soft serve machine…Sup-par food you somehow cannot eat more of (thereby sharply decreasing your savings), but also inevitably get heartburn/the shits from anyway. The works, basically. Everything you expect when you read the words Uncle Willy’s. The place was wall to wall with people listlessly grazing on the cheap, unappetizing food. I’ve always loved buffets but I never wanted to revisit Uncle Willy’s particularly.  I basically used to say it was the only buffet I wouldn’t eat at twice.  The Victoria location was closing when we went around the turn of the last century, and it seemed anachronistic then.
So imagine my surprise: I was looking for buffets/AYCE in Burnaby last year because my ex was living out there in one of those weird mildewed coke mansions from the 70s that’s now rented to a bunch of bohemians. Sorry, I meant tenderqueers. Don’t misunderstand me, these people weren’t fun.
Anyway, she said covid had killed buffet dining and I was investigating that.  It seemed so funny to me that any location of Uncle Willy’s could have persisted anywhere.  I was like dang, Burnaby, so that’s how it is.

So, flashforward to the present summer: my new gf just moved to Langley and driving through town I keep seeing this place “McFrugal’s” and it keeps tickling my fancy. My gf put it best: it’s literally a place branding itself as the You Know You’re A Cheap Bitch store. So naturally I made the connection to Uncle Willy’s, which is a place that brands itself essentially as the You Know You’re A Classless Pitstain restaurant.

Belatedly I noticed there’s a No Frills in the same stripmall as McFrugal’s, which takes me right back to Toronto, so I insisted we go there too. What a theme for a date: ONLY the CHEAPEST shit. Also I knew she would hate it and that it was a huge waste of gas. I just couldn’t resist the bit, guess that’s my Toon DNA.

So, Uncle Willy’s in Burnaby:

[Eddie Izzard talking about stonehenge voice: “it’s very ahhh-ahh-ah-ahh.”]

It’s so much smaller than the one in Vic was.  This has local deli/donut place vibes all over it.  Right now the sidewalk is closed for construction but the U. W. inbound can easily claim free and cheerful passage.

I feel like this clipart-heavy simplified-palette style needs its own name if it doesn’t have one, like googie.  Love this flyer, it’s giving Circus Circus meets Betty Crocker.

So, for starters, you are funneled down a long channel toward the host station.  This is where you pay, before being let into the pen.  I believe this is to prevent dee-&-dees.

The price I had seen on gmaps was <$15 for lunch.  It is now just under $20 tax-in.  I probably wouldn’t have dragged my potentially-future-ex-girlfriend to this place if I had known it was barely cheaper than a nice place.

Branding, baby, branding.  Logos everywhere.  Like Idiocracy.  I love this.

I hesitate to call food “liminal” because like, eating a large variety of oily foods is really concrete and grounding and shit, I don’t get “misty between-space” from that really, like almost at all. However, if the backrooms had a buffet station it would all look like this.  The meatloaf is fully eerie. Uncanny, even, is how I would describe the looks of a lot of this. Peep the delightful skin on that tray of gravy in the first pic.

My spot-notes on the food you see on my 2 plates:

  • Spring roll: good! Could eat a lot of these.
  • Cocktail weenie: janky in an okay way. Not so into it ?
  • Beef brisket: canned stew vibes with better meat (surprising).
  • Potatoes and gravy: better than instant box style by a noteworthy margin, Uncle Willy’s has improved since 1999.
  • “Mac and cheese” (mushroom penne): awful.
  • Meatloaf: fucked, dogfood.
  • Salmon: surprisingly decent, like so far outside the ballgame I expected from these guys re salmon.  I could see sitting down to eat >$40 marketprice in salmon here pretty easily.  I mean, I shouldn’t, but the quality/taste aren’t prohibitive factors. (It’s how we should put a moratorium on non-indigenous seafood harvesting/farming until the seas are clean and restocked. I doubt this was land-tank salmon.)
  • Fried chicken: kind of flavourless honestly, could be great with pocketsauce.
  • Beef chili: good, on par with Tim’s but a little less full-flavored and an iota spicier.
  • Cornbread: rocklike, stolen for later [ETA, it aged well, good cornbread].
  • Fruit cobbler: initial impression is strongly positive but that quickly falls apart when the strange grade 7 home ec-ish qualities of the dry ingredient mixture start to shine through.  Ultimately it feels like a child’s semi-edible failcooking.  I ate most of it, but it was not delicious.

The cobbler and deepfried chicken especially stand out as strangely hollow foods: they’re not technically bad but they’re almost impossibly tailored to repel binging.  There is NO flavor.

The place was pretty empty while we were there.  Check out this time capsule 2 pic series of the mens room with its one fly:

Why was I in here? Well, I had gotten the runs out of nowhere before finishing the plate even, you see.  Oh well!

Like, what else is to be said? Unless the lunch price magically drops to around $13, I will almost certainly never eat here again before its inevitable demise as a chain.  I could see recommending it to someone who wants to get thrown out of a place for eating too much mediocre fried chicken or too much strangely excellent salmon.  I could see coming here with a bag and smuggling out a weeks worth of chicken for the $20 entry fee.

Let me just archive some oldschool vending machines they had kicking around, since I’m at it:

Okay, back to Langley.  It’s time to learn about McFrugal’s.


Huh, its really nice inside, like if CanTire stuff had upscale Loblaws taste in housing.  Anyway it’s all full of CanTire type stuff but with more clothes and more spread out.  The $2 makeup was boring and seperated.  The canned food was regular supermarket price.

I was expecting somewhere like the Red Apple chain of discount stores.  This is like if Winners went through an H&M makeover phase.

Like, coooool ?? I hate it.

Let’s go to NoFrills.

She calls to me.  Singing the siren song of Toronto life.

I’m home!

These prices don’t feel very homey…they’re drifting upward. But the look is right.  I’m getting that nostalgia rush, hoo~!

The road to heaven looks like this but only if you’re Andy Warhol.


Here, read these old reviews of the Victoria Uncle Willy’s circa y2k.


Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *