(out of 4) GOOD
Hours: Seven days, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Price: Dinner for two with tea, tax and tip: $ 20
Macey’s is where I go when I’m eating on my own time. It’s cheap, bare-bones and almost always full of multi-generational families sharing bathtub-sized bowls of soup and conversing in Cantonese. It’s the kind of place where you don’t have to order from the laminated bilingual menu; if you see something appealing on a nearby table, ask the waitress to bring you the same.
Foodwise, I like the simple Hong Kong-style dishes this 18-year-old Mississauga Chinese restaurant does consistently well. The snappy pink shrimp dumplings alone are better than most in the GTA’s four Chinatowns, and while I have yet to work my way through such ephemera as congealed pig’s blood, I know the congee here is restorative.
Travel time is another factor. I live in Toronto’s west end, in a food-challenged neighbourhood where the only Chinese restaurant serves old-time moo goo guy pan. For the émigré Cantonese dishes I crave, it’s quicker to take the highway to Macey’s than it is to get to Spadina Ave.
She’s right. It had been three months.
Macey’s is in one of those funny suburban plazas that sells computers, mattresses and teachers’ supplies. There is no decor save for some Hello Kitty Chinese New Year’s decorations from a few years ago and a bouquet of fake flowers blooming on the bar. (Macey’s is unlicensed: “It’s a family restaurant. I don’t want any trouble if people get drunk,” says owner Frances Chan.) On the rare and unpredictable occasions when it’s quiet, the waitresses sit at the back table and flip through Chinese newspapers.
Seating, a mix of green square and round tables, is tight. During one busy lunch, a green-aproned waitress removes my jacket from the back of my chair to protect it from contact with a passing cart. We’re not talking about dim sum; there’s no siu mai or har gow at Macey’s. Rather, the Rubbermaid carts hold dirty plates, booster seats and fresh-from-the-kitchen dishes too heavy to carry.
This includes bowls of shrimp dumpling soup ($ 6) with tea-dark clear broth of profound chicken intensity. The dumplings — five per order but you can negotiate upward — are basically whole shrimp wrapped in purchased dough. Because of the crenellations and frilly bits streaming from each one, they resemble pale yellow brains crossed with jellyfish. The shrimp pops under the teeth, its firm sweetness enhanced with little but salt, bamboo strips and filaments of black fungus. There are also shrimp wontons, the same as the dumplings, minus the black fungus.
Noodles are another draw, even unadventurous choices like vegetable chow mien ($ 8.50). More than half the yellow noodles crisp up in the wok, while the remainder get soft and slick with what appears to be cornstarch-thickened chicken broth. My kids devour the Canadian broccoli (I know!) on top, leaving for us the crisp celery, soft carrots, crunchy snow peas, melting onions and straightforward button mushroom slices.
Over time and with requested guidance from the waitresses, I’ve learned how to order at Macey’s. First, soup. Then something deep-fried. Chicken wings ($ 5) are an exercise in simplicity: plump meat meets hot oil for a greasy good time.
Noodles, always (but not the stewed egg noodles, which can be bitter), plus something saucy, like sweet-and-sour basa fish ($ 13.95). Then a green vegetable, such as the garlicky tangle of crumpled snow pea leaves ($ 10.95), the same vivid green as the chopsticks.
We don’t usually have dessert there: “white fungus with papaya sweet” doesn’t tempt my kids. At our most recent meal, over the Christmas holidays, I remind them of the chocolate awaiting them at home. The waitress hears and beats me to it, bringing red Lindt chocolate balls with the bill.
Like I said, that is why I will return.