Category Archives: Winnipeg Food Scene

2014 Mardi Gras is shaping up to be Mardi Great!

Being a blogger to my mind is its own reward. When I write I normally have something to say or to bring to the attention of the masses, however now and then there are a few side perks that pop up.  Last night Dar and I were the guests of RAS Creative who are doing the promotions for the upcoming Winnipeg Mardi Gras celebration.  It was a media and blogger night to get a taste of the event, the colours, the atmosphere and of course the food!

Mask with feathers From jugglers and drag queens, zydeco dancing, fancy southern cocktails and of course heaping helpings of Cajun and Creole food favorites straight from New Orléans.

Masks on Table

Two Beauties

Our evening started out simply shaking hands and getting to know the assembled crowd.  It turns out that one of Darlene’s co-workers is also a Winnipeg blogger and writes the webpage PegCityLovely.  From there our grumbling stomachs lead us on to the amazing food. I decided just to work my way around the room and try a little bit of everything.  My partner in crime Darlene humbly accepted the challenge of being the night’s beverage taster since I had to drive us home.

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PegCityLovely

The first selection of the evening is a New Orléans classic sandwich, the fried oyster po’ boy along with a side of deep fried pickles the combo knocked it out of the park.  Crunchy and rich in flavour paired with the acidity of the deep fried pickle matched incredibly well together.

Oyster Po' Boy Sign

Deep Fried Pickles

Next up was a stop to my most frequented stand of the evening.  Raw shucked Glacier Bay oysters, peel and eat shrimp and the most decadent rich and velvety smooth gumbo this wordsmith has ever eaten.  I love a good briny oyster, nothing fancy just meaty slippery goodness.  Even more than the taste is watching people’s reactions as you wolf down a dozen or so of these beauties.  Revulsion and abject horror often flash through their eyes.  Yummy!

Oyster Bar

Rounding the corner another set of tables loomed ahead, spaced perfectly with food, beverages, and food.  Needing some serious sustenance now a pasta dish looked to be the way to go and we were not disappointed.  The rosé farfalle pasta was amazing.  Complex flavours in a creamy sauce covering pillows of perfectly cooked pasta. The dish also included a oven dried tomato and a cheese crisp (chip) that added just the right zip to the velvety pasta and sauce.

Pasta Dish

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Dar seemed to be up for a challenge as we worked our way around the room and was game for a shot of Fireball whiskey.  The lovely bartender encouraged her saying that the shot tasted just like a cinnamon heart candy.  Dar did the shot like a trooper and even got a souvenir flashing shot-glass to mark the occasion.

Fireball Girl

Seafood is definitely a way of life down in New Orléans so a dish like bourbon flamed garlic pepper shrimp on a bed of rice pilaf is a natural. Like everything else we had tried up to this point the rice and shrimp were simply mind blowing. The aromas coming from this table were incredible, frying garlic and briny shrimps being flamed in top shelf bourbon I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

Garlic Pepper Shrimp

One last turn and we were into Dar’s favorite stand of the night the mixed cocktails.  liking a sweeter beverage Darlene tried two of the house favorites.   The Agent Orange and the Southern Hurricane.  Darlene preferred the Agent Orange due to it’s fruity flavour and deceptive power.  “You can’t even taste the booze in this, it’s dangerous” she exclaimed!

Southern Comfort Menu

But don’t think that’s where Mardi Gras stops as I said the party planners are bringing in top notch entertainment in the form of Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.  Playing the best in washboard music and swamp pop that your ears have ever heard. I guarantee!

Two masks

Social Media Page

Come for the food, come for the fun and flamboyance. Come for the Ambiance and the Zydeco, how’s that for an A to Z fun time.  Come on down I guarantee you’ll have a great time.  It’s taking place at the Winnipeg Convention Center February 14 and 15th

If you live in Winnipeg and are a fan of Exploring Winnipeg and Beyond, I have some free passes to give away. But there is a catch.  Comment on this post and tell me how I got my start blogging.  It’s easy just go into the archives and look it up.  I’m looking for where I went (City) and the reason (event) I went there.
Comment on this blog posting an I’ll hook you up with some passes for Mardi Gras at the convention center.

Now do yourself a favor and check out the musical madness of Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers!

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Rollin’ downtown for lunch with On a Roll Sandwich Truck.

With the Winnipeg summer heat soon drawing to a close and the inevitable onset of fall close at hand I set out to redouble my efforts and visit as many of the new food trucks that now dot the Winnipeg lunchtime streets.  Yesterday found me in familiar territory on Broadway Avenue where the majority of lunchtime food trucks are known to set up shop.

On a Roll Sandwich Truck

On a Roll Sandwich Truck

As it turned out my choice was an easy one, turning off Main Street the first truck that met my eye was a new to me, the On a Roll Sandwich Truck.  Painted an eye-catching bright green announcing “Bringing the flavours of the world to the streets of Winnipeg” was an offer I simply could not refuse.

Menu Board

Menu Board

The menu pasted to the side of the truck spoke of simple family favorites from around the world delivering on the promises of their motto.  Shrimp Po’ Boys representing the Louisiana coast of the United States, Jerked Chicken Sandwich giving a taste of Jamaican spicy influences.  For a more savory note a patron could try the ever popular, if confusing Chicken and Waffles.  Even vegetarians are welcomed with a falafel patty Banh-Mi sandwich representing the best of French and Vietnamese influences.

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The Red Ember: Hot Hot Hot!

There are always a few things that I look for in a new eating experience, location, menu choices, the price of the items on the menu all rank high on how I form a first impression. But few things wow me like a serious line of hungry patrons waiting for service. The fact that people are cued up on a busy downtown street spending their lunch hour waiting in line screams eat here!

The Big Red Truck, AKA The Red Ember.

The Big Red Truck, AKA The Red Ember.

Well folks The Red Ember pizza truck at the far end of Broadway Ave down by the legislature on Kennedy was packing in the masses for lunchtime on Thursday for sure. It’s hard to miss this transformer like mash-up of a bright fire engine red and big rig styled wood fired pizza joint on wheels. Many of the apartments in the tenements on Broadway no doubt are smaller than this monstrosity and I can pretty much guarantee that the food coming out of those kitchens can’t hold a candle to the applause worthy pies coming out of The Red Ember’s wood fired pizza oven. Yep, a wood fired oven on a truck in Winnipeg, grab your skates and sticks, Hell has officially frozen over folks!

Eat Real, Eat Local

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Chez Sophie sur le pont: Magnifique!

As my long-term readers will attest I am a fierce supporter of local cuisine.  One case in point is a favorite bistro that Darlene and I frequent fairly regularly both for the fine French bistro food they serve there but also arguably the best thin crust pizza within 200 miles of Winnipeg.

Chez Sophie a tiny but highly regarded St. Boniface institution has expanded in a very ambitious way, opening a second site on a bridge over the mighty Red River.  Yes dear readers I said on a bridge, but not just any bridge, the Esplanade Riel to be exact.  Itself the subject of many of my photo essays and stories over the years.  Let me an Anglophone living in the Francophone quarter of Winnipeg be the first to shout it out it’s about time!

Chez Sophie sur le pont from the Base of Esplanade Louis Riel.

Chez Sophie sur le pont from the Base of Esplanade Louis Riel.

Chez Sophie sur le pont serves food that could grace the table of any fine dining establishment in Winnipeg in a unique setting that only a few other rooms can compare to.  Darlene and I planned our evening with a nice walk in the French Quarter of St. Boniface and enjoyed the cool evening air as we headed out over the bridge.  Looking out over the fork of the Red and Assiniboine rivers hand in hand anticipating our Friday night together.

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Luckily we managed to get a table without calling ahead, this location although bigger in scope than the mother ship Chez Sophie still has a high demand for table space.  We were seated next to the floor to sky windows of the panoramic dining room overlooking the majestic Red River flowing steadily underneath us.

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Our server gave us expert consultation on the menu before we ordered our beverages and quickly returned to take our orders. One thing I had been missing terribly since the demise our go to restaurant Paladin was an all-inclusive meal.  Bread, soup, salad and a main without the pain of having to order every item separately and to the pain of the bill at the end of the meal.

Chez Sophie sur le pont delivers that in spades. Supper meals here include both a salad and a soup course as a part of the entrée.  Our meal consisted of a delicious mushroom soup with a glorious chunk of home-baked baguette.  Finely chopped mushrooms with a hit of fresh chopped parsley bathed our senses in earthy richness.  The soup with baguette and butter could have satisfied me right there for a meal.

The Salad was plated delightfully in a square bowl with a tiny “tea-pot” of dressing included inside.  The thick and rich home-made dressing is a great treat and accompanies our house salads with honor.

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For our mains Darlene chose the Steak sauce à la poivre (Beefsteak with peppercorn sauce) and I opted for the  Magret de Canard (duck breast).  Both dishes being within $4 of each other it was hardly bank breaking to enjoy the normally out of price duck that features on other restaurants menus.

The mains were cooked as advertised, my duck breast medium rare and succulent in a sauce of balsamic reduction.  Which at first I thought overpowering for the duck but upon more tasting found myself wanting more of to balance the rich game flavours of the duck breast.  In all it worked beautifully.  The beans and bacon could have used a bit more salt and punch from the their sauce but all in all worked well to counter balance the strong flavours of the balsamic gastrique.

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Darlene had a completely different flavor profile on her plate, cream sauce and pepper dominated and co-mingled with the juices from her beef to wonderful effect.  She reported a well cooked piece of beef to her liking, and a delicious accompaniment of sauce. Much like my only issue hers came with the vegetable accompaniment.  The peppers in her mixed veg being a bit to pronounced for her liking.

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All in all a very good night as we strolled down the bridge to the Forks Market with a delicious meal in our bellies and warm thoughts in our hearts for Chez Sophie sur le pont.

Chez Sophie Sur Le Pont on Urbanspoon

Broadway Bound: The food truck wave finally hits Winnipeg in a big way.

The food truck/cart industry has always been a staple on the Winnipeg summer landscape. From the chip stands of the early 1930’s right up to modern smokie hotdog carts that dot the Winnipeg summer landscape like dandelions on a prairie field. So why all of the interest in what could be called nouveau gourmand food movement of bringing typically high end restaurant fare and serving it curbside out of a mobile trailer?

Hot Dog Cart

Hot Dog carts dot the Winnipeg Landscape

Personally I think it’s about the whole democratization of food, the idea proposed by so many of the crop of new talented cooks and chefs in typically high-end, high pressure jobs. Patrons are starting to suffer from white table-cloth fatigue, the idea of getting dressed up and paying high-end prices for everything but the food is wearing thin. Just think about it, if you go to say 529 Wellington and order a meal you’re not only paying for the food you’re paying for the cost of maintaining the building, the staff, the food supply chain and on and on. Winnipeggers are a fiercely cheap and efficient lot, we brag about how little we paid for something rather than how expensive something is. It only seems to reason that eventually it would filter down to our food choices.

Now I am not saying that Winnipeg invented the high-end food truck, that phenomenon has gone on for years in other enlightened cities having only recently caught on in a big way here due to City Hall’s reluctance to let the inevitable happen.

On any given weekday lunchtime during Winnipeg’s all too brief spring and summer one can wander downtown to Broadway Avenue, the heart of Winnipeg’s open air food scene.  As the office towers break for lunch thousands of hungry men and women emerge ready to see the delights awaiting them where grilled smokies and hamburgers once dominated the dining scene.

One sunny spring day I took an hour out of my day and investigated the food truck landscape of East Broadway; here is what I found.

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Modern Taco Company: A Truly Mexican Taco finally hits Winnipeg.

Ever since I was a child growing up on the shores of Rainy Lake in Ontario I have been obsessed with food.  Actually that is not precisely correct, it is more to the point to say that I’ve been obsessed with the idea of food.  That is to say how it should taste, what it should look like, the textures and aromas have always captivated me.

As my mother can attest, when ever her back was turned for a few seconds in the kitchen I would be in there grabbing seasonings to add freshness or heat to her spaghetti sauce.  Chopping onions for her stew, a handful of herbs here or a pinch of salt and pepper there.  It drove her batty.

Growing up in small town Northern Ontario in the 1970’s I was never exposed to grand ideas in food. Meat and potatoes, fresh walleye pike straight from the lake, freshly shot deer and moose hanging to age in the cold fall air from the rafters in the garage were the beginnings of my food existence.  Yet somehow I knew that good authentic food didn’t come from a can or a box.  Good food should be fresh, alive, vibrant.

Modern Taco Company

Modern Taco Company

Looking for adventure on a cold rainy spring weekend in Winnipeg can often be a chore.  More than likely my mind will turn to food for escape and what better way to escape the damp chilly streets than taking a trip for a few hours to the streets of Mexico.  The Modern Taco Company at the southern end of the St. James bridge, 612 B Academy Road to be precise offers a surprising choice of authentic Mexican inspired taco truck offerings at a very reasonable price.

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A carnivores idea of heaven: Carnaval Brazilian BBQ.

With Darlene’s birthday this past weekend we decided that we were due for a fine night out on the town for dinner.  It was just our luck that a the owners of Hermanos Argentinian Steakhouse opened a new South American themed restaurant just down the block Carnaval Brazilian BBQ.

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For Winnipeg the concept is quite revolutionary, for a fixed price of $39 per adult an endless buffet of savory meats and side dishes is brought to your table and sliced fresh from a skewer and onto your plate.  Simple in concept and frighteningly efficient in bringing one quickly to the point of entering a meat coma.  But oh so good.  Onetime chef and now author and globe-trotter Anthony Bourdain has said in the past that food and cooking is all about domination and submission.   The diner must be willing to submit to the will of the cooks and the severs to receive the best of what they have to offer.

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Carnaval in this case is full on Fifty Shades of Meat, a cruel mistress who only cares about one thing, fulfilling your every dark prehistoric desire for incredibly tender, juicy and wonderfully marbled cuts of slower and tastier creatures than Yes please, I want more.

YES PLEASE

Our meal began quite simply,  the floor manager welcomed us to our table and instructed us on the workings of the table and the floor staff.  We were each given a coaster, one side printed green with a hungry diner smiling fork and knife at the ready.  This was to be displayed if we wanted the gauchos to bring food to our table.  The other side was printed in red, the diner passed out in blissful slumber as if to say “Please no more, I need a break.”

No thanks

She also explained that family sized portions of side dishes would be brought throughout our meal to accompany the gaucho’s BBQ’d offerings.  Ready, steady, GO!  We cautiously flipped our cards to green, almost instantly a smiling gaucho appeared with a skewer packed top to bottom with roast chicken wings.  Yes, why yes of course I would like some my good man.  The wings were hardly off the skewer when a second gaucho appeared bearing pork chorizo sausage.  All so innocent luring me into their trap.

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The wings were crispy and juicy to a fault I gnawed at the wingtips for the crispy goodness and devoured the chorizo with equal fervor.  More and more gaucho’s appeared, skewered chicken thighs, slices of heavenly rare top sirloin, sirloin cap so fatty and crispy and delicious on the outside and so incredibly tender and flavorful on the inside that my eyes rolled up into the back of my head with near  orgasmic delight.

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One of the most outstanding wandering table side attractions turned out not to be food at all but a caipirinha trolley.  Where he mixed a very potent Brazilian staple beverage in honor of Darlene’s birthday.  Handing it to her, he whispered sip it slow it, it sneaks up on you.

Our table which was empty at the start of our meal was now packed with side dishes, condiments and the detritus of the meal.  Looking less and less like a fine dining experience but more like a frat party gone horribly wrong.  I had slipped into the dark side and was loving every finger licking, chin mopping crispy skinned and painful sigh as I tried to keep pace with the gauchos.

They looked less like friendly servers now, taking on the visage of black clad, sash wearing delivers of pleasure and pain.  My stomach pleaded with me to stop, full to bursting.  But my meat addled brain wanted more, more lamb, more cap of sirloin, a chicken wing yes please.

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Then it appeared, the object to stop my protein psychosis.  A single slab of BBQ pineapple coated in cinnamon and grilled to perfection.  The simple combination of sweet and acid brought everything together. Something so simple almost mundane left me full and complete.

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Overall the meal was delicious, however on my next visit I would do things a bit differently to ease into the meal.  Ordering a course of salad or starters from the complementary menu right of the bat seems the way to go.  We were pounded by meat right away and by the time our salads and bread had arrived we were already into full-fledged feeding mode.

This concept for Brazilian BBQ coupled with the quality and know how that the Hermanos ownership group brings to the table, I can’t see Carnaval being anything but a smash hit.