Restaurants came and went, chefs switched kitchens and our tastes changed. As Ciao! celebrates its 15th anniversary, a look back reveals what is new and improved.
by Laurie Hughes
Surrounded by the world’s best wheat, Winnipeggers have long enjoyed stellar breads from old world bake shops. Today, chic cupcake shops and boutique bakeries offer fashionable carb fixes, serving frosted-high cupcakes, fancy French pastries and other delectable sweets.
Whether thin or thick crusts are your fave, we challenge anyone to remember a time when you couldn’t buy a great slice of ’za in Winnipeg. But today’s neighborhood pizza joints have set a new standard. Contemporary settings, wood and coal-fired ovens, outside-the-box toppings, gluten-free dough and artisanal cheeses make newcomers like Pizzeria Gusto, Santa Ana’s and Carbone’s and Brooklynn’s Bistro our new favourites.
Elements, Stella’s, Rudy’s, Pop Soda’s Coffeehouse and Gallery, 4Play, Juss Jazz and Parlour Coffee are just a few of the new restaurants which have recently opened shop, bringing vitality to the city’s core. La Bamba and Arkadash are also coming soon. The return of the Winnipeg Jets may have sparked this downtown dining Renaissance, which has attracted local upstarts and national chains alike. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
From nips to fat boys and every bacon, cheese, and chili combination in between, we’re wild about burgers. Now gourmet versions are gaining fervent followers. Double-smoked bacon, thick chunks of juicy pineapple and Bothwell cheese make the Tropic Thunder at Unburger a must-try. Canada’s first all-vegan burger bar, Winnipeg’s own Boon Burgers, has elevated the humble burger to new, healthier heights.
The city’s first martini lounge, G Martini Bar serves cocktails with a side of sushi while The Palm Room at Fort Garry Hotel serves drinks with a side of nostalgia. New sexy spaces with rich leather banquettes, jewel-tones and cozy lighting have also emerged with settings perfect for intimate conversations. Sensi Wine Lounge, Wasabi Sabi and Café 22’s Broadway location top our list for great vibes and amazing munchies.
Champions of Breakfast
Longtime breakfast favourites like Fort Garry Hotel’s bodacious buffet and The Pancake House’s giant apple are joined by a new generation of day-breaking dishes with regional ingredients. Look to The Tallest Poppy, Fresh Café and Dessert Sinsations for dishes like bison steak and eggs.
Ciao! magazine (1st cover)- Spring 1997 Ciao! magazine (present cover)- Feb/Mar 2012
Fifteen years ago market shopping was limited to small-scale farmer’s markets and a handful of specialty food shops. Today, St. Norbert Farmer’s market has more than 75 vendors hocking locally made fancy foods alongside bushels of Hutterite-farmed veggies. Food boutiques have made truffle oil, aged balsamic, seaweed and dragon fruit as available as milk and honey. Markets are the new destinations for culinary adventurists, offering a lesson in history, geography and cultural anthropology.
When Chef Heinz Kattenfeld of Amici introduced sweetbreads more than a decade ago, locals were timid tasters. These days Winnipeggers need less coaxing to tuck into awesome offal. Perhaps it is awareness created by food media that has transformed the once cast aside to now be coveted. Today, look no further than Peasant Cookery’s charcuterie featuring house-cured pig face, Bistro 7 1/4’s horse carpaccio or Segovia’s roasted bone marrow for some of the city’s most adventurous eats.
Latin Love Affair
Latin-inspired eateries have made an undeniable impression. Segovia, Hermanos, Cafe Dario and Deseo, Winnipeg’s newest Latin-food hotspots, were each awarded Best New Restaurant by Ciao! magazine in their grand-opening year. We have an insatiable appetite for meat and potatoes and love the flavourful twists this new culinary category brings. What’s next? We think Brazilian Steakhouses.
Trailblazers like Edohei, Masa and Ichiban introduced Japanese cuisine to the Winnipeg’s masses. Now, dozens of sushi spots have popped up in all corners of the city. Rolls are available for take out at Sobey’s and corner stores. Standouts like the Wasabi Group have become synonymous with signature dishes like spicy tuna nachos. Sushi is our new snack of choice.
Bothwell Cheese, renowned maker of Squeakers, has been bringing home gold medal glory from the British Empire Cheese Show for six years. This year, Bothwell’s Monterey Jack and marble cheddar both nabbed blue ribbons. Seems we have less reason to envy the east as long as the 75-year-old business keeps on its course of excellence.
While our terroir remains constant, our agriculture has evolved over the years. Gourmet tastes and environmental enlightenment has led to a demand for new products like cold-pressed canola oil, grass-fed beef and year-round production of micro-greens that are sold fresh in local markets.
Recent advances in celiac screening and awareness about gluten intolerance has undoubtedly led to an increase in the number of “picky” eaters. Restaurants are responding to dietary needs by offering gluten-free, lactose-free and vegetarian options. Confident servers turn dining-out anxiety to joy. Prairie Ink Restaurant, Mona Lisa and Mise lead the way.
Adventures in Dining
Culinary adventures seeded the launch of Ciao! magazine in Spring 1997. Now travelling great distances for exotic foods isn’t required. We can eat gourmet meals in the forests, fields and even dinner in the sky. Dining adventures are as close as St Boniface, where, during The Festival du Voyageur, you can tuck into tourtière while fiddlers jig.
Caffeine replaces nicotine
Remember when we smelled of smoke after a night out? We’ve come a long way baby! Today our trendy triple soy milk latte habit has replaced our nicotine cravings. Coffee, in all its frothy interpretations, is our new, increasingly pricy fix. And lucky for us, a special coffee section is not required.