Neighbourhood: River Heights
Address: 414 Academy Road
Phone: (204) 487-3035
(Editor’s Note – This business is no longer open.)
Dubbed one of the decade’s top culinary trends, gastropubs have been popping up all over North America offering sophisticated pub grub and a wide selection of brews all under the same roof. One of the city’s best is J. Fox’s Restaurant and Local, located on the sophisticated Academy strip in River Heights. The name is a nod to Johnnie Fox’s, one of Ireland’s most famous and oldest pubs that opened on top of the Dublin mountains in 1798. “Homecrafted, handmade comfort food” is the Winnipeg restaurant’s mantra printed on the upper corner of the menus, which matches the gastropub’s dark, cozy atmosphere.
After ordering a crisp pint on tap (there are more than 12 lines from ales to stouts available), it’s time to decide where to sit. The large room is divided into a dining room and pub area by a reclaimed river rock wall built by owner Daniel Pedley. Set tables with white tablecloths, clear vases and black napkins lend an understated elegance to the dining section. The pub half has a distinctly more casual vibe featuring a rustic bar, wooden tables and a few booths snuggled up in the back corner. Unlike typical pubs, some walls have quaint paintings of phone booths and mail boxes in Dublin to replace the usual barrage of beer posters and footy paraphernalia.
An order of J. Fox’s house-made tasty pasties is perfectly paired with any brew. The traditional English pastry pocket comes stuffed with ground beef, onions and carrots softened in light, peppery gravy. Served alongside is mixed green salad tossed in sweet honey and tart red wine vinaigrette. For more adventurous tastes, ask to substitute spinach salad; it is dressed with rough-chopped walnuts, sweet slices of poached pear, and crumbled blue cheese.
Scanning the menu, it’s obvious the chef wants to pay homage to traditional pub food while adding an exciting riff here and there. An excellent example of this merger is found in Guinness and garlic steamed mussels. Each shell is saturated with a healthy dose of the dark stout broth, resulting in a rich, chocolate molasses flavour. Crusty pieces of paprika-seasoned crostini for dipping add smouldering heat.
Hearty, soul-warming entrées like Irish stew and Fox’s house-made cottage pie are guaranteed to fight off any winter chill. Keeping true to tradition, the stew is packed full of the usual vegetables: onions, potatoes, carrots, celery and parsnip, along with tender pieces of lamb and sirloin. The kitchen braises and slow-cooks the meat in Guinness, so the stout’s distinct taste is evident, but not overpowering, throughout the Guinness-gravy broth.
Cottage pie comes served in a ceramic pot with a thick layer of creamy mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese. Dig in using one of the thin slices of cheese bread to reach the bottom layer of seasoned ground beef. Fresh steamed vegetables balance out the dish’s savoury flavours.
Of course, no gastropub experience is complete without a traditional “Sunday roast.” A large portion of thinly-sliced roast beef is smothered in savoury gravy. That same gravy is also found in the centre of a buttery soft yorkshire pudding and next to a mountain of garlic mashed potato.
The whimsically-named “Drunken Trout” will appeal to those with sweeter tastes. The fine, flaky fish is covered in thick honey glaze; tarragon and Tullamore Dew, a blended Irish whiskey, add depth to offset the dish’s sweetness.
Desserts are made by the owner’s wife and rotate on a weekly basis. On our visit we tried honey loaf garnished with blueberries. The dark brown and dense cake releases its golden honey flavour when combined with vanilla ice cream.
J. Fox’s is open Tue-Wed 11:30 am-12 am; Thu-Sat 11:30 am-2 am and Sun 10:30 am-12 pm.