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The Tallest Poppy

Neighbourhood: Downtown
103 Sherbrook st.
Phone: (204) 957-1708
Entrees: $8-$14

Built in 1886, the Occidental Hotel has stood watch during most of Winnipeg’s history. Originally called the White Rose, it has undergone several reincarnations, even earning itself a notorious reputation along the way. Two years ago, it was renamed the Red Road Lodge and was turned into a halfway house for those wanting to rebuild their lives. Last year, it also became home to The Tallest Poppy, a cheerful neighbourhood cafe that exemplifies the notion that food is love.

Here the bread is baked fresh every morning from recipes that have been passed through generations. A private rooftop garden provides the kitchen with organic produce, and the menu mirrors the seasons. At its heart is owner/Chef Talia Syrie, who is as likely to be in front of the stove as she is pulling up a chair to chat with a regular. Her passion for wholesome food prepared by loving hands (including Chef Talia’s mother, sister and grandmother) is a philosophy that seems more 1899 than 2009.

A bright red door gives way to a shabby chic interior playfully decorated with mismatched tables and chairs. The hotel also houses an artist’s enclave complete with studios and a gallery—the works of its members adorn the restaurant’s walls.

The Tallest Poppy delivers familiar dishes with an unexpected twist. Even garnishes offer a surprising flourish: quarters of blood orange and lychee fruits dress up otherwise simple presentations.

Dense egg bread, grilled dark and crunchy is the basis for two unique sandwiches. The first is a grilled cheese punctuated with crisp slices of pear, sharp cheddar and a smear of tangy goat cheese. The second is a corn moleta where a mixture of sweet kernels and red pepper bound by gooey mozzarella is heaped onto the bread.

A hybrid burger showcases local meat and offers a satisfying hit of primal flavour. Elk, bison, beef and pork are pounded into a brawny patty. Beef also takes centre stage in a meatloaf sandwich where thick slabs are served open-faced on soft white bread. It is smothered in tangy sauce sweetened with tomato.

Legumes and vegetables are simmered in the stockpot for a daily offering of house-made soup. The sweetness of a delicate carrot soup is balanced with a touch of fragrant ginger. A hearty black bean manifests southwest seasoning with smoky chile and a punch of heat.

Family-style brunch served on Sundays is one of the best in the city. Four courses (varies from week to week) are heaped on large white platters with enough to pass around each table.

Fluffy lemon-poppy seed pancakes are sweet and nutty and come paired with kebabs of fresh fruit. Extra-crispy latkes served with tart house-made applesauce are a regular speciality.

Bacon becomes even more irresistible when cooked with brown sugar and pepper. The combination of sweet, spicy and salty plays on every part of the tongue. The strips come nestled next to a scrambled egg hash oozing cheddar and flecked with chunks of zesty bison sausage. Perfectly balanced blintzes are filled with cottage cheese seasoned with a pinch of sugar and salt. The mini-parcels are creamy and delicate.

The end of any meal, whether lunch or brunch, must end by sampling the ever-changing array of desserts. One of the most memorable offers a twist on a classic. A thick layer of sweetened cream cheese is sandwiched between two chewy carrot cookies. Other toothsome treats include tender white chocolate chip cookies that melt in the mouth and a mixed berry crumble that bursts with the flavours of fresh, juicy fruit.

The Tallest Poppy is open Tue-Fri 8 am-2:30 pm, Sat-Sun 10 am-2 pm.

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