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A Week in Manitoba (Winnipeg, Matheson Island, Hecla and Gimli)-Very Long

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I spent a week in Manitoba visiting family recently and here is a summary of where I ended up:

The Landing Grill and Café on Matheson Island. We were camping north of Gimli and the weather was poor, so we spent a day or two driving around. We took the cable ferry across to Matheson Island, a little fishing village in the Lake Winnipeg narrows, and were there around lunch time, so we had lunch at The Landing, a “bar and grill” by the ferry landing. Lunch was pretty basic, and I was both disappointed that they didn’t have fresh pickerel, but impressed that they only served it when it was in season, a bold move for a small place, but I guess people around here know fresh from frozen. Anyhow, most of us opted for burgers and fries and were expecting the same burgers and fries available at most places like this. We were, however, in for a pleasant surprise. OK, so the fries were your standard frozen/dump’em in the fryer variety. BUT the burgers were out of this world!!! Maybe the best I’ve had in the last two years! They use fresh hamburger, minimally but perfectly seasoned so that they have a big meaty taste, and not greasy. The buns are egg buns, slightly sweet and soft, and I had the special burger with fresh bacon, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. While it may have just been that we had spent the last 24 hours outdoors eating off a camp stove, I’d look forward to going back to the Landing should I ever be in the area again for what may be a close to perfect burger. One of us had the perogies which were clearly homemade, served loaded with fried onions and bacon and stuffed with potato and cheddar cheese. I grew up on homemade perogies and these came close to being everything I look for in a perogy. Lovely!

The Golf Course on Hecla Island. We were actually headed to the resort for breakfast (enough with the camping already!), but of course it has been under renovation for two years. Instead we ate at the golf course which has a full kitchen and a tented area with formal tables for weddings and the unfortunate few who wander in to eat. Ugh. We just had bacon, eggs, sausage and hash browns, but you think they’d make a little effort for people who are paying to play at a higher end golf club. Food was served in Styrofoam containers, the eggs piled on top of each other in a little compartment, tough greasy sausage even the kids didn’t like, deep fried home fries, and terrible coffee not included. Avoid, avoid, avoid. After we left we drove a little further up the road and came across another place by the lighthouse. Looked much nicer, but of course we were full.

Amma’s Tearoom in Gimli. After the terrible and heavy late breakfast on Hecla, we breezed into Gimli. My first time there and I was really impressed; what a nice little resort town. Apparently the thing to do is to get Fish and Chips at one of the places on the main drag, but we wanted something lighter and wandered off the strip to Amma’s. Its located in what appears to be a senior’s home, and has a very homey, precious interior that reminded me of my Aunt Emma’s: doilies, crafts etc. abound. They offer 30 different types of tea and a full lunch menu featuring hard to find Icelandic specialties, and I wish I could report on them. In retrospect, I should have had the Icelandic sampler plate, but instead three of us had the daily quiche special with a crustless three cheese quiche, garden or fruit salad (the latter canned) and a cheddar herb biscuit. While the tea was good, the quiche and biscuit were largely tasteless and sat pretty heavy in our tummies for the next few hours. A salmon sandwich, however, was better, made from nice homemade bread. I suppose my main problem is that Amma’s ain’t cheap and considering it was lunch and we were having quiche made from what I assume was bisquick, I would have expected to pay about 5.99 instead of the 8.99 they were charging. Perhaps my expectations were a little unreasonable, but I’d easily pay about 5.99 for this for lunch back in the city. Avoid the Icelandic “Viking” beer, which is thin and tasteless, a small step above Blue.

Taste of Lao, on St. Matthew’s near Wall, back in Winnipeg. Well, we didn’t actually eat there, but instead picked up appetizers for a family dinner nearby. I visited this place last year and, like last year, little Taste of Lao was the culinary highlight of the trip. I live in Toronto, which is full of Asian and SE Asian Restaurants, and Taste of Lao could stand up to just about the best places in that town, based on the appetizers alone. Stuffed chicken wings are truly the best wings I’ve ever had anywhere, stuffed bamboo shoots were a tasty revelation, and the gooey stuffed tapioca balls were a delight, wrapped in fresh lettuce and dipped in spicy sauce. If you have never been to Taste of Lao, you don’t know what your missing! A true chowfind.

Carribbean Spice on Sargent at Sherbrooke. Next to the now-closed Picasso's. A friend brought me here, telling me its the best Carribbean in the city. He frequents the place and knows the chef. Its a nice family run place with kids running around and you almost have the sense of eating in someone's kitchen, just off a Jamaican beach. Mostly my Jamaican dabblings have been limited to jerk chicken and roti (albeit I have had some more unusual offerings from Albert's on Queen West in Toronto, like duck and conch) and I was determined to try something different. We started off with Calaloo which is spinach cooked with onions, spices and some type of ketchupy slightly spicy/slightly sweet sauce. Nice, but a bit boring by itself. So after sampling, we saved the Calaloo to eat with the main meal. We also had the fried plaintains, sweet and salty and a dish I always enjoy, nicely washed down with a red stripe. Dinner was Ackee and Salt Fish, my first time for both, served with rice and beans, and an unnecessary extra roti we ordered on the side. The Ackee was amazing, a fruit native to Jamaica that, when cooked, looks a little like scrambled eggs! It takes on the flavour of the salt fish and the onions and peppers that were part of what was essentially a stirfry, and somehow enhaces teh flavour of everything. The fish was lovely, slightly toothsome, with a unique and subtle fishy flavour that I understand comes from the salting and rehydrating process. While the dish looked a little unusual, it was delicious and highly recommended! As I had suspected, the calaloo eaten with the rice and peas was much better than when it was eaten on its owne. The extra roti we ordered was good but a largely unnessary addition to the starch provided by the rice and peas. My fault though, and not the chef's. Incidentally, a friend had a lovely jerk shrimp and I would enjoy coming back to try it in the roti. Highly recommended.

Casa Grande at Sargent and Wall. An old italian place that has been around for 40 years or so, and hasn't changed a bit since the last time I ate here, which was probably 1985! When we order Pizza back home, we generally stick to smaller non-chain places, and I was looking forward to this meal as I remember the pizza as being as good as anything I've had before or since. And Casa Grande did not disappoint! I ordered a pepperoni pizza for the kids and an anchovy/caper and kalamata olive pizza for myself, along with a glass of house wine and some garlic bread. Wine and garlic bread were just OK, but that pizza!!!! WOW!!!! Without a doubt some of the best pizza I've ever had!!! The sauce is superb, clearly homemade and redolent with fresh oregano, the crust almost perfect, a nice high quality mozzarella cheese and generous toppings. We were all blown away! A LITTLE pricey at $44 for one small and one medium pizza, a soft drink, a glass of wine and some garlic bread, but a definite treat I'll come back to the next time I'm in the city. Once again, a real chowfind people here should be proud of! Highly Recommended!

Kum Koon Garden. Headed here on a Saturday for DimSum. In the past I’ve been pretty disappointed by the few dimsums offerings I’ve tried in the Winnipeg. A friend told me years ago that Victoria Seafood Restaurant on St Marys Road was the place to go, but I’ve never made it out there. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived at Kum Koon, but I was happy to see that the space had been fully renovated since I last visited a restaurant in the same space about 10 years ago. And the pleasant surprises kept piling up as we ordered a huge selection of steamed seafood dumplings that again was as good as any other I’ve had in Canada, and happy with the use of fresh herbs to complement the seafood inside the translucent rice wrappers. The sticky rice was superb and dull of little delights like whole Chinese mushrooms. I even saw one or two things I’d never encountered before, the highlight being deep-fried taro balls with a whole shrimp inserted into it, and holding a little packet of seasoned pork! Really tasty! The bill was again a little high at $50 for two adults and two kids (and believe me we didn’t over-order), but my sense is that the prices in what was used to be bargain-Winnipeg have creeped up almost to match the big smoke. In any event, people here are lucky to have such good, creative dimsum available.

Earl’s on Main. I am not a big fan of the “box” restaurants that seem to have taken over the city, Earl’s being one of the biggest, along with the Keg. But….after the lunch I had last week on the patio I really have little to complain about. I was on an expense account for this meal, and ordered the curry planked salmon ($17.99) with the curry sauce on the side: probably some glop with too much curry powder, I thought. Shame on me. The salmon was moist, almost perfect, served on light garlic mashed potatoes, with roasted carrots and beets (!!!). Roasted beets are always a nice surprise and these were small, scrumptious, with a nice give to the tooth. But the curry sauce made the meal! It was a gentle balance of coconut, fish sauce and curry , and a real testament to how multi-cultural Canada has really become if a place like Earl’s is willing to serve fish sauce based sauces to lunching businessmen on the prairies! Honestly, I was surprised at how nicely it tied the entire meal together and would go back for it. HIghly recommended.

The Keg in Linden Woods/Linden Ridge. Well, you know, it’s the Keg. The Keg is the Keg is the Keg. But there really is something nice about sitting out on the patio and drinking cocktails as the sun goes down, with “keg” size portions of alcohol costing generally less than $10. In TO, the same thing stuff would easily come in at $12 these days, so despite everything else being as expected, I finally found a deal. Bleu Cheese Filet was a little boring, and even though I strictly ordered everything just the way I wanted it, it is a little disappointing when your $30 entrée arrives with on a big white plate with: A Steak. A “twice baked” potato. And a parmesan topped half tomato. It just looked a little boring, and while all was OK ( and yes the main attraction, the steak, was good), there wasn’t an interesting thing about it. Fortunately the company was superb, and the service attentive, if a bit over the top. It is nice to see a reasonable by the glass wine list. In any event, This Keg is no different from the Keg back home and at least they have modelled it in the same manner as the one in the old Movenpick space on York St in TO (or vice versa) and have successfully managed to turn it into a place to be seen. However much I might dismiss the overall food concept, you have to admire how the owners have tapped into the zeitgest

Good Eating!

And a note to Winnipeg Chowhounds: there are a lot of interesting options in this city now and it would be great to see more people reporting on the smaller places in town. I'm interested in all the Thai offerings, and I've even seen a Malaysian place or two, but could find no reviews! How is Magic Thailand? What about Cook-a-too's? Any interesting off-beat chinese? What Italian places are good on Corydon? Any unusual dishes?

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