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Apr 16, 2008 09:22 AM

New McNally Robinson/Prairie Ink Cafe, Winnipeg

We ate at the new McNally Robinson cafe at Polo Park the other night. The dining area itself felt like an overcrowded terrarium. The service was not only slow; it was selective. The couple with kids next to us got an inordinate amount of attention from our waiter, while the only thing he did for us was take our order and deliver the check. At another table next to us, a disgruntled lady fumed to the manager about the uneven service. I'm willing to chalk a lot of the service issues up to the newness of the place; it's only been open two weeks. They do operate cafes in their other stores, though, so you'd think there'd be fewer kinks to start with.

The food was good, once it finally arrived, which was about an hour after we ordered. I believe there were some new items on the menu, like the trio of dips appetizer. The dips were a spinach-artichoke dip, hummus, and a ground spice and nut mixture similar to zatar. The spinach artichoke was good; the hummus was gummy, and the spice mix came with an oil for dipping that wasn't olive. The dips were served with 6 pita triangles and 6 pieces of toasted baguette, which was far too little bread for all the spreads. The busgirl did get us some more bread when we asked for it, as we couldn't flag down the waiter.

On the whole, the place is a nice addition to Polo Park mall, which up till now had no decent inside dining except for Moxies (and let's face it--Moxies isn't all that special). The food court in Polo Park is pitiful and even worse now that Michelle's has closed, seemingly for good. Let's just hope that at the McNally Robinson cafe, the crowds thin a bit and the service improves quickly.

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  1. Michel's closed? When did that happen?

    I used to go to the Prairie Ink Cafe at Portage Place fairly often, and the only things I found worth having were the soups. Everything else reminded me of that failed restaurant at the Forks that served "international" food (can't remember the name, but it opened in '95 or thereabouts, and probably closed within a couple of years). If I want "ethnic" food, there are plenty of places in Winnipeg to get the real deal (whether it be Indian, Ethiopian, or others). Why bother with almost-ethnic food that's over-priced, to boot? Unless you're in the area and there's nothing else to eat, of course.

    7 Replies
    1. re: prasantrin

      Michel's in the Polo Park Food Court closed back when the Food Court renovations began...maybe six months ago--I'm not really sure. I think some kind of retail store is going into the space.

      I agree that the 'almost-ethinic' of some of the big chain eateries--like Moxie's, Earl's, and Prairie Ink--really don't measure up to the real thing. But in the case of Prairie Ink, it provides an easy night out for us without a lot of running around. We can sit and eat something, and even have some wine, then just go down into the bookstore and browse for a couple hours. And to be fair, chains have a lot to offer: consistent product, proficient service, a menu with lots of options, expanded hours, comfortable chairs, nice bathrooms, and convenience.

      I'm not a big fan of chains, but there's no denying that sometimes it's just easier, especially when your dining companion(s) just aren't that into the real thing.

      1. re: sojo16

        I hear you! I detest most food courts but I'm often stuck with people who are more price and quantity oriented. It's pretty much the only time I'll eat at a food court.

        I'm glad Polo Park has an alternative from Moxies for sit-down dining. It's decent fare, at least the ones in Grant and Portage were. I've yet to try this. Hopefully by the time I'm back in Winnipeg, they'll have worked out the kinks.

        As an alternative to the options available at Polo Park, I'd recommend stepping out of the mall entirely for a QUICK, INEXPENSIVE, and TASTY bite. There are a lot of options available, all literally within a couple minutes drive. Off the top of my head I can name:
        -Santorini's (Portage) - Great Greek and friendly folks
        -Arirang Korean Grocery (Portage) - Nice little sushi bar inside.
        -Burger Place (Portage) - Another friendly family run establishment
        -Across the bridge on Academy, Cafe Kohler - One of the hidden gems in Winnipeg... Anything on the menu (except the coffee ironically!)
        -And if you're willing to drive another couple minutes, your options increase even more!

        1. re: can_i_try_some

          Cafe Kohler's goat chese and tapenade sandwich rocks!

          Is the Pancake House at Polo Park gone, too? It wasn't great, either, but how can you go wrong with plain pancakes?

          But yes, Prairie Ink is a good choice when the other choices are food court food (although I could make do with A&W onion rings and root beer, too!). The one place I really miss at Polo Park is the bakery that was attached to Sears. They used to get some of (all?) their stuff from the Donut House on Selkirk, so we still go there to get lemon doughnuts and sausage rolls, but it certainly isn't as convenient!

          1. re: prasantrin

            Ahhh! You caught me there. Onion rings and a frosty mug of root beer is one of my quilty secret pleasures. But didn't most A&W's stop using those mugs?

            Thanks for the name of the sandwich - that's the one I couldn't remember. Goat cheese and olive tapenade - a bit pricier than your average deli sandwich, but certainly big enough for two people to share. If you go, do it before lunch, as Cafe Kohler is a tiny space with only 4 or 5 small tables and a couple more outside in the summer.

            And I rememeber the bakery you're talking about. I loved their pound cakes! It was a ritual in my house for my mom to stop by on Fridays after work. Good memories! I'm still looking for a decent substitute in Winnipeg, with no luck.

            1. re: can_i_try_some

              You should try the Donut House. I don't know if all the baked goods came from there, but I know the sausage rolls and doughnuts definitely did. It's worth a try, though, and just a few blocks (or maybe several) down from Gunn's.

              My most missed Winnipeg bakery was the one on Academy Road--I can't remember what it was called, but they had the best cheese sticks. Bon Appetit or Gourmet tried to get the recipe from them, but they wouldn't give it up. The original owners sold the recipe when they sold the bakery, but the new owners cheapened it and then they went out of business (in the late '80's or very early '90's). We used to go there a lot, and they'd always let us have the crusty bits of baked cheese that fell off onto the trays. :-)

              1. re: prasantrin


                The bakery I think you are thinking of is "The Bagel House" 300/400 block Academy Road
                In it's heyday late 70's to late 80's, they made they BEST Gouda cheesesticks. Can't duplicate... tried many times.
                What one would do for that recipe...

                1. re: easily amused

                  Yes! that's it! I thought it might be The Bagel House, but don't remember bagels much from way back then. Yes, they're cheesesticks were the best, and I would love to find a recipe for it. After a long discussion with one of the Gunn's brothers, we got some hints, but I never tried it. I did notice when I went to Gunn's a few months after that conversation, they had a new item--cheesesticks! I guess they decided to give it a try, too. But they weren't anything like The Bagel House's cheesesticks. :-(