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Carbone Coal Fired Pizza (aka, The wings, boss! The wings!)

With the recent announcement that Carbone will be opening a location downtown, I thought it was time to tell you a bit about this place.

But first, I’m actually going to use my university degree and give you a little information about coal.

There are lots of different types of coal, but Carbone uses anthracite in their ovens. This isn’t the dirty, frissable coal that you might picture when you first think “coal.” Instead, a chunk of anthracite would remind you more of a giant piece of graphite from a pencil.

Anthracite burns hotter than any other type of coal or wood. It also burns nearly as clean as natural gas. Because the anthracite allows the oven to get incredibly hot, pizza crusts baked in it have a lovely char on the outside with soft, chewy centres.

But enough about the coal. Let me tell you about the wings.

Wings smothered in caramelized onions

Wings! I love wings. (Side note: my personal Mecca, Quaker Steak and Lube, has finally opened a location within driving distance. As soon as I get a spare weekend, we are totally driving to Fargo for some wings.) I have found a few places that serve passable wings in Winnipeg, although I wonder if my wing snobbery is just misplaced nostalgia for the wings I had back in Ohio that I can’t get here.

However, the first time we visited Carbone, we got an order of their wings as a starter. The wings arrived at our table smothered in caramelized onions. One bite and I was hooked. I could keep going back to Carbone just for these wings. The onions melt in your mouth, and whatever they used to spice the wings complemented the onions perfectly.

(Psst! Try the wings!)

But they are a pizza place, not a wing joint, so I guess I should talk about the pizzas. On our first visit we tried the classic Italian pie, the Margherita. This is a classic, one that we make ourselves on our grill. And it tasted classic, exactly as promised. The crust had a nice crunchy char (which I’ve heard some people describe as “burnt,” but we like this style of pizza), but with a tender interior. They also didn’t make the common error of drowning the pizza in toppings, but let the simple ingredients speak for themselves.

On another visit, we tried the Peppino, topped with arugula, prosciutto and parmesan. I wasn’t as crazy about this one, but I admit that it grew on me. I think my husband enjoyed it more than I did. There was a lot of arugula on the pizza, but after folding each piece in half, sandwiching the greens in the middle, the bitter greens weren’t as overpowering. So apparently the preferred eating technique should be explained when the pizza arrives at your table.

Arugula pizza

And on that same thread, under Lessons Learned, the Ferrero is designated as a “personal size dessert pizza.” Lies! It may only be 6 inches across or so, but it’s drenched in rich melted Nutella and bananas. It was amazingly delicious, but it can easily serve four people who have just had wings and pizza.

The interior of Carbone is casual, and there are big screen TVs (tuned to sports, of course – yawn) in every corner. It can, however, get noisy as the place fills up. (Maybe I’m getting old, but yelling at your dinner companions across the table just isn’t fun.) I’m interested to see what kind of vibe their downtown location will have. They have a full bar, with weekly drink specials, and a nice selection of wines.

Carbone is located on Taylor in a strip mall, just past the tracks to the east as you turn off Keneston. They open at 11:30am on weekdays and 1pm on weekends. On Sunday to Wednesday they close at 10pm, and Thursday to Saturday they close at 11pm.

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Unburger (aka, Drippilly Delicious)

I know burger joints. They are in clean but well-worn locations, and decorated with the detritus of the era in which they were founded: licence places, bicycles, autographed photos from celebrities, and so on. Their colours are muted, possibly faded by time, and the menu is either permanently scratched onto a chalkboard or read from laminated menus that are curled at the corners. They are uniformly quirky places, and fit well into their neighbourhoods.

Burger joints aren’t supposed to be minimalist spaces, painted a brilliant white with red accents and decorated by QR codes. The menus aren’t supposed to be shown on flatscreens over the counter. However, Unburger is all of these things, and it works. In fact, it works really well, because it is still a quirky place that fits in perfectly with its Osborne Village neighbourhood.

Table Marker at Unburger

Unburger specializes in burgers that are fresh, locally-sourced, and hormone-free, and you can tell by the taste: quality ingredients means a quality taste. You can choose between a variety of beef, chicken and vegetarian burgers, and any beef burger can be made out of bison for an additional $2.75.

I’ve sampled several (many!) of their burgers, and have yet to be disappointed. The Bella, made with a portabella mushroom cap instead of a patty, was delicious, dressed with lettuce, tomato, onions and blue cheese. I also really enjoyed Caeser’s Offering: basically a chicken burger topped with a crispy caeser salad. But my favourite, and the one I keep going back to, is a classic: the bacon cheddar burger. Smoked bacon, Bothwell cheddar, lettuce and tomato – how can you go wrong with that?

Caeser's Offering

For a unique taste, try one of their burgers that are impossible to eat in a dignified manner. I especially like recommending The Drunken Aussie to friends, if only to watch them try to eat it. It is delicious but messy: beef burger, bacon, cheddar, lettuce, grilled pineapple, sliced beets, and topped with a fried egg. (Another burger, The Donald, is also topped with a fried egg, but isn’t nearly as drippy.) I’m not knocking these burgers – in fact, I highly recommend them – but you probably shouldn’t wear your best shirt while trying to eat one, if you get my drift.

The Drunken Aussie and Fries

Sides are ordered separately but there is a nice selection of fries and salads. A friend tried the “Hal Johnson and Joanne McCleod 8-Grain Energy Salad” and pronounced it “yummy.” I’m afraid, however, that I’ve been stuck on the fries ever since my first visit. Our usual MO is to order a “Shareables,” which has an order each of regular and sweet potato fries accompanied by two dips. The fries, while good, are essentially vehicles for getting the dip into our mouths. We always get the rosemary garlic aioli and the chiplotle aioli, and never look back. (Seriously. Try the rosemary garlic aioli. You will not regret it.)

Unburger obviously subscribes to my notion that pop tastes better when it’s drunk directly from a glass bottle, so they have miniature bottles of Coke products in a cooler near the door. They also have a small selection of beers and wines. They carry Fort Garry, but Half Pints is notable in its absence.

Unburger is located on Stradbrooke between The Happy Cooker and Segovia. There is parking behind the restaurant, but we’ve always been able to find street parking. Unburger is open Monday through Saturday, from 11:30am to 10:00pm.

Unburger on Urbanspoon

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First Impressions: Dhoom

My husband visited Dhoom recently with some friends and gave me his impression of the place.

If you ever went to the current location of Dhoom when it was still a Pizza Hut, you will not recognize the place. They have divided it down the middle, with a lounge on one side (complete with VLTs), and a restaurant on the other. The restaurant was tasteful and quiet, though I can’t vouch for the noise levels later in the evening when the lounge fills up.

All three of us ordered the lunch buffet, which includes complementary fresh, hot naan bread served at your table. Other restaurants have larger buffets, but this one covered all of the basic dishes; rice salad, assorted hot pickles, rice, navratram korma, aloo gobi, beef curry, lentil dhal, goat curry, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, and chilli-lime chicken wings all made an appearance.

Once we were seated after our first trip to the buffet, one of the chefs emerged from the kitchen with complimentary hot naan bread for our table. As we were getting ready to head up for seconds, another chef and one of the serving girls made the rounds from table to table offering complimentary pizza. Apparently they kept the oven in place when they remodeled. It was a vegetarian pizza, and I think that it was the highlight of the meal. The crust was darn near perfect, and it had a rich blend of vegetables, with just enough peppers to give it a pleasant little bite. I am normally not a fan of vegetarian pizzas, considering the anemic ones you get from most pizza chains, but this place showed that it can be very very good if done right.

Desserts included coconut burfi, kheer and gulab jamun. The kheer was a bit light on the cardamom, and the gulab jamun was (as expected) cloyingly sweet. The burfi was a pleasant surprise, being nowhere near as rich and sweet as I was expecting.

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The plates available at the buffet are a slightly arty, square shape with edges that rise and fall in a shallow sine wave. It looks neat, but it’s a trap for sauces on the plate. I nearly wore a rivulet of butter chicken sauce before I realized it was spilling and managed to stop it with my thumb before it left too large a spill on the carpet. Also due to their shape, the plates hold deceptively little, which is good and bad. Since it’s a buffet you can go back as many times as you like, but there is the annoyance of getting caught behind some schmuck on his cell phone who is more interested in conversing with his mouth-breathing cousin than actually loading food onto his plate. On the other hand, forcing one to take smaller portions also helps one to avoid overeating, which can often be a problem for me at one of these places.

The food was all good (especially for the price), the atmosphere was pleasant, and the service was prompt and attentive. I plan to go back, though the next time in I am tempted to skip the buffet and just try their pizza.

First Impressions is just that – my first impressions of a restaurant. I adhere to the Food Blog Code of Ethics, and prefer to only do a full review of a restaurant after I’ve visited it at least twice, whenever possible. If I write a full review of this restaurant at a later date, I will add the link to this post.

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Edohei (aka, Best of the West from the East… in the West)

I first visited Edohei almost a decade ago. Since then, a few things about the Japanese restaurant have changed, but I still consider it one of the best places in Winnipeg for sushi.

Sushi at Edohei

One of the most striking changes is behind the counter. Up until a few years ago, the restaurant was run by Sadao Ono, a renowned formally-trained sushi chef. His son, Makoto Ono, has (perhaps only temporarily) taken over the reins of the restaurant. If you haven’t already, you must visit Edohei before Makoto, the gold medalist at the 2006 Golden Plates Canadian Culinary Championship, decides to take on another challenge.

Prior to Makoto’s stewardship, I had always associated Edohei with top-quality fish and a traditional approach to Japanese food. (Unlike most sushi restaurants in Winnipeg, you have a choice of sitting at a regular table, or kicking off your shoes to sit at traditional tables set into a raised platform.) Now, in addition to the superior fish, Edohei sports Makoto’s avant-garde creations.

As much as I love the regular sushi at Edohei, we’ve taken to ordering the bulk of our meal off the special menu, which changes daily. Slivered scallops with black garlic in a lemon and herb vinaigrette was a recent favourite, as was a delightful kimchee laden with vegetables, and crispy rings of calamari accompanied by a shiso tzatziki.

Tuna with shiso rice and mushrooms

The selection of sake is not to be missed, either. On our last visit there were nine different sakes to try, with Shochikubai Nigori as the star of our evening. This unfiltered, smooth sake was a wonderful counterpoint to our surprise dinner.

Surprise? For a treat, call two days in advance and schedule yourself for omakase. The exact translation seems to vary depending on who you talk to, but omakase is basically “chef’s choice” for your evening. We had our first ever omakase when Sadao Ono was running the place, and it was a delightful, five-course full dinner. After hearing that Makoto Ono had updated the omakase to a more traditional tasting menu (with many small samples of various dishes) we had to give it a try.

Omakase must be booked two days ahead. (I would recommend confirming your reservation, since on our last visit there was a mix-up and our request for omakase was lost.) You alert the staff to any allergies, select your price point – anywhere between $60 and $75 a person – and prepare to be dazzled.

As the dishes arrived at our table, a profile of a uniquely modern Japanese dinner developed. Red snapper with black garlic and almonds was followed by red tuna chunks with wasabi “tobiko,” then by steamed clams with greens. I loved the elegant zucchini flower, stuffed with seafood, dipped in tempura batter and fried, served with a wedge of lemon and flavoured salt. Nigiri sushi, fresh and flavourful, preceded a crab and salmon roe soup. My favourite dish of the evening (the one I wrote “Wow!” next to in my notes) was torched tuna served over shiso-flavoured rice with tomatoes and mushrooms. The main dish, beef in a light curry sauce with shrimp tempura and cauliflower puree, seemed pale in comparison to the previous offering. Had it been served alone, however, the beef would have amazed me. Our dinner was concluded by a rather industrial passionfruit gelato, which was the only real disappointment in the entire meal. Overall, we had a wonderful dinner that was graced with excellent service.

Zucchini flower stuffed with seafood at Edohei

Edohei is located downtown on Ellice across from the Air Canada building, with free parking behind the restaurant. They are open for dinner at 5:00pm, Wednesday through Sunday, and are open for lunch 11:30am-2:00pm, Wednesday to Friday.

Edohei Sushi & Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Skinner’s (aka, Slaughtering Sacred Cows)

When I first moved here, native Winnipeggers asked me “Have you tried eating at [place] yet?” The insinuation, of course, is that these places were both classically Winnipeg and excellent places to eat as well.

Unfortunately, it seems that some people’s tastes have been clouded by nostalgia. Places that have been around forever, that came highly recommended, that were supposed to rock my tastebuds… Didn’t. Not all of them were bad. Some were pretty good, and the recommendation was appreciated. The vast majority, though, I was forced to meet with a resounding “Meh.”

One of those places is Skinner’s. The sign touts their hot dogs as “world famous.” In fact, the Globe and Mail included Skinner’s on a list of Canada’s best hot dogs. I’m pretty sure that this means the writer did not actually try the hot dogs (or the smokies) at Skinner’s because they’re kinda blah.

There, I said it. Please don’t hurt me.

A regular hot dog at Skinner’s is skinny, which I suppose might be a play on the name of the establishment. The skin of the hot dog, though, is disproportionately thick for such a skinny dog. This is the type of skin you’d expect on a smokie that’s bursting at the seams with meat and juice and flavour. Instead, you bite down into the hot dog and feel the skin stretch and stretch until it snaps, almost as though you’re biting into a weiner dog balloon animal.

It might be because I didn’t grow up eating these stretchy, snappy hot dogs, but the texture of the dog snapping as my teeth bite into it really turns me off. Plus, once you’re past the skin and into the meat of the hot dog, the experience doesn’t improve. The hot dogs taste boiled, or maybe steamed. All of the flavour seems to have been removed in the cooking process. Possibly it wasn’t there to begin with. To make the hot dogs palatable, then, Skinner’s loads them up with condiments. Maybe that’s why they’re so skinny – to allow more room for condiments?

Smokie from Skinner's

If you’re dying for a hot dog, the smokies seem to have taken over in the flavour department: juicy and meaty, although still rather “meh” on taste. The signs around the restaurant indicate that the hot dogs and smokies are from Winnipeg Old Country. If that’s the case, I would stick to their smokies as the better of the two bets.

All is not totally lost, however. The burgers are ok. Not great… Just ok. They taste like frozen patties, but with enough condiments they make for a passable (if thin) burger. With the burger you also don’t have to deal with the strange skin you get on the hot dogs.

Double cheeseburger

About the best thing I’ve found at Skinner’s are the chili cheese fries. An order of these can feed one hungry person, or is suitable to be split by two adults. The fries themselves are nothing to write home about, but the chili is a hearty beef chili with beans and excellent seasoning. With the addition of melty cheese, the chili cheese fries are easily the best thing on Skinner’s menu.

You can get a much better hot dog at Half Moon across the river, or pretty much any hot dog cart in town. If you really do like Skinner’s hot dogs, by all means recommend them to your non-local friends, but please don’t be offended if your friends don’t think they’re the “world’s best hot dog.”

Skinners on Urbanspoon

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The Tallest Poppy (aka, Where to take your friends for brunch)

When you are driving north up Main Street from downtown, it can be easy to miss. Nestled next to the New Occidental is a restaurant with a cheerful yellow sign hanging over the door and a bear mannequin in the front window. It looks small and unassuming, but it’s one of my candidates for Best Brunch in Winnipeg. It’s a restaurant called The Tallest Poppy.

Brunch.

The Tallest Poppy has a lunch menu that makes me all kinds of happy (variety! surprise! creativity!), but I’m here today to tell you about their brunch. Brunch is a special sort of meal for me, combining some of my favourite breakfast foods with a much later time frame, and it eases me into lunchtime foods at the same time. The Tallest Poppy’s brunch does all this and serves local food whenever possible? Free run eggs? Antibiotic-free, naturally-raised meats? Yes, please!

We’d been to the restaurant for lunch a few times, but one Sunday morning we decided to try their brunch. I was sold on the first visit. Brunch at The Tallest Poppy is a four-course set affair, served family-style. What this means is that if there are four people at your table, you will each get a plate. Then the food arrives on a platter and you can help yourself to however much you want. You know – just like your family did. And just like back home, what you get depends on what the cook decided to make. The staff at The Tallest Poppy check for allergies or other dietary concerns before the food arrives, though, and do their best to help out people with dietary restrictions.

Brunch at the Tallest Poppy

So if you can’t pick what you’re having, what types of food can you expect? Well, we’ve been there for brunch many times now, and it’s different each time. However, there are themes. Fruit and vegetable salads are common at the beginning of the meal, although once we got smoothies and cute little individual oatmeal servings. Scones and latkes often grace the table, followed by omelets, quiches, or frittatas, often served with amazing sausages and bacon. And finally, there is dessert. Breakfast never has dessert – brunch always should. (Another reason why brunch is superior to breakfast.) Pie, lemon squares, cookies and muffins, oh my!

The brunch itself is $25 per person, but that includes everything, including the usual breakfast drinks (including Black Pearl coffee), tip, and taxes. (So really, if you figure $2 per drink, brunch itself is only about $17.) One note, though – it’s cash only!

Tallest Poppy's Twitter feed

The Tallest Poppy has an active Twitter account, where you can often find their specials and what’s on for brunch. Watching their Twitter feed for a while will give you an idea of the sort of things they serve for brunch. Bonus – you’ll also get their lunch specials during the week, and a neat little peek into restaurant life.

The Tallest Poppy is located at 631 Main Street. Brunch is served on Sundays only. They open for brunch on Sunday at about 10am, although during the winter they’ve been opening at 9am. If you have a large group, call ahead – their cozy dining room fills up quickly.

If you’re a friend of ours, and you’re in town one Sunday, don’t be surprised if we decide to drag you off for brunch at The Tallest Poppy. I love showing off Winnipeg’s excellent restaurants to visitors, and The Tallest Poppy is definitely on that list.

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Book Review: Last Chance to Eat

My new job is dangerously close to the Millennium Library. This means that on any given lunch break, you may see me browsing the stacks, looking for more things to read. Once I found the food section, stuffed full of cookbooks and foodie porn, I knew I was done for.

Last Chance to Eat One of my recent reads was this amazing work by Gina Mallet. Last Chance to Eat is subtitled “The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World.” I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book I picked up on a whim. What I found was a memoir of growing up, food, taste, and what we’ve lost in the interest of progress.

The book has only five chapters, but each one is substantial, and devoted to one type of food: eggs, cheese, beef, fruits and vegetables, and fish. In each chapter, Mallet describes her clearest memories of that type of food, and then goes on to describe how that food has changed and what is available today. For example, she writes about the lowly apple: how once there were hundreds of apple varieties available in any given area, and each area of the world had its particular favourites. Over time, mostly through economics and trade, we got the situation we have today – three (or, at most, four) varieties of apples available in the average supermarket on an average day.

The story about the apples illustrates the theme running through this book: that we are slowly losing the variety of flavours that were once available to our grandparents. As larger farms and larger supermarkets need larger amounts of produce and meat to sell, the overall variety shrinks until only the most profitable varieties are left. At the Safeway or Superstore, we might find two varieties of potatoes – russet and red. If we’re lucky they might also have yellow. But at the farmers’ market I can find blue-skinned potatoes, blue-fleshed potatoes, pink potatoes, fingerlings… A wealth of variety that the mega-mart simply can’t provide.

But the loss of variety isn’t just due to market pressure, as Mallet points out. Governments have also had a hand in limiting what consumers can choose. Overly restrictive food safety regulations, such as those banning raw milk cheeses, have the state playing nanny to its silly citizens. Thus the number of foods we can choose between slowly dwindles, until we’re left with only the approved, the safe, and the most popular.

The book is interspersed with recipes using the foods she writes about. I neglected to try any of them before I returned the book, but I’ve been thinking of checking it back out for another read. Mallet’s prose is rich and dense, meandering from florid descriptions of taste and texture to reminisces of her life in Europe. And through it all, Mallet rings a gentle alarm. The next time you come across an unusual food, be it meat or cheese or vegetable, don’t be afraid to give it a try. You never know when your last chance to do so will come.

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