Winnipeg’s vibrant winter food scene

Winnipeg’s vibrant winter food scene

by Karen Burns-Booth 30 June 2017

Winnipeggers don’t hide indoors when the temperatures plummet; instead, they embrace winter with gusto and eat out. Karen Burns-Booth tours the city to learn more.

Karen Burns-Booth is a freelance food & travel writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a passion for local, seasonal ingredients.

Karen Burns-Booth is a freelance food & travel writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a passion for local, seasonal ingredients.

I am a big fan of the Manitoban prairie city of Winnipeg, affectionately known as The Peg by the locals and Winterpeg by some. I’ve visited several times but never in the colder months, so when I was invited to visit Winnipeg during the winter to participate in outdoor activities whilst eating (and drinking) my way around this beautiful city, I was very keen to embrace all it had to offer. I have covered some of Winnipeg’s food scene before (see here), but it was the new craft breweries and food tours, as well as a very unique pop-up restaurant, that had my attention this time.

The Forks Market is a must-visit place for any avid foodie. One of Winnipeg’s most diverse culinary destinations, it’s open all year round and is the perfect place to escape to after a session of ice skating on the Red River Mutual Trail, or after a chilly game of ‘crokicurl’ (a sort of mix between curling and marbles), both of which are just outside the market. I’ve eaten there many times, and I love the eclectic selection of craft beers and global snacks that are on offer. The Common craft beer and wine kiosk is located in the newly renovated Food Hall, and offers over twenty craft beers and wines by the glass or in flights, supporting local breweries such as Peg Beer Co., Nonsuch Beer, Fort Garry and Half Pints Brewing Co.

Venturing out towards the West End of Winnipeg, you can take advantage of a neighbourhood restaurant tour called Around the World in a Few Blocks. These tours take you from restaurant to restaurant whilst admiring the local area and the city's famously multicultural community – the very reasonable price of $47 per person includes all the meals, non-alcoholic drinks, tips and tax. I took advantage of one of the ‘A Moveable Feast’ winter tours when I was there, traveling downtown from restaurant to restaurant on a fat bike! The foodie stops included the revolving restaurant Prairie 360, Carbone Coal Fired Pizza and global street food at the Merchant Kitchen. Fat bikes are a great way to get around Winnipeg when it's a bit slippy underfoot, and are the preferred method of transport for A Moveable Feast tours.

Fat bikes
'Fat Bikes' are a great way to get around Winnipeg when it's a bit slippy underfoot, and are the preferred method of transport for Moveable Feasts' tours
Chicken on toast

I always think that Winnipeg does breakfast so well, with a wonderfully diverse range of eateries to try out for the first meal of the day. After a chilly but invigorating walk, I discovered the culinary deliciousness of Clementine. Quoted as being one of Winnipeg’s hottest new breakfast and brunch hot spots, it takes its inspiration from around the world and is located in the heart of the very cool and hip Exchange District. One dish that you must try there is their famous chicken on toast, served with a three-onion dip and pickles; it must be the most Instagrammed breakfast dish I’ve seen from Winnipeg! Other dreamy dishes to try from the menu are braised bacon Benedict, smoked Arctic char, chorizo verde tostada and Turkish eggs.

I’ve also enjoyed breakfast at The Park Cafe, next to the Assiniboine Park Zoo, where you can have a waffle or two and then take a ‘Journey to Churchill’ to see the polar bears playing in the snow. Stella’s is a Winnipeg institution and they have locations all over the city, including the cosy restaurant I visited with a friend one icy morning in Osborne Village, which was voted as having the best breakfast in Winnipeg. Nick’s on Broadway is also a great breakfast place and uses fresh Manitoba produce – they have a wonderful selection of hot sandwiches and their breakfast bowls are legendary!

A big bowl of ramen was just what I needed after a walk down the frozen Red River Mutual Trail and I was very impressed with the Japanese restaurant Yujiro on Grant Avenue, where after a few appetisers of sashimi and gyoza dumplings I slurped my way through a steaming bowl of ramen. Chef Edward Lam serves up huge bowls of Asian-scented broth, with assorted meats, vegetables, noodles, herbs and eggs added – perfect lunchtime fodder for a raw winter’s day. My extra spicy miso ramen bowl was fresh, zingy, chilli spicy, meaty and extremely restorative!

Cold winter evenings in The Peg are no problem for diners either, and I was treated to some extraordinarily good food at several restaurants after dark. One of the first places I visited on my February trip was The Mitchell Block, situated in the heart of the Exchange District; the restaurant is a culinary gem, and it’s here that I enjoyed the best house-made pasta I’ve had outside Italy! The menu changes with the seasons, but what doesn’t change is their freshly made pasta and bread, which were truly delectable. I started off with crispy fried Brussels sprouts with crispy sweet potato and charred lemon aioli, and went on to enjoy the house speciality of rigatoni with spicy pork and fennel sausage sugo finished with shaved Parmesan. This is accomplished cooking and with locally sourced produce, it’s what the vibrant Winnipeg food scene is all about. Other notable evening dining experiences not to miss are Segovia, a fabulous tapas bar, and Deer + Almond, where sharing plates served in cosy surroundings are perfect for the midst of winter.

When the rivers freeze over, pop-up restaurant RAW:almond sets up shop for a very limited time, serving one-off tasting menus from celebrated chefs
Nothing's more satisfying than some freshly battered fish when it's cold, and The Forks in Winnipeg has some of the best in Canada

During the winter, one of Winnipeg’s most celebrated pop-up restaurants takes to its pitch on the frozen river near The Forks. RAW:almond is not only a sensation for the taste buds, but it’s also a sensory trip in all senses of the word, as you dine in a temporary tasting room on a frozen river in the middle of winter! This pop-up is open for twenty-one consecutive nights with three sittings a night; the tables are big, as it’s all about sharing and rubbing shoulders with friends and familiar strangers. When I was lucky enough to eat there earlier on in the year, I enjoyed a multi-course gourmet feast prepared by Ned Bell, who is passionate about farm-to-table cooking with an emphasis on sustainable seafood.

From pop-ups on frozen rivers to breweries and distilleries, Winnipeg’s burgeoning craft beer and spirits scene was a great way to end my visit to Winnipeg. A visit to Peg Beer Co. is not to be missed, and I loved my evening there; it’s one of Winnipeg’s first brewpubs, opened in March 2016, and the backstage tour of the brewery was fascinating. After the tour I sampled some of their in-house brews via a flight of beers with their innovative dinner menu.

Prairie provinces are known for their grains, so it’s not surprising that Manitoba’s first craft distillery and tasting room is in the capital. Capital K Distillery is one of the new kids on the distiller’s block and already their Tall Grass Vodka and Tall Grass Gin are making their mark on the local and national spirits scene. The craft distilling process begins with controlled hand-milling of locally grown grain, and Capital K Distillery takes pride in selecting only the best Manitoba grains for its craft spirits making it a truly home-grown enterprise! They are now open for distillery tours and tastings, and they also cater for special events and parties too.

As you can see, there’s plenty to eat and drink in this prairie city. The locals know that winter will arrive, so it’s just a matter of embracing it. Rather than closing their doors over winter, restaurants are open for business no matter what the weather throws at them!