One of this city's blessings is the number of good ethnic restaurants, and one reason they are good is because most ethnic cooks know their cuisine in their bones. They have grown up on it, have probably been cooking it most of their lives, and have an understanding of it that goes beyond cooking-school training.
Still, granted that most ethnic cooks are proficient at what they do, some are more proficient than others, like the following two. What they have in common is that both have had restaurants in the past that left their loyal patrons bereft when they closed. Now it is possible to enjoy their specialties again, although in both cases getting them won't be as simple as it used to be. But what they also have in common is that they are worth the effort.
When Jessie's Kitchen was on Rothsay Street, you had to get there early on Fridays to snag a table for the all-you-can-eat buffets, which starred Jessie's potato pancakes, as well as (among other things) her borscht, her perogies and, if you were lucky, her fabled studenetz jellied pork loaf.
Jessie's Kitchen resurfaced a few years ago but finding it involves a list of instructions. The restaurant now is located in a senior-oriented highrise at the end of Whellams Lane (the building on the right), with visitors parking about 50 metres away. You have to be buzzed in (code 0003), then take the elevator down to P1, and follow the arrows along a series of basement corridors until you reach a plain but cheerful room, brightened by a wall of windows that overlook an enticing swimming pool, with a background of gorgeous mature trees.
There can't be many apartment buildings where one can eat this well. The menu is short but augmented by daily specials, with most a la carte items priced between $5 and $8.50. And with the exception of bland rice-filled cabbage rolls everything I tried was excellent.
I'm willing to bet you won't find a potato pancake pizza anywhere else in town. It's an astonishingly good concoction based on a big, crunchy potato pancake, topped by tomato sauce, bits of ground beef and tomatoes, shreds of mozzarella and green onions. Plump perogies are so tender they almost melt on the tongue -- potato-cheddar in our case, but also usually available with sauerkraut (housemade sauerkraut at that), cottage cheese and, occasionally, blueberries. Moist, savoury meatballs in an almost creamy gravy are among the best I can remember, and the kolbassa is top-notch quality. No studenetz, alas, except by advance order.
The vegetarian beet borscht is appropriately tangy, a bean and potato soup hearty and satisfying, and on some days there may be sauerkraut soup. Sauerkraut is also tucked into soft little perishky buns. And don't miss the elegant nalysnyky dessert crepes rolled around a filling of sweetened baker's cottage cheese, strewn with fresh dill and bathed in cream. For those who want it all, a $20.50 dinner for two brings a feast of potato pancakes, perogies, meat balls, kolbassa and cabbage rolls, with nalysnyky for dessert.
Jessie is an accomplished baker as well, and if you don't have the nalysnyky try one of the desserts in the cooler. They vary daily, but if the fabulous, chocolate-glazed honey cake is on, or the blueberry crumble, don't miss them.
Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday
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Sa'aadal Kheyr's patrons loved the place, but nobody was crazy about its location on Isabel, and now the address houses instead, for the umpteenth time, another Vietnamese restaurant. However, fans of Roda Guled's Somali specialties can still enjoy them at home, by delivery only. All it takes is a day's notice and a minimum order of $50, plus a $10 delivery fee.
Choices are pretty much what they were in the restaurant at close to the same prices, with most entrees from $10 to $13. More to the point, the food is as delicious as ever -- notably non-greasy, with amazing spicing that is more subtle than fiery and always applied with a masterful hand.
There are two appetizers only, but both are marvellous: huge, delicately flaky samosas, the beef stuffing nippy with green chilis -- up from $1 to $1.50 -- and the crunchy, coriander-spiced falafel, still four for $1. With both comes a potent vinegar and fresh green chili dip.
All the meats are halal (i.e. no pork). The entrée choices are beef, chicken, goat and salmon, and the seasonings vary with each dish. Small cubes of beef are braised with paprika and cardamom. Garlic predominates in the chunky kebabs of ground beef. These days you can have chicken on the bone, with hints of chipotles and cinnamon, as well as in boneless dice that are aromatic with curry, cumin and green chilis. Goat meat is stewed with cinnamon and cardamom. Salmon steaks are grilled under a gorgeous glaze of vinegar and molasses.
The kebabs come with couscous, more flavourful than most I've had elsewhere. The other entrées are accompanied by a wonderfully flavourful pilaf of basmati rice, infused with saffron and cooked in stock -- so good it gives new meaning to that often boring grain. With all the entrées, fresh romaine and ripe tomatoes with wedges of lemon for all the dressing that's needed. Be sure to ask for the Somali bread, a flatbread made of unbleached protein flour -- a flaky marvel that most resembles Indian chapatis -- and if you want to eat in authentic Somali style, use it to scoop up portions of the food.
- 60 Whellams Lane
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below.