Call it breakfast, call it brunch -- and now you can even call it dinner if you have it at Bernstein's, where the breakfast menu is available all day, and later than it used to be. The hours have been extended to range from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, until 2:30 p.m on Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the once-closed Sunday.
That's only one of the changes at this durable (almost 30 years) deli-cum-butcher shop-cum-restaurant. It's still your typically bare-bones deli, but now son Aaron is a managing partner with his mother, Marla Bernstein, and they have been joined by new chef Beth Jacob, of the late and much lamented Fresh Cafe.
The top-notch deli foods are still available for eating there or taking home -- I'm crazy for the fresh salmon spread and the marinated herring -- but this time breakfast was what I had come for, and although there are still the traditional eggs with a choice of breakfast meat, hash browns and toast ($5.50 to $8.25), Jacob has added several interesting dishes, which are listed on a feature sheet.
I didn't get to her Jewish chicken waffles -- schnitzel bits with little pancakes, chipotle maple syrup and blueberry compote ($11.25) -- or the charcuterie hash of deli meats and hash browns with two eggs and toast ($8.75), or the quinoa breakfast cereal with maple syrup and dried cranberries ($5.50). But I did have what must be one of the city's best breakfast dishes, the glorious latke stacker of potato pancakes, topped by corned beef, a poached egg and swiss cheese, ($10.25, or $11.25 with toast).
Also new is a whole-wheat wrap with cream cheese, dill and scrambled eggs, paired with a latke and sour cream ($8.50). Of course there's still the classic platter of lox with a toasted bagel, cream cheese, capers, red onion, cucumber and tomato ($11), but my favourite version is still the simplest -- a good, chewy bagel topped by a thick shmear of cream cheese and generous slices of silky, top-grade lox ($6.75). The Bernstein's omelette, with onions, corned beef, mushrooms, peppers and cheese, was always available ($8.50, hash browns $1 extra) but now it comes in a vegetarian version, and includes a latke or hashed browns and toast ($9.50).
Possibly some might not consider them breakfast on their own, but I would -- the excellent potato latkes, with apple sauce or sour cream ($5.75 for three, $2.25 for one). The crisp, skinny fries are delicious in the poutine with Bothwell curds ($6.50), which is even better with the addition of Montreal smoked meat ($8.50). I couldn't resist trying one lunch innovation which alone should earn Jacob a medal, i.e. the house-cured corned beef served warm in thick, hand-cut slices, on rye with hot mustard ($8.25). And the next time I'm there I'm determined to try the bison Reuben burger -- corned beef, bison patty, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and house-made Thousand Island dressing ($7.50).
Service is cheerful and willing but can be overwhelmed and confused at peak hours -- wise regulars know to come before or after the noon rush.
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There have been some changes at Prairie Ink also, but in this case, not for the better. Sunday brunch, which had been mostly good, has been dropped, and now all breakfasts are only la carte, served from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday to Friday, to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
An omelette was cold and thin, filled with crumbles of hard bacon, mushrooms that were black with age and (representing the promised mixed cheese) two wafer-thin wee squares of cold cheddar ($11 with toast). Eggs Benedict came on a knife-defying hard muffin ($12). Worse, the thick slab of back bacon had a greyish tint, and was as dry and difficult to cut as the muffin -- that (our server explained, as though that made it acceptable) was because it was cut thick. And when we pointed out that some of the back bacon slices (with a dish of poached eggs and fried potatoes, $8.75) were pink, moist and tender, while others on the same plate were as poor as those with the Benedict, the server had no comment at all. They were left uneaten, there was no apology, and no adjustment to the bill.
Only huevos rancheros were acceptable -- two eggs with chorizo, salsa, corn and beans and a cheese quesadilla ($12).
But if your usual breakfast runs only to some kind of baked goods, you'd be in luck with the delicious individually baked cinnamon bun with caramel sauce, or the decent, if not very airy croissant.
If breakfast was mostly a bust, another of Prairie Ink's innovations -- High Tea -- was a winner, served on Tuesdays only (reservations essential) from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a flat $16.50, all of it good, and good value, although some might object to paying an obligatory 15 per cent tip.
For the tea the inner section of the restaurant is set aside, with crisp white linens and pretty Royal Dalton tea cups on the tables. The set menu is changed each week; in our case there were appetizers of hummus-topped naan, cucumber cups with feta, tomato and olive relish, and roma tomatoes filled with a mixture of bacon, cheddar and panko crumbs; three tea sandwiches (salmon, egg and mixture of pureed peas with prosciutto), and a plate of fresh fruits and two tiny portions of cheese.
But for sweet teeth, the best was yet to come, in the pastries, for which Prairie Ink is justly noted -- a square of chocolate sacher torte, a puff filled with praline cream and cake layers with pistachio-flavoured filling, all perfectly lovely (although I did miss not having a scone). Less satisfying was the tea itself (13 varieties), which wasn't loose leaf, but had been tied into bags by the restaurant, and which didn't taste in the least like the Earl Grey we had ordered.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.