Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brunch joints start day on the sunny side

Three restaurants go beyond bacon and eggs with filling fare

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Prairie Ink's Sunday brunch buffet is a varied and good-looking spread, and -- even though it has just jumped from $19.95 to $23.95 -- still a good buy. Not everything on it is a winner but, unlike restaurant critics who are paid to try almost everything, most brunchers have the luxury of concentrating on what they like best, and whatever the restaurant does best.

And what Prairie Ink does best, by far, are eggs Benedict -- made to order and piping hot, with runny yolks, good back bacon, a nicely chewy English muffin and real-tasting hollandaise. Mine was a single egg order, but if I were to do it again I'd make it a double.

Another top choice was the moist and flavourful barbecued salmon -- also so good I wished I had taken more of it. At the same table there were excellent roasted asparagus, eggplant, zucchini and red pepper, and a delicious salad of cavena nuda -- and kudos to them for using Manitoba's own nutty-flavoured new grain.

There is always a carved-to-order daily roast. I've had reports of excellent roast lamb, but the roast of our jour was prime rib -- well done, without a trace of pink, but still moist and tender. To go with it are nice little potatoes that make it a traditional Sunday dinner.

Any of the above were worth a return for seconds. Some others weren't worth a first try. Not the shrimp, for instance, which were big and plump -- lovely to look at, but totally tasteless. And not the oriental stir-fry of limp veggies with big chunks of a dreadful meat, with an odd texture and so flavourless we could only guess it might be pork. There was also a flat quiche with a peculiar tang, which in no way resembled the high, puffy and presumably à la carte lunch quiches on other tables that we ogled enviously on our way out.

There are also the usual egg dishes, pancakes, sausages and such, but whatever else you have save room for dessert, a sizable selection that included a terrific berry tart, a gloriously creamy mixed berry mousse and wonderful little almond-scented crème brûlées.

Service is top-notch. Coffee was excellent too, and refilled endlessly.

Served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations essential.

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There are some new reasons to give Stella's on Sherbrook another try. Gone is that annoying little nook where you had to cram in to place your order, even if all you wanted was a loaf of bread to go. Now you can buy your loaf in the bakery next door, and these days there's full table service. It is still cramped and noisy enough to kill conversation, and as crowded as ever -- I'd suggest trying it during the off hours, if there are any.

But the all-day breakfasts are still good ($5.25 to $10.95). The champion order at my table was the terrific Mexican breakfast -- a soft tortilla topped by over-easy eggs, refried beans, guacamole, cheddar and a marvellous salsa. I liked the cheddar-glazed baked eggs with bits of ham, but would have liked them even more if the eggs hadn't been overcooked. Scrambled eggs were dryish, too, but redeemed by the generous side of silky smoked salmon. A lovely filling of mixed veggies and plenty of feta added zest to the Mediterranean omelette. The hash browns -- biggish cubes of potatoes, actually -- are delicious, the toasts are made with Stella's own breads, and the house-made strawberry jam is a glory.

Service was good but the coffee, alas, was weak. A small sign on the sidewalk tells you about parking at the rear -- not much help, though, since it faces the restaurant and you won't see it until after you've already scrambled for parking on the street. Open at 7 a.m. daily.

-- -- --

The Seine River Cafe also serves breakfasts all day. It is also cramped, crowded and noisy (but not nearly as noisy as Stella's) and I really, really like it. We were lucky enough to be seated almost immediately at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday, although within minutes others were waiting for tables. The reason for its popularity? Generous platters of satisfying, savoury, down-to-earth food.

The Old Country Skillet is one of the house hits, a mixture of pork sausage, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, peppers, green onions and potato shreds, under a glaze of a "hollandaise" that tasted more like white sauce -- easily scraped off, in any case, or you can ask them to leave it off. Another top choice is the Seine River Special Omelette, which combines every kind of meat possible with veggies, and tops them with cheddar. Despite that dubious hollandaise, the eggs Benedict were also good -- the eggs perfectly poached with runny yolks and the back bacon excellent.

Prices are appealing too, ranging from $4.99 for two eggs, to $13.99 for a New York steak and eggs. All include thick slices of buttered toast and either marvellously crisp shredded potatoes, flavoured with bits of onion, or three fluffy buttermilk pancakes. Alternately, you can substitute prime, fresh fruits for $2.49.

The coffee is hot and robust, and the service is terrific, although it can slow down when the place is packed, which, apparently, it almost always is.

Open at 7 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. weekends.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2011 D5

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