Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Delicious homemade meals and locally produced goods abound at Neechi Commons

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Wild rice croquettes are a must-try at the Come 'n Eat Cafe at Neechi Commons.

TREVOR HAGEN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Wild rice croquettes are a must-try at the Come 'n Eat Cafe at Neechi Commons. Photo Store

When one door closes, another one opens, as the saying goes. And those who mourn the loss of North End supermarkets will find a new door to open at Neechi Commons.

This worker-owned co-operative is a bright, spacious and spotless place, with well-laid out displays of the usual supermarket products, but also with extra emphasis on locally produced goods -- among them chemical-free wild rice, wild blueberries in season, dockside frozen pickerel fillets and smoked goldeye.

Two locally rare items alone would make it worth a visit -- the delicious smoked sunfish tails and smoked catfish strips, both great buys at $12.95 a kilogram. Also worth visiting for is the bakery's bannock, available plain or with raisins ($2.50); the delectable double chocolate cookie ($1); and a bread made with Red River Cereal, which is good plain, but fabulous when toasted ($5 for a two-pound loaf, with half-loaves available on request).

On the second floor (reached by elevator) there are exhibits of aboriginal art -- currently paintings by Jackie Traverse -- and the main reason for my visits, the Come 'n Eat Cafe, a simple but open and airy space with a wall of enormous windows that offer a panoramic view of Main Street. Orders are placed at the counter from a chalkboard menu and then brought to your table. Although the menu isn't huge (although it is expanding gradually) everything on it is made from scratch and everything I tried was delicious, which won't surprise anyone familiar with food co-ordinator Talia Syrie's wonderful, but sad to say now-closed, Tallest Poppy.

There are sandwiches on good breads with the usual fillings and one that's not so usual -- corned beef that is made in-house, but alas, not available on my visits ($5). There's a notably moist and flavourful bison burger ($8.25) and a fried pickerel burger (more like a croquette, actually), garnished with crunchy coleslaw ($7.75). The fries are great ($3.50), and so is the poutine, with real curds and a savoury house-made gravy ($5.50). Le boule is a homey Métis dish of meatballs and gravy with mashed potatoes and slices of toasted bannock ($9.75).

One marvellous must-try is the wild rice croquettes bound with sweet potatoes and bedded on roasted corn salsa ($9.25), and another is the warm wild rice pudding ($3). There are also such specials as Tuesday's tacos and Thursday's brisket.

I didn't try any of the other breakfasts, which are served all day ($5.95 to $8.35), or the Sunday all-you-can eat buffet breakfast ($12.95), but I did have the pancakes with blueberries, which were the fluffiest, most flavourful I can remember, served with a slab of butter, whipped cream and little jugs of syrup or the intriguing and slightly tangy house-made glaze of reduced balsamic vinegar.

Hours (which will soon be extended) are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the store, and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the café. The service is friendly, helpful and impeccably trained. A big bonus: the huge adjacent parking lot.

 

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COMMON SENSE (formerly Common Ground on Sherbrook Street) has taken a century-old paint factory and turned it into something resembling a cosy little fairy-tale cottage. The decor is a mélange of natural woods -- some plain, some polished, all reclaimed (many from old barns) and hand-crafted into tabletops, pillars and beams. There are a few lovely mosaics set into the concrete floor, the booths are upholstered in genuine leather and a few tiny tables are tucked into raised alcoves that look like mini-tree-houses. It's a little cramped -- the tables for two would hold barely enough food for one, and the booths would be a snug fit for four -- but it's loaded with charm.

The pastries are also hand-crafted (most $1.50 to $3), and although I turned up around noon, several items weren't available -- the brownies were still in the oven, and there was no sign of the cream cheese pie with fruit sauce. I didn't try the peanut butter balls, but the oatmeal cookie and berry-filled muffin were excellent, and the massive ginger snap -- snappy with bits of candied ginger -- and the sweet cinnamon roll were nothing short of spectacular.

Hearty breads ($5 to $8.50) are made with organic wheat, but only three varieties of spelt loaves were available on my visit -- plain, multi-grain or dotted with sunflower and sesame seeds. At other times there might be sourdough wheat, date and nut, jalapeno-cheddar, calamatas with rosemary or sun-dried tomato loaves.

There's a wide range of beverages -- excellent coffees and teas among them (sold in bulk as well, along with several other organic products). Until recently, the only meal choices were soup, salad, chili and pastries -- the cranberry-nut salad was delicious ($6.75), and the basil-tomato soup du jour was lovely ($4.75 small, $6.75 large).

Lately, more substantial fare has been added, such as hot, steamed sandwiches on house-made buns garnished with potato chips and dill pickle ($5.50 to $9). Among them, an onion bun layered with roast beef, corned beef, cheese and tomato, and a sesame bun filled with turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sprouts and avocado, were both satisfying. Other choices are a fresh veggie burger with avocado and two poached eggs with cheese.

Service is pleasant and attentive. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, to 3 p.m. Friday.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2013 C5

History

Updated on Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 9:06 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

11:42 AM: Neechi Commons is at 865 Main St.

11:50 AM: adds map

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