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.
-- -- --
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.
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.