The Fringe Festival is about to start, and sooner or later even the most dedicated play-goer will become foot-sore and drama-weary. In which case, food might offer a relaxing intermission, and all the following are within a few blocks of most of the venues.
HOMER'S patio -- sheltered by a trellis entwined with grape vines -- is an enchanting refuge, and if al fresco dining isn't your thing, the vaguely Hellenic interior is also attractive. You can have the usual Greek dishes. But on a balmy summer day I'd opt for a light meal composed of appetizers. There are fewer than there used to be -- no more octopus, alas, and they were out of dolmades on my visit -- but the Pikilia Platter offers a sampling of many that are available ($19.95 for two; $5.95 for each extra person). Portions are quite small, but everything is delicious: tender little rings of calamari; flaky spanakopita; sumptuously rich taramasalata (roe puree) and tzatziki, garnished with olives, slices of feta and wedges of tomatoes.
It comes with more toasted pita triangles than you can finish, but ask for the terrific house-made flax bread and crusty rolls anyway. You could also try the saganaki, which sounds Japanese but is actually a slice of flavourful kefalograviera cheese, dramatically flambéed with brandy tableside ($11.95). The baklava may be OK, but our sample was totally, inedibly devoid of syrup, and fell completely apart into dry crumbs ($4.95). 520 Ellice Ave., 788-4858.
* * *
NOODLE EXPRESS doesn't have much atmosphere, but it is bright, clean, and close to many of the play venues. Ignore the clichéd Chinese combos; what you come for is the lengthy list of dim sum and other snacks, especially since (unlike those in most other dim sum houses) they are served all day, until 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Prices are unbeatable, too, from $2.40 for small to $3.80 for large. What's more, most are reduced to $2.30 during happy hour, from 2 p.m. until closing. You place your orders at the counter, but the food is brought to the table.
The meat fillings are good, but the best dumplings here are anything made with shrimp -- shrimp plain, or deluxe, or with scallops and coriander, or with mushrooms, or you name it. Special dishes are listed on a separate page, which is where you'll find noodles, rice dishes and congees ($4.99 to $7.99). Also one of the town's best bargains are the lobster rolls -- several big chunks of lobster, wrapped in seaweed, enclosed in pastry and deep-fried ($5.99). For vegetarians there are wonderful, slightly sweet slices of white turnip cake, and puffy, deep-fried onion cakes. For the adventurous, tripe or chicken or duck feet. For dessert, egg yolk tarts have universal appeal. 180 King St., 943-9760.
* * *
For a cheap, fast fix to eat at one of the few tables, or on the go, try one of ASIA CITY's Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches (most $3.25). They come on crusty, baguette-style rolls that are usually smeared with liver pate and stuffed with cold cuts or barbecued meats, plus slivers of pickled carrots. I recently had one that was new to me and delicious -- thin pork slices moistened with hoisin sauce and crunchy with peanuts. The bubble teas are among the city's best, with big, chewy tapioca balls at the bottom, to be sucked up through over-size straws ($3.95 to $4.25, top price for those made with fresh fruits). 519 Sargent Ave., 783-8118.
* * *
For more on-the-go eating SMOKE'S POUTINERIE offers a variety of poutines ($6.99 to $9.99). Among them, the traditional (fries, curds and gravy), chili, pulled pork, Italian meat sauce, and (my guilty favourite) the Hogtown of bacon, Italian sausage, mushrooms and caramelized onions. There are a few tables but the food is intended primarily for takeout, in which case the fries will have absorbed too much gravy to remain crisp by the time you get to eat them. Still, gravy-soaked fries are another of my guilty pleasures, several toppings are tasty, the curds are real curds (occasionally skimpy) and the gravy is neutral and not too salty. The poutines may not be special, but they are filling and satisfying. Also very, very popular -- be prepared for lineups. 131 Albert St., 253-2873.
* * *
Keep in mind also a few recently reviewed restaurants. Edohei for fine sushi and Makoto Ono's great creations, 355 Ellice Ave., 943-0427. Ellice Café for burgers, yam fries, meat loaf and great desserts, 587 Ellice Ave., 975-0800. Desperado for shrimp with scallops and mushrooms, chili-glazed chicken wings and chili flautas, 570 Sargent Ave., 415-2870. Harman's for kitfo (Ethiopian steak tartare), doro wot chicken wings, and the killer Ethiopian coffee, 570 Sargent Ave., 774-6997.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below.