With more than 40 restaurants in its 20 blocks, the Exchange District is a veritable foodie paradise. So when the Exchange District BIZ was looking to expand its specialty walking-tour programming last year, it didn't need to look far for inspiration.
Launched in 2013, the Exchange District food tours -- which allow locals and visitors alike to discover (or re-discover) some of the city's culinary gems and the heritage buildings that house them -- were an instant hit, selling out by July 1 by the sheer power of word-of-mouth. Obviously, Winnipeggers have a voracious appetite for culinary tourism experiences, even if they're in their own backyard.
"It's a great way to try new things without having to commit to a whole meal," says Stephanie Scherbain, marketing and communications co-ordinator for the Exchange District Biz. "One of the highlights for people was being able to engage with managers and chefs," she says. "People loved being able to ask questions. It's as much about the interaction as the food."
It's also just as much about the neighbourhood as it is about the food. Participants will pick up all kinds of trivia about the Exchange District's history. "We want to offer an experience that goes beyond the palate," Scherbain says.
To keep up with demand, food tours will run four days a week, up from two. The popular dinner-time Devour the District tours will return on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings and the laid-back Afternoon Delight tours will return on Wednesdays. Each tour will feature five area eateries. Participating restaurants include Boon Burger, Carnaval, Cibo Waterfront Cafe, Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria, deer + almond, Don Pedro's Mexican Kitchen, Fox and Fiddle, Hermanos Restaurant and Wine Bar, Peasant Cookery and Shwarma Khan.
New this year is the Little South America Tour, which will run Monday nights. Featuring Carnaval, Hermanos and Corrientes, this tour features sizzling Latin-inspired cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay with a regional wine or cocktail pairing.
Of course, the idea for a Little South America tour came from Noel Bernier, the prolific restaurateur who brought Little South America to the Exchange District. Bernier owns all three eateries on the tour. He opened Hermanos, an upscale South American-style steakhouse, in 2009, after a life-changing trip to Buenos Aires ignited a passionate love affair with South American cuisine.
The collaborative, fusion menu draws inspiration from what he calls the "gaucho belt" -- Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Hermanos has become a favourite among locals and visitors; even earned a rave from singer Michael Bublé. "His wife is from Argentina, so I consider that high praise," Bernier told tour participants on Monday night.
In 2012, Bernier followed up Hermanos with Corrientes, an Argentine pizzeria. It's named for the main street in Buenos Aires, although most cities in Argentina have a Corrientes equivalent. Avenida Corrientes is Buenos Aires' cultural backbone, with cafés, theatres and bookstores, its denizens, artists, actors and writers. It's also home to many pizzerias, thanks to Argentina's massive Italian population.
Carnaval opened in 2013, and has the designation of being Winnipeg's only all-you-can-eat Brazilian churrascaria, with meats carved at the table by gauchos, just as it is in Brazil.
For those planning on heading on the Little South American tour, arrive hungry -- and remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. The first leg is at Carnaval, where you will be able to sample a variety of the meats on offer -- fraldinha (skirt steak), picanha (sirloin cap) and pork sirloin -- as well as seasonal sides, such as panzanella and heart of palm salad. The wine pairing is a bold Salton cabernet sauvignon.
Over at Hermanos, you'll tuck into a sausage and pepper board -- complete with chimichurri for dipping, of course -- traditional Peruvian ceviche (made with Lake Manitoba pickerel), Milanesa (tenderized, breaded and deep-fried beef) and some of the most delicious Brazilian empanadas this side of the equator.
While you can sample a lip-puckering Pisco Sour, Hermanos has the distinction of being the first in Manitoba to serve Uruguayan Tannat -- one of the most prominent grapes in that country. It's a big, inky wine that pairs perfectly with a brawny menu. (Heritage moment: Bernier was attracted to Hermanos' space in the Ashdown Warehouse because its exposed brick and Douglas fir beams mirrored the architecture he encountered in Buenos Aires, where insulation and drywall isn't a requirement due to the climate.)
After that, it's off to Corrientes for a sweet finish. You will be treated to the gianduia, which is usually served as a rich chocolate and hazelnut torte but we enjoyed it in a mousse-like presentation. A Nutella comparison is apt; Italy's favourite spread was originally called Pasta Gianduja.