I never did see the HBO Canada series Less Than Kind -- my loss, apparently, judging by some reviews that proclaimed it one of the best television series ever. Astonishing (considering what a Winnipeg booster I am) that I didn't even know it had been produced here, or (even more astonishing, given my profession) that several of its scenes were shot in Juliana.
I can see why they chose it. The decor is hard to classify -- a little of this, a little more of that. Some think it dated, but I find it charming, in a warm, old-fashioned way -- a cosy clutter of a place, with nary a trace of trend. There are occasional statues -- one, a nymph (I think) holding a lyre, partially hidden within a little jungle of greenery (including a fig tree) near the entrance. A couple of mermaids loll sensuously in a strip of stained glass just under an undulating slatted wood ceiling, and there are more details to engage the eye than I can remember.
Juliana's background could be a microcosm of Winnipeg ethnicity. It was opened by a Greek family in 1976, and several years later a Vietnamese woman came to work in the kitchen, where she learned how to cook Greek food from the owners. Eventually, she bought the place but, so far as I know, never introduced any Vietnamese dishes. She continued with the original menu, and although I don't think I ever had any of the food she did make, according to reports it remained delicious.
But for almost a decade now, there has been a third set of owners. It's still very much a family restaurant -- he's out front, she's in the kitchen -- and although she still offers some basic Greek dishes, she has added some specialties from her homeland, Jamaica. And does equally well by both cuisines.
There are only three Greek entrees, but the marinated chicken and pork souvlaki are moist and flavourful, and the moussaka rivals the city's best. Each goes for $17.95 at dinner, including rice or roasted potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, Greek salad and a roll, or $10.99 at lunch, minus the rice and mushrooms. The potatoes are less lemony than most Greek potatoes, but they are good, and the salad is fresh and delicious. The souvlaki also come in pitas with salad for $11.95 at dinner, or $10.99 at lunch.
The list of Jamaican entrees is longer but still limited, ranging from $18.95 to $19.95. They are garnished with a flavourful mixture of rice and the dark red kidney beans the Jamaicans call peas (there's also a dollop of mixed frozen-tasting veggies, which you don't have to eat). They also come with a choice of salad -- Greek, caesar or tossed (opt for the Greek; the others come in commercial dressings).
I'd have a hard time choosing among my three favourite Jamaican entrees, all of them, as it happens, long-simmered stews. The succulent oxtail in a mellow dark brown gravy is the least spicy of the lot -- in fact you might not associate it with Jamaica at all -- but it is rich in flavour and meaty juices, and so tender the meat slips off the bones. Juliana's meltingly tender goat curry is one of the better goat preparations I can remember, and should convert those who think they don't like goat -- spicier than the oxtail, but still relatively mild, as curries go, with a touch of sweetness in the sauce.
The cubes of jerk pork aren't grilled, as they often are elsewhere, but slow-cooked as well, with a bold, rich flavour and a spicier kick than the above two -- not searing but wonderfully tasty. Jerk chicken is an alternative, both $11.99 at lunch, with salad. I also liked the half-rack of ribs, in a sauce that balanced the tangy and the (only slightly) spicy. The firm-fleshed kingfish, in an also slightly sweet sauce, was dry in parts -- passable, but not on a par with the other dishes.
There are rotis, of course -- beef, chicken or, in our case, shrimp, in a version I've never seen before, not full-size shrimp rolled in a roti, but tiny ones, with equally tiny bits of potato in a mild sauce that covered the roti, and can only be eaten with a knife and fork ($12.95 with salad).
Actually, the spiciest dish I had here was the beef patties, which, although imported from Jamaica, were nevertheless very good ($11.95 with salad). They were hot enough for me, but for those who like their food incendiary -- on the patties or any of the other dishes -- a drop or two of the bottled Barbadian hot sauce will do the trick.
It's not all Greek and Jamaican, though. There are a few baked pastas, which I didn't try ($8.95 each), but throughout all its dispensations Juliana has also been known for its pizzas, and they are still delicious, with a thin, flavourful crust and tasty toppings, from $7.50 for nine inches with cheese to $20.95 for 15 inches of the jerk chicken with onions and green pepper. My own carnivorous favourite is the Meat Lovers with pepperoni, ham, sausage and bacon.
The menu lists rum cake but, alas, it's no longer available; there's only a cheesecake, which is not house-made. There is a rum punch, but I can never resist the great, zingy house-made ginger beer (non-alcoholic).
Service was hospitable and helpful, but might be taxed by a full house. And oh yes, they deliver.