If you're looking for lunch in the Exchange, the following three options, which are clustered within a few blocks of each other, should ease your hunger pangs. There may be the occasional breakfast dish, but their mainstays are sandwiches, soups and salads. Since parking can be difficult, much of their clientele is within walking distance -- living, working, studying or shopping in the area, but almost everything they make is available for takeout, and most of it will be delicious.
- Kay's Deli has a few tables and chairs, five counter stools and a few easy chairs near the windows. Street parking is fairly easy (albeit metered), making it fairly accessible for eating in -- you order and pay at the till, but the food is brought to your table. Given its pint-sized space, I suspect more food is taken out than eaten in, but whatever you have and wherever you eat it, it will be top-notch.
The sandwiches, which come on harvest grain, marble rye or sourdough breads, are generous and filled with excellent ingredients ($6.95 to $7.95). The clubhouse (two slices of bread only, mercifully), is stacked with thick slices of freshly roasted chicken and bacon with provolone, cheddar, onions and roasted garlic mayo. There are thick slices of chicken in the Greek as well, along with roasted red pepper, cucumber and citrus mayo. A grilled Italian panino is particularly savoury, with shaved capicola with provolone, spinach, tomato, cucumber and a roasted-garlic lemon mayo. There's also a tasty veggie burger of carrots, quinoa, pecans and potatoes in an onion kaiser bun with either mango-dill yogurt or sweet-chili sauces, and the management is obliging about creating gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian versions of any of the sandwiches.
The soups and salads are sold la carte -- $3.95 a cup, $4.95 a bowl for the soups, $5.95 a half and $7.95 full-size for the salads, all with bread, but they are also available as sides with the sandwiches, ranging from $2.75 for caesar salad to $3.25 for soup, and they are worth the extra price. Both the roasted chicken and wild-rice soup with a hint of rosemary, and a chunky-tomato soup tangy with pesto and feta were exceptional. Equally impressive were the house salad of greens with julienned carrots and cranberries in a maple sesame vinaigrette and the mango, spinach and jicama with sugar-glazed almonds in an apple cider and mango vinaigrette.
There are no house-made desserts, but the fresh fruit-based drinks are lovely ($5.50 for 12 ounces, $6.50 for 16 ounces). My favourite is the Citrus Sunrise of strawberry, orange and mango juices, but I also liked the Pompassion of carrot, apple and pomegranate juices. There are smoothies as well (unsampled) at $5.25 for 16 ounces. Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
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- Underground Cafe is the largest of the three, with approximately 50 seats -- a subterranean but cheerful room with colourful graffiti on the walls, an open kitchen and full table service. I'm a carnivore to the core, but I'd happily give up at least one meat meal for the fabulous Sunburger of toasted sesame and sunflower seeds, mozzarella, rice and eggs, moistened by a dilly lime sauce. The Sunburger may be the best known choice, but I also love the lightly curried tuna and chicken salad sandwiches (the chicken is roasted with wine and butter). Prices range from $4.75 to $7, but many are available in generous half portions for $3 to $4. Other popular fillings include hummus and the Wendy egg salad with dill pickle and cheddar.
The Greek salad was mostly greens and could have used more tomatoes, but it was delicious, with good olives, plenty of feta and a dressing that was both flavourful and light ($6.25 for half, $9 full-size). I also liked the vegetable-barley soup du jour ($2.50 a cup, $4.50 a bowl) and there are always big, homey cookies to finish with -- chocolate chip and oatmeal on my visits ($2 each). Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
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- With only four counter seats, White Star's food is primarily intended for takeout. There are a few vegetarian options for the health-conscious -- a rice-based veggie burger or a mushroom-green pepper melt, for instance, but basically, this is a meat-eater's paradise and the owner clearly has a sense of humour -- a bacon cheeseburger with fries and pop is listed as a Diet Plate Special ($13).
I've often been disappointed in pulled pork -- either in the consistency of the meat or in the flavour of the sauce -- but White Star's hand-pulled pork with a house-made barbecue sauce is terrific, topped with slaw and available as well with bacon and/or cheese ($5.75 to $8.95). The clubhouse was dry (both toast and turkey), but the burgers are big and juicy, with a real beefy flavour. They range from $5.25 for the basics to $9.25 with bacon, cheese and/or perfectly cooked fresh mushrooms. There are also such specialty burgers as the Phylly cheese, blue cheese, a melt with mozzarella and caramelized onions and the Mortimer, topped with pulled pork ($7.50 to $9.25).
The fries are skinny, crisp and flavourful ($3 to $5), and although it is made with mozzarella instead of curds, I found the poutine irresistible (from $4.75 for a generous half-size to $9.25 with pulled pork). There are good house-made peanut butter cookies ($1.75 each), milkshakes ($5.35) and floats ($3.75). Open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
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.