Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hotel's café surprises with attention to detail, generous portions

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Osborne Village may have been named the Best Neighbourhood in Canada, but I'd be surprised if the Osborne Village Inn was one of the factors. The hotel does have a reputation for — among other things — its rock bar venue. As a place to eat? Not so much. And if, in the past, you told someone you were going there for lunch they might have wondered if they'd heard you right.

But that's all changed since new chef Leighton Fontaine took over, and today the café is definitely worth checking out.

The light and airy space has a casual, homey charm. The decor is simple but cheery and light-filled, with white-painted stucco or brick walls and forest green accents, much of it from the pots of healthy greenery that add an air of freshness to the room. The menu is relatively short, divided almost equally between breakfasts and lunch-style dishes — all served all day, all affordably priced from $7 to $10, and all extraordinarily generous. Plates come almost overflowing with food, but still nicely presented.

It's basically a café menu, with no conventional dinner entrées. However, details get plenty of attention, and there was nothing that seemed perfunctory about anything I tried. There were little tip-offs to the chef's range and ambition — like the house-made tomato jam and roasted garlic on the big, juicy cheeseburger; or the bits of breaded pork belly in the delicately dressed caesar salad; or the crunch of crushed peanuts in the spinach salad's poppyseed vinaigrette. Even with mozzarella instead of curds, the poutine is delectably decadent, enlivened by the tang of the house cranberry chutney, and piled with heaps of fresh-cooked turkey (pulled pork with maple syrup barbecue sauce is an alternative).

There's one soup only and it changes daily. Our du jour was a hefty, hearty split pea soup, fleshed out with bits of pulled pork — not necessarily an improvement on ham or sausage (au contraire, in fact; ham or sausage might have provided better accents) — but delicious nevertheless.

Breakfast offers several interesting options. You can have two eggs any style — plain, with a choice of meat, hash browns and fruit, or garnished with avocado, a remarkably flavourful roasted tomato and delicate little pea shoots. Also with a quinoa pancake that lacked flavour, but was improved by a smear of the house-made strawberry jam.

The Hipster Omelette is one of the city's best omelettes — not flat and thin, like most I've had, but almost French-style, puffy and soft, folded over cheddar, avocado, lightly curried chick peas and mushrooms (it's listed as an egg white omelette, which is sacrilege to me, but one can — and we did — ask for it to be made with whole eggs). The hash browns with them weren't exactly browned, but they were wonderful, tasting as though they'd just been just cooked and then given a quick turn in the pan. Other omelette choices might be the Blue Collar (multi-meats, onions and cheddar) or the Porker (pulled pork, cheddar, cumin tomatoes and roasted corn).

I have to declare my prejudices. I'm a traditionalist about potato latkes, and these were laced with shredded beets, which rendered them less crisp than the beet-less versions I know. They were good though — sprinkled with shreds of spinach and tiny cubes of sautéed red pepper, topped by a lovely dollop of crème fraiche and garnished with slices of fresh fruits. And, in fairness, I have to report that my friends thought they were wonderful.

Those on a quest for the ultimate clubhouse sandwich should investigate the Club Maison. It's a marvellous monster, packed inches high with fresh-roasted turkey (both white and dark meat), cheddar, a mustardy mayo and bits of cranberry. Also, instead of bacon, thick slices of wonderful braised pork belly, and plenty of them. Also good, the pulled pork sandwich, topped by roasted pineapple and raisin-cabbage cole slaw.

I've never been a fan of spaghetti squash, but my friends love it and this version — tossed with feta, mushrooms, avocado and basil tomato sauce, and baked under a mozzarella topping — almost converted me. Other vegetarian options include curried chickpeas with either quinoa cakes or wild rice, or a curried chickpea and wild rice burger.

There are only three desserts, and the chocolate-peanut butter pie wasn't available on my visits. But the multi-berry pie of the week, on an excellent short crust was delicious, and the apple crisp with Jaegermeister ice cream was splendid. And oh yes, the coffee was good too.

Service has been pleasant but occasionally slow, whether in a less than half-full room, or in a room that was packed, as it often is these days. Come for a leisurely meal, not a quickie — the food is worth waiting for.

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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 c5

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