Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Trans-Canada Highway location unlikely spot for masterfully spiced dishes

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Headingley? Not usually a culinary destination, nor even much of a jaunt into the countryside. But it isn't the city either -- exurbia is more like it. You can get there via Portage Avenue, but the drive along Roblin Boulevard, through Charleswood to Headingley (four kilometres from the Perimeter), offers a pleasant and near-bucolic experience of colourful fall foliage, with occasional views of the river.

However, that wasn't the reason for my visit. What brought me to Headingley was the Roadhouse Eatery, a huge barn of a dining room, with a huge lounge attached, that once was home to a Salisbury House. It still looks like a Sals, with a counter and captains' chairs near the kitchen, and the rest of the space nicely divided into cosy areas. The decor is simple but pleasant -- I particularly liked the big, comfortable Victorian-style chairs -- and it's also child-friendly, with some games tucked away in one corner.

Given the location, any restaurant would pretty much need to be all things to all nearby residents, as well as to passing motorists and truckers on Highway No. 1. So it's no surprise that the menu lists such standard Canadiana as breakfasts, burgers, steaks, sandwiches and chicken dishes. In fact, chicken rules the roost with 10 listings, half of them Canadian, half Indian. I can't report on the Canadian dishes. The Indian dishes were the reason for my excursion, and they were good enough to be worth the drive.

The chef pulls no punches when it comes to the spicing which was masterful, in sauces that were distinctive and notably free of grease -- nothing tongue-searing, but our requested medium was nippy enough for me. Prices range from $12.50 to $17.50, including basmati rice that was nicely prepared (but barely warm), and a heaping basketful of terrific naan -- freshly baked, puffy, tender and flavourful, ideal for dipping into those excellent sauces.

The list of Indian dishes is short and limited -- no lassis, or Indian sweets or even chai -- and if you don't like chicken you may be in trouble, since the only alternatives are a Beef Coconut Fry and Spicy Grilled Fish (more about that later). But that said, all the chicken dishes

I tried were delicious. My only complaint would be that, good as they were, they would have been even better if they'd been made with chicken on the bone, instead of the boneless and less flavourful or juicy breast.

One of the most interesting among them is the locally rare South Indian Chicken Curry, in a robust, richly layered sauce with hints of tamarind and heaps of onions, and packing -- in typical South Indian fashion -- a lot more heat than the other dishes. By contrast, butter chicken came in a mild and velvety, tomato-tinged sauce that was impossible to resist, down to the last dip of naan. The unsauced tandoori chicken is the dish that would most have benefited from bone-in pieces, but even though the thinner parts were slightly dry, most of it was moist enough, and the seasoning, with a slight lemony undertone, was wonderful.

The Indian dish I'm most often disappointed in is biryani, which so rarely lives up to its menu descriptions -- most I've tried have been bland, boring and barely spiced at all. Not the Roadhouse chicken biryani, though, which was, unquestionably, one of the best I can remember -- the rice fragrant with complex spices, fleshed out generously by chunks of freshly cooked chicken and sparked by the crunch of cashews, with wee hits of sweetness from raisins and thread-thin slivers of fried onion.

There are usually daily specials. Not all of them are Indian but, fortunately, a special on one of my visits was a sumptuous lamb curry of tender meat in a dark brown, full-flavoured sauce, so good it ought to be on the permanent menu. One of the menu's rare alternatives to chicken was another south Indian dish, the beef coconut fry, cubes of spicily marinated beef with bits of coconut -- dryish, but with a addictive flavour. I'd probably try it again, but not the spicy grilled fish -- haddock that was nicely grilled but topped by a thick paste of onions that wasn't spicy at all, just surprisingly bland and flavourless. The only other Indian dishes on the menu are chicken tikka and curried chickpeas (unsampled).

There is a separate lounge menu, which you won't get to see in the dining room unless you ask for it, and it is worth asking for since that's where you'll find the house-made samosas. They are listed at three for $11, but our serving consisted of six tiny ones, some stuffed with potatoes and peas, others with a spinach mixture -- not nearly enough of them for that unrealistically high $11, but excellent.

There are no Indian desserts, and only one that is made in-house but it's irresistible -- orange-drenched sponge cake layered with bits of orange and whipped cream ($4.50). Service was friendly and attentive -- not always knowledgeable about the food, but always willing to get the answers to our questions.

Dining Out

Roadhouse Eatery

  • 5540 Portage Avenue, Headingley, 204-888-2255
  • Licensed
  • Wheelchair access
  • Four stars

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 September 28, 2012 D3

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