Winnipeg Jets season ticket holders Chris Zuk and Chris Carman aren't sure what they're missing more because of the NHL lock-out: the on-ice action or the grub that goes along with it.
"To me, they're intertwined; one doesn't go without the other," says Zuk, who ate a Jets Dog -- that's a cut-up perogy and a wiener on a bun -- at every game he attended last season at the MTS Centre.
"I had the same thing, and a box of popcorn," Carman pipes in. "For me, it became a part of the whole experience."
To date, the labour dispute has cost Zuk and Carman eight home games. And eight Jets Dogs. That has the seatmates opining on what they'd like to see included in whatever deal the owners and players eventually settle on.
"When the two sides come to an agreement, they owe every one of us a coupon for a perogy dog," Zuk says.
If you're like Zuk and Carman -- starved for hockey and just plain starving -- we may have a solution.
There are close to 40 indoor hockey arenas in and around Winnipeg. Most have an on-site canteen where parents can grab something to munch on while they're cheering on the NHL's future strike force.
Zuk and Carman accompanied us on a taste-tour of arena canteens to find out how the chow there compares to what's available at the MTS Centre. (Hockey moms and dads were helpful about telling us where to head next; one father is convinced that his son's coach schedules Sunday morning practices at the Sanford Arena just so he can go there for breakfast.)
After consuming more than our share of vending machine coffee, microwave nachos and roller-grilled hot dogs, we were able to come up with a three-star selection of what we consider the best hockey canteens in town. (If you disagree with our picks -- or want to add to them -- send your selections to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll award one reader a $20 gift certificate to Subway, which opened a kiosk in the MTS Centre on Nov. 9.)
Maples Multiplex, 434 Adsum Dr.
A couple of years ago, Virgin 103 FM DJ Ace Burpee asked listeners where the best takeout food in Winnipeg was. One caller nominated the canteen at the Maples Multiplex -- a stand run by the same people who own Meteor Mike's, a seasonal burger bar located at West Hawk Lake.
"Our menu at the rink is pretty much the same as what we serve at the beach," says Brenda Melnyk, who cooks alongside her husband, Wally.
Warning: you don't want to go to Meteor Mike's sporting Toronto Maples Leafs colours.
"Wally is a huge Canadiens fan," Brenda says. "If you come here in a Toronto jersey, he gives you the Leafs Burger Special, which is just the bun."
What we tried: Mac & cheese wedges ($3.50); cactus cuts ($4.00); cheeseburger ($4.25).
The cactus cuts reminded us of breaded scalloped potatoes -- deep-fried and served with sour cream and chives. The mac & cheese wedges are crunchy on the outside, with a filling of what tastes just like Kraft Dinner. They are also served with sour cream, although Brenda told us that the wedges taste just as good cold, with a side of ketchup.
VERDICT: 4.5 PUCKS OUT OF 5
Dakota Lazers Canteen Jonathan Toews Community Centre,
1188 Dakota St.
"This is a million-dollar idea waiting to happen," Zuk says, as he polishes off the remaining bits of his taco-in-a-bag.
"People complain all the time about how their chip bags contain all this empty air, but this is the perfect solution," adds Carman. "Fill it with lettuce, tomatoes, ground beef and cheese."
Taco-in-a-bag has been on the menu at the Dakota Lazers Canteen for about a year, says canteen manager Ashley McGraw.
"But our most popular item is probably our poutine. We have been told by many parents and ice officials that we have the best in town."
What we tried: Cheese perogies ($3.50); taco-in-a-bag ($4.50); chicken fingers ($4.50).
While Zuk remains convinced that the cheese perogies we tried don't rival his Baba's, he says that the taco-in-a-bag would be a bargain at twice the price.
"It's so good it might put Carlos & Murphy's out of business," he goes on. "They should call this place Dakota & Murphy's."
VERDICT: 4 PUCKS OUT OF 5
Old Skool Café
Notre Dame Arena, 271 Cathedral Ave.
The Old Skool Café is located on the second level of the Notre Dame Arena. Not too long ago, people who lived in the area headed there for breakfast, even when there were no hockey games scheduled.
"We used to be open full-time during the week, but now it's mostly just game days and the occasional practice," says Cheryl Mindudier. (The cafe still serves a full breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays, from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m.)
New on the menu this year is a chicken burger and caesar salad, Mindudier says, adding that parents tell her that they make a point of not eating at home if their child has a game at Notre Dame.
What we tried: Chicken burger ($5); poutine ($4.75); "fresh-popped" popcorn ($2.25).
"I'm not kidding-- this popcorn is better than what they serve at MTS Centre," Zuk says. "It's fresh... it's nice and salty; there's a bit of butter flavour but really, it doesn't even need it."
"I love canteens that have a second floor looking out over the arena -- there aren't enough of them in Winnipeg," Carman says, calling his dinner "serviceable." "What I especially like is that the parents can stay up here, where they can't yell at their kids or the ref."
VERDICT: 3.5 PUCKS OUT OF 5