Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Papa, can you feed me?

When night owls need to nosh, they head to the Osborne village eatery that never sleeps

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COUNT me among all those old grey mares, er, stallions, who ain't what they used to be.

Hard as it is to conceive of in a world which now revolves around a boy, his puppy and my deadlines, there was once a time when yours yawningly could dance at Broadway's 'til 3 a.m. before making tracks for Moskovitz and Moskowitz and a pre-dawn pastrami on rye. Night after bleary-eyed night.

Nowadays, it's all I can do to stay awake long enough to catch the "Law," never mind the "Order."

With this in mind, I recently paid a late-night/early-morning visit to Papa George's. The restaurant, situated at the corner of River and Osborne, has been catering to Winnipeg's nocturnal noshers for 25 years. Owner Nick Kontzamanis says people from all walks of life have come to depend on his kitchen being open six nights a week 'til 4 a.m. (The grill gets a much deserved breather on Sundays, getting off early at 1 a.m.)

Papa George's opened for business in 1978. The Nick-at-night hours took hold about six years later. Kontzamanis says the restaurant is named for his late brother.

"We were tossing around ideas and decided that George had the nicest ring to it."

It's two-and-a-half hours into a recent Saturday when late-night manager Shane Ross greets me at the door. Waving his arm about the room, he points out that Papa George's is already as swollen with people as it is with pizza.

"Right now we're just starting to get busy. During the winter months especially we have lineups out the door not long after the bars close," he says.

Ross generally stays at the restaurant until 6 a.m. before heading home to catch 40 much-needed winks.

"We're the last fully functional kitchen that's open other than the 24-hour joints. One of the reasons people come by is we always feature a full menu -- if you're in the mood for steak and lobster at 3 a.m. (and let's face it, who isn't?), we've got it."

Cinderella need not apply for a waitressing job. "Some of our servers don't even start before midnight. That's when things really start to pick up."

On this occasion, I join a pair of diners fresh off their night at the Empire Cabaret. While I'm still dreaming about my pillow, Carlos Montana is thinking about the Reuben. He says late-night pit-stops at Papa George's have become part of his weekend routine. "Ever since we saw that movie, Super Size Me, we've tried to avoid the burger joint drive-thrus and eat a little healthier."

I hate to be the one who bursts Montana's Atkins-approved bubble, but I'm thinking it's a safe bet even Jared isn't chowing down at Subway at three bells.

Kontzamanis says the specialty of the house isn't Nyquil but old-fashioned hospitality. Combine that with a clientele unafraid to howl at the moon and you have a proven Grecian formula for success.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2004

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