Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Welcome to the neighbourhood

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What's new in the West End? The Black Sheep, for one, a cheerful square room, with big, plant-lined windows overlooking the street, an old upright piano at the other end, and in between a quirky interior with mismatched tables and chairs and a few artworks on the walls. The piano is there for anyone who wants to play it, but as of a few weeks ago (according to our waitress) nobody had. In any case, you can choose your music from a big collection of old LP's.

It doesn't fit your classic diner definition -- no counter seating along one wall, with booths opposite, and, breakfasts apart, only a few diner dishes (i.e. burgers yes, shakes, no). No classic diner hours either, for that matter; it's open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. only, Tuesday to Friday, and 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Just don't take the diner part of it too seriously, and enjoy this nice little cafe for what it is -- a friendly haven for students (it's minutes from the University of Winnipeg) as well as the young at heart, with an amiable staff, and food that, while limited in scope, is carefully prepared.

Don't make the mistake of coming for lunch on a weekend, since only breakfast foods are served then, and make a point of getting there early, or you may find yourself waiting for a table. Those breakfasts (served during the week also) include such items as free-range eggs, toast with lovely house-made preserves and hot, strong, organic coffee. Among the choices are one egg with toast ($2.50), house-made granola or oatmeal ($4), buttermilk pancakes or french toast ($5.50), or a sandwich of egg, tomato and cheese on a bagel, paired with hash browns or fruit salad ($5.25). Get there before 10 a.m. any day and $5.50 will buy you two eggs, bacon or farmer sausage and hash browns, toast and coffee.

There's also the hefty Breakfast Adventure. Although undermixed and overcooked when scrambled, the eggs were properly runny when poached. The $6.50 tab includes toast, coffee and a choice of three sides from a list that includes excellent smoked farmer's sausage, crisp bacon, good hash browns, underseasoned and dry house-made cider baked beans, nicely sautéed spinach, roasted tomatoes and -- only sometimes, and unsampled -- tofu, plantains and (sob, not on my visit) potato latkes. As well, there's a tasty Black Sheep omelet filled with chèvre cheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach, paired with either fresh fruit or hash browns ($6).

Lunch might be a vegetarian chili ($5) or a nut-burger with lettuce, tomato, chutney, and a choice of chèvre, New Bothwell Cheese or avocado ($8.50).

Other lunchers can sink their carnivorous teeth into a big bison burger (alternately of organic beef), with choice of cheese and honey mustard or garlic aioli ($8.50), or crusty Italian bread filled with spicy Italian sausage, roasted red pepper, cheese and caramelized onions ($7.50). Or, for that matter, into a deli classic of satiny smoked salmon with cream cheese and onions on rye ($7.50.) All sandwiches include a choice of crisp, fresh salad, soup (a too-chunky tomato on my visit) or those excellent hash browns.

There were only two desserts on my visits, but both the chewy, chocolate-studded honey-flavoured cookie and the square of minty chocolate fudge were delicious (75 cents each).

Nearby, still on Ellice, is the also-new Food Tree. The Middle Eastern-looking mural on the side wall might lead you to expect falafel and hummus, but it's actually a Korean restaurant, which offers a few specialties that are worth trying. Since there are only 10 seats in the rear of the bright, spacious room, and many of the dishes are displayed, already packaged, in a cooler in front, chances are much of the business is intended for take-out. I tried one served-at-table meal, another of take-out food, and in both cases most dishes were savoury and good, all moderately priced from $5.49 to $7.49.

Our in-house meal started with complimentary glasses of cold corn-based tea (it tastes a little like puffed rice), and then little saucers of wonderful pickled turnip, which turned up again in tiny dice in our fresh-tasting Korean-style canned tuna sushi. We had deep-fried mandoo dumplings -- heaps of them, but without much filling or flavour -- but did much better with translucent japchae vermicelli, streaked with shreds of vegetables, shiitaki mushrooms and a whiff of sesame oil, and with delicious, salty-sweet slices of bulgogi beef.

The take-out meal was equally good. A container of spicy kimchi cabbage came from the cooler, but other items were prepared to order: sushi stuffed with tempura shrimp; slices of moderately spicy stir-fried pork, and -- the star of both visits -- wonderful nuggets of chicken, glazed in a lip-tingling red chili paste and dotted by sesame seeds.

Both kitchen and service appear to be a one-woman operation. I was there early, on slow days, so I can't predict what might happen during a busy period, but on my visits she managed both areas with warmth and patience.

Black Sheep

540 Ellice Ave. / 786-2822

Food Tree

519 Ellice Ave. / 786-3453

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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