I indulged in a few sentimental lunches last week on foods I love but rarely find -- all, incidentally, worth adding to your cheap list. The first was at IKEA, in the plain, white ambience of the enormous (651 seats) cafeteria, which looks almost antiseptic, but has big, well-spaced tables and comfortable chairs. Even if you're there at 11 a.m., when lunch service starts, you'll probably be in a lineup, and you'll probably be in another lineup, waiting to pay the cashier. Still, much of what I had was worth waiting for.
Some of it was even elegant. The sandwich of sweet little shrimp and hard-boiled egg slices, for instance, on a slice of good, dense bread, at a mere $3.99. If shared, it works as an appetizer; if not, a light lunch. I wish the same bread had come with the beautiful marinated salmon instead of the hard, flavourless biscuit, but other than that, this superlative starter was a buy at $4.99.
But the sentimental object of my visit was the Swedish meatballs, which I had on my first visit to New York and rarely since. These ones were so moist, so flavourful (with a heady whiff of nutmeg) and so very good. You can have them with fries, but classically they belong with the cream gravy (probably packaged, but inoffensive), the mashed potatoes (probably frozen, but soothing) and the lovely lingonberry jam (10 meatballs for $4.99; 15 for $5.99; 20 for $6.99, all with the works).
Thin, crisp batter enclosed fresh-tasting haddock, and the fries with it were terrific ($6.49). The only disappointment was a chunk of fishy-tasting salmon in a sauce that didn't taste like the promised hollandaise, but with the almost saving grace of wonderful potato-broccoli cakes ($7.99).
There weren't many desserts that day, but the butterscotch almond cake was pretty good ($1.99).
At 11 a.m. our meatballs had just been cooked, and I can't predict the effect of longer waits on the steam table -- I've been told of dryish meatballs later in the day -- but they are also sold frozen in the main floor food market at $7.99 for a 1.12-kg bag. Other good takeout choices are 600 grams of potato-broccoli cakes at $6.99 and 200 g of the marinated salmon for $5.99. Tiny, cooked cold-water shrimp are $5.99 for 500 g, but note: unlike the shrimp in the restaurant's sandwich, these are head-on and unshelled. A 250-g jar of delicious marinated herring is a buy at $2.99.
Getting to the restaurant was a breeze -- just up the escalator near the entrance, et voilà. Getting out wasn't so easy. Apparently there is an elevator and staircase not too far away, but we didn't find them and I comforted myself with the thought I'd worked off half of my lunch calories. Restaurant hours are Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 8.p.m.; Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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The Bake Oven -- a venerable (since 1955) bakery-cum-deli-cum-minimart -- offers a few Dutch specialties in its attached Bruine Café. Since its expansion into a brighter, and less cluttered space, it actually looks less like the little brown cafés I remember from my beloved Amsterdam.
You place your orders at the counter, but the pleasant servers bring the food to your table. The menu now offers familiar sandwiches ($3.50 to $5.99), but we had come for the uniquely Dutch specialties: the log-shaped beef or chicken kroketten for starters, breaded on the outside, creamy within, served with mustard and a slice of bread ($4.95 for two). Or the frikadellen -- a hotdog-like pork sausage in a soft bun with piccalilli mustard and curry ketchup ($3.95). Pretend you're on a street in Amsterdam and have the fabulous, lightly brined matjes herring with onions ($5.99 for two fillets), and to go with everything, the excellent frites with a mustardy mayonnaise ($2.95).
Some of the house-made desserts are displayed in the cafe's cooler, but most baked items in the store can also be ordered by the slice (most $3.99). On our visit there was a lovely crumb-topped rhubarb pie, a rich mocha layer cake and a heavenly butter tart square. Also, be sure to check the freezer in the back of the store where you'll find the same kroketten, frikadellen and herring, as well as the mildly smoked eel. Cafe hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
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During a couple of misspent years in Ann Arbor, Mich., one of our escapes was the drive to Detroit to stock up in the great Polish meat markets. But although this city abounds in good East European cured meats, the M & S Meat Market is a favourite Polish paradise with enough choices to drive me into a frenzy of indecision, especially on Saturdays when they bring out their biggest guns.
The variety seems endless -- garlicky kielbasa, elegant ham sausage, fine smoked ham, peppercorn-studded salami, mellow mielonka, semi-dry krakowska, bacon-style ribs, a pâté-like liver spread and plump, juicy wieners. Also, and not least, two stunning garlicky, glittery headcheeses, especially the one studded with tongue (most $9.50 to $17.50).
On Saturdays there are some cooked preparations, as well. The roasted ribs are so juicy and so flavourful you may never barbecue again, and there are containers of meat loaf, and fat and tender crepes rolled with minced meat (sauerkraut is an occasional alternative). Sometimes there's borscht and, usually, tripe soup.
M & S opens at 9 a.m., Wednesday to Friday, and at 8 a.m. Saturday. At 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday I had a short wait -- an hour later the place was packed and everybody on my side of the counter was speaking Polish. There was no problem communicating with those on the other side, though. The staff were wonderfully patient while I dithered my way through so many wee purchases of this and that.
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.