Mexico by way of Manitoba Collaborative menu at the Beer Cantina combines authentic cultural cuisine with fresh local ingredients
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/05/2021 (631 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Community comes first for chef Keith Csabak, so it’s fitting that he’s found himself cooking in a community gathering place. Csabak has worked in local kitchens for more than a decade and is now the head chef of the Beer Cantina, the new Mexican-inspired, in-house restaurant at the Beer Can’s pop-up riverside patio on Granite Way.
“Restaurants are like community institutions in a way; they create places that people can go and socialize and interact with people in their neighbourhood,” he says. “It’s the perfect fit, really.”
During its inaugural season last summer, the Beer Can (which was located in an empty lot on Main Street) relied on food trucks to feed guests; this year, with access to the kitchen at the Granite Curling Club, its founders decided to make food a permanent fixture.
A cantina-style menu was an obvious choice — both for the name and the casual dining connotations — but if they were going to serve tacos, they wanted to do so in a respectful way.
After consultations with members of Winnipeg’s Mexican community, chef Gina Navarro, owner of Provecho Market, was hired to provide guidance on the food and culture of the cantina.
“I’m bringing ideas of ingredients that are maybe not very popular here and then I can share some knowledge and how to use them,” says Navarro, who has been baking and cooking since she was a teen and studied gastronomy in her hometown of Zamora, Mexico.
Being asked to provide input on the restaurant has been a meaningful gesture.
“I feel very, very touched that they are doing it that way, respecting the culture and the gastronomy of my country,” she says. “And most importantly, I’m very excited to be able to work with another chef and somebody that wants to learn.”
Navarro, Csabak and sous chef Kayla Anderson have been collaborating on the menu and finding ways to use as many authentic Mexican ingredients and spices as possible, while also sourcing products from Manitoba farmers and businesses. The corn tortillas come from El Izalco Market, a Latin grocer on Sargent Avenue, and the kitchen has been working with Fireweed Food Hub to bring in local meat, fish and produce.
“It’s gonna allow me to be more creative,” Csabak says of the opportunity to work with seasonal ingredients. “And that promotes sustainability, which is, again, part of community (stewardship), so it’s just combining all that together.”
In Mexico, cantina culture centres around music, drinks, homemade finger food and dancing. To honour that, the Beer Cantina will be hosting monthly cantina nights, where guests will be treated to small bites made by Navarro and live music from local artists.
“I want it to be very authentic,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun, lots of music and endless food.”
The restaurant is open for takeout and eat-in dining seven days a week and staff will soon be serving up brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Csabak has lofty plans for the menu.
“I’m going to try to make 100 different tacos this summer,” he says. “People love getting the same thing every time they go to a place, so it’s going to be another challenge to educate guests that in Mexico, tacos change all the time and you work with what you’ve got, so I’m gonna try to do the same.”
Currently, the menu includes four taco varieties made with quinoa, chorizo, pickerel cheeks and roast chicken. There will always be vegan and vegetarian options available, as well as a selection of house-made salsas served with tortilla chips, and a creamy corn salad made with cotija and panela cheeses.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.