Haute and cold
Brunch offers a reservation-free, low-cost way to check out the resto on the river
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Long johns, wool socks, a thermal shirt and a fleece sweater. A knitted neckwarmer, toque, gloves, floor-length parka and lined boots. Sunglasses to save my eyeballs from the bright and deceptively warm sun streaming through the windows. Are snow pants overkill?
It’s Sunday morning and -27 C outside — but feels like -37 C. I’m battling the urge to get back into bed, but am instead preparing to venture into the polar vortex for a novel Winnipeg winter activity: brunch.
RAW:almond kicked off its three-week residency on the Assiniboine River last Thursday and launched its new daytime brunch concept over the weekend. The fine dining event, which last took place in 2019, has offered full-service breakfast in the past, but this year, chef and founder Mandel Hitzer is experimenting with an à la carte model that resembles a pop-up café with a rotating cast of local chefs and bakers.
There are no tickets and no reservations. Just walk up, grab a bite and a cup of coffee — provided bites are still available.
Opening weekend featured the buzzy baking of Cloe Wiebe, a.k.a. Crumb Queen. The menu included orange creamsicle, honey and cinnamon sugar crullers, savoury potato danishes and chocolate cookies.
Brunch is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. inside the structure east of The Forks port. When we arrived an hour after opening there were all but two cookies left — apologies to the equally bundled family with young kids that walked in after us.
The coffee was strong and the cookies were great: chewy and chocolatey with a hint of espresso and a sprinkling of flaky salt. But it was a snack rather than a meal.
Anything RAW:almond touches tends to create a frenzy. I was expecting brunch to be popular, but I wasn’t expecting so many Winnipeggers to leave the warm, windless comfort of their homes for baked goods on the coldest weekend of the winter thus far. Did I mention it felt like -37 C? Turns out, limited supply and an exclusive location are motivation enough to brave the elements.
Wiebe started selling goodies as Crumb Queen amid the pandemic and has gained a loyal following through pop-up bake sales. Without a permanent storefront or regular schedule, the thrill of the hunt adds to the popularity of her doughnuts, croissants and cookies. Customers were apparently clamouring for the scarce pastries over the weekend.
Brunch is also a chance for the general public to experience RAW:almond. Tickets for this year’s iteration were $225 per person — an inaccessible price point for many (myself included) — and sold out quickly. Daytime patrons are welcome to sit and check out the space while enjoying moderately priced fare. Everything on the Sunday’s menu was under $5.
From the outside, the structure looks like an oversized tent. Pass through the bright yellow triangular door and you’ll find yourself inside an oversized tent.
The temporary restaurant, designed by Joe Kalturnyk, is simpler, and perhaps smaller, than years past. There are no stylized wooden beams or artsy pendant lights; just metal scaffolding, white tarps and skylights. The river ice is visible along the perimeter of the tent and a pair of long, unvarnished tables are speckled with red wine stains from the previous night’s service.
If you’re keen to take in RAW:almond’s brunch, arrive early, dress warmly and prepare a back-up plan.
The team behind Hoagie Boyz, South Osborne sandwich shop, will hit the ice this weekend from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or until sold out. The menu includes a selection of breakfast sammies, fully loaded hot chocolate, coffee and tea. Crumb Queen returns Feb. 11 and 12 for the final weekend of RAW:almond 2023. Visit raw-almond.com/brunch for more info.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.