Stars for simplicity

At popular café's new Pembina location, basic breakfasts, lunches stand out


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Have you ever had this experience at a restaurant? All the dishes being carried past you to other tables look thrillingly daring. They lure you with dramatic presentation, obscure ingredients, intriguing scents.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/06/2016 (2353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Have you ever had this experience at a restaurant? All the dishes being carried past you to other tables look thrillingly daring. They lure you with dramatic presentation, obscure ingredients, intriguing scents.

You look down at your own plate, and suddenly your regular order seems dull and unambitious.


BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS New Stella's location serves up great breakfassts on a rooftop patio.

The opposite holds true at Stella’s, where the old standards will probably be your best bet. The much-loved, ever-expanding Winnipeg food empire started in late 1999 as a modest breakfast and lunch joint on Osborne. Even as it has boosted its menu and added a new location on Pembina — for a total of seven city-wide — Stella’s still does its best work as a modest breakfast and lunch joint.

More adventurous dinner dishes exploring Italian, Cajun and Thai flavours can be uneven and uninspired, with tentative spicing and a healthy but stodgy feel. Stella’s basic all-day breakfasts, on the other hand, are wonderfully reliable and satisfying.

The new Pembina location departs from the dark and rustic feel of many Stella’s restaurants, offering a white, bright, beautiful space, with floor-to-ceiling windows along the front and clean, modern lines. It also experiments with revolutionary washroom design. (More on that later.)

A broad staircase at the back heads up to a rooftop patio that belies its location on a busy south Winnipeg thoroughfare with a relaxed, quiet atmosphere. The tables are a bit low for eating dinner, but the comfortable, well-padded chairs will welcome late-night patrons looking for pitchers of sangria under the stars.

For early birds, Stella’s breakfast dishes get solid support from homemade jams and in-house bread, including sourdough, spelt, and a robust multigrain. The Pembina location has a purpose-built takeout area for people wanting grab-and-go lattes and Americanos and baked goods such as scones and muffins.

French toast is made with eggy brioche. The café breakfast is a good all-around carb-fest, and there are a few Mexican-style takes on the most important meal of the day, including a hearty chorizo hash with eggs and salsa.

The well-made breakfast sandwich, which stacks eggs, cheese, tomato and mayo with a choice of ham, bacon or spinach and mushrooms, offers the best of breakfast while segueing toward lunch. Good midday choices are generous sandwiches made with fresh ingredients and zingy condiments. Standouts include the tomato and Havarti with pesto and the roast chicken and cranberry, which supplies that day-after-Thanksgiving feel all year long.

Stella’s house salad is also deservedly popular, mixing the fresh crunch of jicama, carrots, red cabbage, sunflower seeds, and romaine with a well-balanced dressing.

Switching over to Stella’s more elaborate noodle bowls, curries and pasta dishes, things become hit-and-miss. Eggplant Parmesan, deconstructed into slices of underdone breaded eggplant alongside marinara-tossed linguini, doesn’t really deserve the name.

Jambalaya is tasty but a little tame, as is a wholesome chicken curry made with brown basmati rice. And some serving combinations seem downright odd. Pad Thai, for example, comes with sourdough garlic toast. I like sourdough garlic toast as much as the next girl — probably more, in fact — but I don’t want it with my pad Thai.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The new Stella's also features a takeout area with baked goods to go.

Service is warm but sometimes slow. Be prepared to wait for a table during the weekend brunch rush or for weekday lunches.

• • •

A word on this location’s innovative gender-neutral bathrooms. Head around a corner and you’ll see a line of unlabelled cubicles — which are solidly enclosed from floor to ceiling, so privacy is not a problem — and one common area with sinks and towels.

This setup is transgender-friendly and also tackles the parity problem — the fact women almost always have longer wait times than men.

It’s part of a new wave of gender-neutral facilities in the city, and, like a lot of good design, it involves a surprisingly simple solution.

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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