As in years past, North American hoops fans are expected to wager upwards of $10 billion this month on March Madness brackets revolving around the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, which gets rolling March 21.
West vs East: Little Goat Food & Drink vs Seine River Cafe
Corydon Clash: Bernstein's Deli vs Falafel Place
Due North: Red Eye Diner vs Luda's Deli
Downtown Dust-up: The Don vs 2 Kelly's Cafe
Old School vs New School: Wanabee's Diner vs Miss Brown's Hot Pressed Sandwich & Coffee Co.
Marion Melee: Marion Street Eatery vs Johnny's Marion Restaurant
Head South: Garwood Grill vs Oakwood Bistro-Restaurant-Cafe
Sherbrook Showdown: The Nook vs Tallest Poppy
Also as in years past, the internet is currently flooded with scores of alternate, March Madness-style office pools, pitting everything from fictional TV lawyers (The Simpsons’ Lionel Hutz is an early favourite) to mammals (2018 champ: the pygmy hippo) to rom-coms (go 27 Dresses, go!) against one another, to see who or what comes out on top.
Not to be outdone, the Free Press is again joining the fray via our third annual foodie-fight-to-the-finish, dubbed Munch Madness.
Two years ago, the White Top Drive In beat out 15 other combatants to claim the title of Winnipeg’s best burger bar. Last spring, after close to 30,000 online votes were tabulated, Santa Ana Pizzeria & Bistro emerged as the city’s most beloved pizza parlour, narrowly beating Red Ember in the final.
This time around, we’re turning our attention to the most important meal of the day, as we ask readers to help choose Winnipeg’s best breakfast joint. And by joint, we mean the sort of place where the cooks usually know what their regulars are in the mood for before they do.
Also, the type of spot where, if your coffee is running low and all the servers are tied up, no worries: one of your fellow customers should be by soon with a full pot, as they pitch in and lend a hand, topping up everyone’s cup.
"This should be an interesting competition because more so than burgers or pizza, people tend to be very territorial about where they go for breakfast," says Leif Norman.
Norman, a professional photographer, knows of what he speaks. From 2007 to 2013, he and his pal Andrew McMonagle maintained a website called Breakfast Connoisseurs. When all was said, done and devoured, the two profiled close to 200 Winnipeg restaurants that served breakfast, including high-end locales such as the Velvet Glove along with greasy spoons such as the dearly-departed Ham-N-Eggs Grill, formerly on Princess Street.
"A group of us used to hook up at the Nook on Sherbrook (Street) almost every Saturday morning and as good as it was, we were kind of getting tired of going to the same place over and over again," Norman says, explaining how he and McMonagle hatched the idea for their review site. "We decided to broaden our horizons and figured while we were at it, why not write up the various places we hit, giving them a grade between one and 10."
Norman, who recently resurrected the Breakfast Connoisseurs website in time for Munch Madness, agrees if the Free Press is going to ask readers to vote for this city’s best breakfast joint, there have to be a few ground rules.
First of all, entrants need to be independently-owned, stand-alone establishments. Local, national and international chains need not apply.
Second, each has to offer their take on what’s commonly known around these parts as a "breakfast special," that is eggs (Norman takes his over hard), toast, hashbrowns (shredded, not cubed, please) and choice of meat. And by meat, Norman means bacon. Long, crispy strips of bacon.
"When it comes to breakfast, price point is something to consider, too," he says, mentioning he and McMonagle used to award restaurants an extra half-star if they carried a good selection of hot sauce.
"We went to the Fort Garry (Hotel) for brunch one time, where it cost us something like $30. Sure it was great and all, but was it 10 times better than a $3 breakfast at the old Gordon Downtowner (Motor Hotel)? I’m not convinced it was."
OK, here’s how things are going to play out: as before, voting begins every Friday at noon, and remains open until the following Thursday at noon. You can vote on every match once per day by visiting the Free Press website at winnipegfreepress.com/munch-madness. Thursday afternoon we’ll tally everything up and put the winners in pairings that will open for voting the next day at noon.
So take a gander at our bracket, featuring what we feel are 16 of Winnipeg’s best spots to enjoy brekkie. Click on each entry to vote or read a bit about their history. Set your alarm extra early so you can give 'em a try. And then vote for your favourite.
Obviously, with a field of 16, we couldn’t include everyone’s favourite haunt, so if you have tips and tidbits to share, feel free to join the conversation in the comments field, letting us know what we may have missed, or why you hold a particular place dear.
Every week, we’ll provide an update of how the voting went. We’ll also ask Norman to weigh in on the proceedings from time to time, as the "tournament" moves along.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.