December 6, 2019

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Opinion

Everything all the time

Diner a good fit for up-and-coming Spence Street neighbourhood

</p><p>Chef Leighton Fontaine of the Village Diner presents some of his most popular dishes: pickerel fingers (left) and potato and beet latkes.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chef Leighton Fontaine of the Village Diner presents some of his most popular dishes: pickerel fingers (left) and potato and beet latkes.

Here’s the thing about this recently opened stick-to-your-ribs eatery. It not only serves breakfast all day — and who doesn’t love breakfast all day? — it also serves lunch and dinner all day.

Basically, you can get anything on the menu at any time, whether that’s a bison burger and fries at eight in the morning or banana bread French toast at four in the afternoon.

The Hipster Omelette.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Hipster Omelette.

Chef Leighton Fontaine, who was formerly set up at the Osborne Village Inn and then the Nicolett Cafe, has moved to another "village," Winnipeg’s vibrant, global West End neighbourhood.

The Village Diner revives some favourites from Fontaine’s former venues and adds a few more, focusing on innovative comfort food. Many of the main course dishes really fill up those sturdy diner-ware plates, a culinary strategy that clearly resonates with regulars, including students from the nearby University of Winnipeg. (So. Much. Poutine.)

There are perks like house-made sauerkraut, ketchup and jam, along with many locally sourced ingredients — sometimes as local as you can get. (There’s actually an urban cultivator packed with microgreens right there in the dining room, meaning the pea shoots and broccoli sprouts for your salad will be delicately green and immaculately fresh.)

Toast.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Toast.

Good breakfast possibilities include the potato and beet latkes topped with nicely poached eggs and dilled crème fraiche. Omelettes go beyond the usual fillings, sometimes way, way beyond, with a low-and-slow beef brisket and broccoli variation and a vegetarian option that includes stewed rutabaga, radish and parsnip. I ordered the Hipster, packed with curried chick peas and red wine-glazed mushrooms, which sounded a little unlikely but actually worked out beautifully.

Omelettes are served with homey and comforting hashed browns that play with the natural creaminess of Adora potatoes.

One unexpected letdown is the toast. With so many neo-diner joints absolutely fetishizing grilled bread, the toast here is just so-so. Flimsy and soft, it doesn’t live up to the nice home-made jam.

The lunch and dinner menu features a range of burgers, including a tasty, straight-up bison burger served with addictive fries, and the aforementioned poutine, with variations from classic to curried, as well as a vegan option.

"Baked pig," a dish named with a certain plainspoken frankness, combines ever-popular pork belly with garlicky spaetzli and root vegetables for a tasty, stodgy appeal.

<p>Server Hannah Craig snips some fresh microgreens for a meal from the urban cultivator.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Server Hannah Craig snips some fresh microgreens for a meal from the urban cultivator.

Deliciously fat cabbage rolls are packed with Cavena Nuda — hulled oats that cook up like rice and are sometimes called "the rice of the Prairies" — and covered with a bright tomato sauce. An optional side of farmer’s sausage added to the absolutely groaning portion, which could easily serve two. Another standout — and one of the lighter menu options — is the pickerel wrapped in super-skinny, super-crisp spiralized potatoes and served with pea-shoot pesto remoulade and cucumber salad.

Saskatoons and cottage cheese dessert perogies.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Saskatoons and cottage cheese dessert perogies.

The dessert menu is limited and also tends toward the carbolicious charms of comfort food. Sweet perogies, which are packed with Saskatoon berries and cottage cheese and then deep-fried crisp and brown and drizzled with maple syrup, could easily be split with a friend — or two or three friends.

The space, adapted from a former Indian buffet, is basic but bright, with big windows and wood trim painted a fetching pistachio colour.

During a packed weekend brunch rush, service was friendly and efficient, with plenty of refills offered on good strong coffee. On an early weekday afternoon when the crowds had thinned, the wait staff was still sweet but a bit vague.

Music comes from a cassette tape collection and reflects the tastes of whoever’s in the kitchen, an eclectic bunch if a recent roster of old-timey country and ’80s new wave is anything to go by.

With its homey ambience and fresh take on classic diner fare, this restaurant feels like a good fit for the up-and-coming Spence Street neighbourhood. And you sure won’t leave hungry.

Pickerel fingers wrapped in spiralized crisp potatoes with fresh cukes.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Pickerel fingers wrapped in spiralized crisp potatoes with fresh cukes.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

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.

Read full biography

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