August 11, 2020

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Ghost kitchens offer alternative to usual haunts

Southern fried chicken and sans-meat smokies provide delivery-only delight as restaurants embrace new dining trend with some hit-and-miss offerings

Opinion

So-called "ghost kitchens" — delivery-only restaurants that operate without a physical storefront — are part of a trend that’s been building across North America in recent years and seems set to accelerate with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Restaurant review

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Mercy Me! Nashville Chicken
Mains: $4.50-$17.50; sides: $3-$4.50
Monday-Sunday: noon-8 p.m.
Available through DoorDash and SkipTheDishes
★★★1/2 out of five

Two Winnipeg examples are Mercy Me! Nashville Chicken, which offers Southern-style fried chicken and down-home sides, and Fuel — Functional Foods, which, as the name suggests, skews healthier with a range of vegan mains, sides, sweets and smoothies. Both are run by Wow Hospitality Concepts, the company behind 529 Wellington, Prairie’s Edge in Kildonan Park and Peasant Cookery in the Exchange.

Mercy Me’s namesake chicken is not quite as good as some of our city’s indie offerings, but it’s way, way better than fast-food options, with moist meat, lots of crunch and customizable heat levels.

You can choose from a range of sizes, from one breast to a whole bird, or a passel of wings or thighs. There also tenders, the meat good, though the coating not as crisp as it could be. They’re served up with a tasty take on that weird, made-in-Manitoba condiment, honey dill sauce.

Crinkle fries complement a chicken sando from Mercy Me’s southern-style menu.</p></p>

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Crinkle fries complement a chicken sando from Mercy Me’s southern-style menu.

The chicken sandwich builds on a substantial and juicy slab of deep-fried chicken breast, topped with slaw and cute little house bread-and-butter pickles.

French fries can be a tricky proposition with delivery, and Mercy Me’s crinkle-cut fries are just so-so, really just a slight upgrade on the frozen kind you make in your oven on a cookie sheet. Accompanying Mercy sauce adds some oomph, though.

Coleslaw is creamy-style and a tad bland. The standout side here is the cornbread. A dense, moist take on Midwestern-style cornbread, it’s baked up with a hint of rich, cakey sweetness and served with honey butter.

 


 

Sweet potato, red lentil, and kale curry from Fuel — Functional Foods.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sweet potato, red lentil, and kale curry from Fuel — Functional Foods.

The name of Fuel — Functional Foods sounds a little stern, calling up those futuristic nutri-packed cubes envisioned by old sci-fi TV shows, but the dishes themselves are actually more fun. And having a 100 per cent plant-based option available through delivery is handy for vegans and the vegan-curious.

Restaurant review

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Fuel — Functional Foods
Mains: $12.95-$13.95; sides: $3.95-$8.95
Monday-Sunday: noon-8 p.m.
Available through DoorDash, SkipTheDishes and Uber Eats
★★★ out of five

The chili dog is tasty, a herby, grainy Beyond Meat smokie served up with a black bean chili, Daiya (non-dairy) cheddar and jalapenos, though the bun was a bit tough at the edges.

Vegan mac ‘n’ cheese gets nice flavour from smoked paprika but is stodgy in texture. Rice, kale, lentil and sweet potato curry is virtuous, but the kale is a bit spiny and the coconut-based sauce is too sweet and mono-flavoured, needing some balancing spice and more heat.

 A vegan chili dog.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A vegan chili dog.

Root vegetable fries have some sweet, earthy flavour and come with a kicky vegan aioli.

The chocolate cake is strictly for frosting-first folks. The icing is good, creamy and resolutely chocolatey, but the cake itself is a letdown, not just heavy but actually hard in spots. Much better is a dessert you can drink— a bright berry smoothie with a perfect not-too-thick and not-too-thin consistency.

 

This should give you some sense of the food available at Mercy Me and Fuel. With the delivery-only option, the ambience is up to you.

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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