For days when you don’t want to cook but don’t feel like sitting down at a restaurant, high-end takeout and ready-made meals-to-go are good options.
Tucked into a strip mall near St. Vital Centre, La Pampa is an offshoot of Corrientes, the Argentinian pizza place in the Exchange District. This newly opened satellite specializes in empanadas, serving up 21 kinds, including vegetarian and vegan options.
The pastry is flaky and yielding, and the fillings feature some intriguing combos — say, bacon, mozzarella and prunes — and fresh, distinct flavours.
Homey, comforting lamb is studded with roasted red peppers, while the delicate smoked salmon empanada includes pickerel, green onions and feta. Melting mozzarella and tomato are finished with a balsamic reduction and fragrant basil in the caprese. The spinach, béchamel and cheese flavour is gorgeously creamy, with none of the wateriness you sometimes get with spinach fillings. There’s also a Hawaiian for ham-and-pineapple heretics.
All are accompanied with grass-green chimichurri sauce.
Otherwise, the tight menu offers salads and traditional Argentinian pickles, and you can pick up jars of preserves and sauces. For sweets, there are alfajores, tender, crumbly cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche, then drizzled with chocolate or rolled in coconut.
Empanadas are $4 each (with a $1 upgrade for salmon) or $39 for a dozen. The helpful staff will send you off with quick and easy heating instructions. (Avoid the microwave or you’ll lose the lovely texture of the crust.)
You’ll also get an Identify Your Empanadas map, which depicts the variations in pastry crimping that set each flavour apart. These differences can be pretty darn subtle, and my family got hopelessly confused.
It didn’t matter, though, because all of the sampled flavours were fabulous.
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Agora’s name might suggest the markets of classical Greece, but this one is located in an unlovely Kenaston retail park.
Once you get inside this newly opened venue, however, the Mediterranean beckons with foods from Greece, Italy and Spain. The grocery section features some beautiful high-end pantry staples, including row on row of olive oils, vinegars and specialized ingredients, such as salt-packed capers, garlic confit and preserved lemons.
There are many types of honey, including those with the deeper, darker flavours beloved by bakers. One Cretan variety looks like bottled sunshine. There are also jars of mastic, a slightly resiny sweet preserve whose ingredient list includes, rather poetically, "the scent of mastic."
Along with imports, Agora also highlights local products such as Ellman’s pickles and horseradish, Old Country sausage and John Russell honey.
Takeout possibilities include a lovely avgolemono chicken soup, its egg-rich broth offset with lemon, and arancini, risotto balls with gooey cheese and crisp breading. (Again, don’t even think about using the microwave to heat these, as the crust will get sad.)
The deli and meat counter features chorizo and Serrano ham, Manchego cheese and myriad varieties of feta.
You can also stop by Agora’s attached restaurant, Indulge Bistro and Wine Bar. We tried a nicely balanced sangria (celebratory but not silly) and saganaki, kefalograviera cheese fried crisp on the edges, doused in brandy and flambéed at the table (discreetly, though — no walls of flame here).
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Bouchée Boucher is a terrific restaurant, of course, but it also runs a beautiful butcher’s counter, packed with pasture-raised local meat, and a grab-and-go section offering deli, groceries and ready-made meals.
For takeout meals, Bouchée Boucher offers a meat dish — and this place really knows its meat — along with two sides for $24. Boeuf bourguignon is busting with hunks of tender-braised, grain-fed beef and house-made bacon that imparts smoky flavour.
Mashed Yukon gold potatoes are mixed with sundried tomato, basil and goat cheese and lashings of butter and cream. Roasted carrots and broccolini are finished with herbed butter. This meat-and-two-veg combo readily served three people at my house, with leftovers.
For sweets, there are cookies, such as rugelach with a rich dough — I suspect cream cheese — and a jammy filling. There are also chocolates from fellow St. Boniface booster Constance Popp, along with a small selection of whatever doughnuts Bronuts has going that day. The meat and deli counter shows off Bouchée Boucher’s standout homemade sausages and charcuterie, with unusual offerings like sweetbread terrine, and a select bunch of Canadian cheeses, including Grey Owl, goaty and smothered in ash, and creamy cloth-wrapped Avonlea cheddar.
Grocery shelves are stocked with local products, such as mustards from Smak Dab, and pickles, preserves and jams from Crampton’s.
Finally, the shop offers an eclectic handful of books for sale, from cookbooks to The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Nobel laureate Herta Muller. That’s food for thought.