Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/3/2019 (275 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Max’s Restaurant started out in Quezon City, Philippines, in 1945, first feeding American G.I.s with chicken and fries and then boosting the menu with Filipino favourites. Opening dozens of restaurants in its home country, the popular franchise later expanded with locations across the Middle East and North America.
1255 St James St.
1255 St James St.
Go for: Filipino food in a sleek setting
Best bet: the signature fried chicken
Apps: $3.99-11.99; shared mains: $15.99-24.99
Monday-Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
★★★★ Very Good
No stars Not recommended
This is Winnipeg’s first Max’s. Located on the St. James commercial strip, the 4,500-square-foot venue offers a casual dine-in format in a modern setting, with a sleek black, white and red colour scheme and big windows. As with many mid-range franchises, the draw here isn’t originality but familiarity. There are a few weaknesses in the lineup, but overall, Max’s delivers tasty home-style dishes.
Max’s signature offering is fried chicken — the resto’s slogan is "The house that fried chicken built" — and options include a half or whole bird that comes on a platter with a scattering of nice, thick-cut fries and a big knife and fork for carving. Unlike standard North American-style fried chicken, which relies on breading, Max’s chicken is all about crackly, crisp skin. The meat is moist and tender — but not suspiciously moist and tender, as with some over-processed supermarket chickens.
For accompaniment, there is a trio of bottled sauces placed at every table — Tabasco, Worcestershire and banana ketchup. A server recommended mixing and matching for a desired balance of spicy, salty and sweet.
Appetizers include lumpiang Shanghai — the deep-fried spring rolls are crispy but the pork filling needs a bit more taste — and lumpiang ubon,with hearts of palm cut into matchsticks and a few bits of pork and shrimp brought together in tender crepe-like wrappers and covered in a sweet sauce.
(Oh, and last week when I lamented there was nowhere to go for fried chicken skins now that the Sherbrook Deli had taken them off the menu? Well, you can get them here.)
Big shareable dishes include kare-kare, a stew made with oxtail, which means lots of bone and nubbly bits but also lots of taste. The dish could have used some more veg, which include pechay and skinny snake beans, but there’s lots of thick, rich, peanutty sauce, as well as an accompanying dollop of bagoong alamang, a salty fermented shrimp paste that brings a depth of flavour and can also be used to cut the dish’s slight sweetness.
The bulalo, a traditional soup, comes in a footed pot, jammed with massive beef shanks, the bones protruding over the top, along with corn cobs and cabbage. All of these elemental ingredients yield a marrow broth that is light in colour but filled with subtle, savoury taste.
The menu also includes a variety of noodle and rice dishes. The noodles in the pancit palabok were a little over-cooked, but the crispy pork on top was very good, with tender meat and crackling skin. Sticky garlic rice is aromatic and handy for soaking up sauces.
Then there are the desserts. We watched several giant halo-halo concoctions go by, exuberant celebrations of too-muchness with many multi-coloured toppings, but opted instead for simpler scoops of plain coconut and ube ice cream, both of which were good. The gorgeously coloured ube prompted a lengthy discussion around our table about the purple yam’s hard-to-pin-down taste, which is both delicious and elusive.
Max’s caramel bars are trademarked, but they are also the only sweet not made fresh in-house but brought in from the Philippines, each bar in its own plastic wrap. They taste like soft, sweet comfort food.
Max’s doesn’t serve alcohol, but drink options include calamansi juice, made from a fabulous hybrid citrus and served here with shaved ice, making it very refreshing, as well as coconut and mango flavours.
The place is buzzingly busy, so be prepared to wait for a table around peak times, especially at the weekend. Service is warm and welcoming but can be disorganized, with long lulls.
Later this year, Max’s will expand its menu, but its selection of Filipino favourites feels pretty expansive already.
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.