Ross Jeffers is aware of the irony of the "new blood" at the venerable Bella Vista in West Broadway being of similar vintage as the former owner, Armand Colosimo.
Colosimo, 66, has been dishing up old-school Italian fare at the family restaurant since 1976, when he opened the Bella Vista with his uncle and his brother. The 61-year-old Jeffers — who recently shuttered his tiny Wolseley café, 1958 — has been eating there for 40 years. When Jeffers mentioned to Little Goat chef Alex Svenne that he’d like to find a space to do weekend brunches, Svenne suggested he ask Colosimo about renting out the Bella, which didn’t open until 4 p.m.
At first, Jeffers hoped to collaborate with Colosimo on the venture, contributing brunches and lunches as he had at 1958 while Colosimo handled the familiar Italian dishes in the evening, but it soon became clear there would be more head-butting than cooking in the kitchen.
"We’re total opposites," Jeffers says, laughing.
"But we like feeding people," Colosimo chips in.
So he made an offer to buy the business with the goal of continuing Colosimo’s dedication to his core customers while also attracting some new ones.
Longtime patrons need not fear the hipsterization of the homey resto: there will not be elaborate craft cocktails or kombucha on tap.
"It’s the Bella Vista. Do I want to polish it up a little bit? Yeah. But do I want to nuke it? No way," Jeffers says.
“It’s the Bella Vista. Do I want to polish it up a little bit? Yeah. But do I want to nuke it? No way." -Ross Jeffers
The lounge won’t lose its rec-room feel, but the new beer taps will be stocked with local drafts. And though Jeffers wants to spruce up the menu somewhat, he’s not going to mess with beloved traditions.
"The most popular pizza here, to this day, is the Bella Vista: pepperoni, mushroom, bacon, house sausage, green peppers," says the chef, who has spent weeks learning to make the crust to Colosimo’s exacting standards. "And after 40 years, Armand is just as excited to make you that pizza. He’s still got that fire. And I have that fire, too.
"I think what Armand recognized in me, beneath the crazy, is the love. The love for his shop, for his customers, for his food. You don’t teach that stuff."
Colosimo agrees. "He had the heart and he wanted to save the Bella Vista, its essence."
The restaurant’s current hours are 4 to 10 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, but Jeffers hopes to soon deliver an expanded daytime menu and weekend brunches that will hew closer to what he did at 1958, with an Italian twist.
"I see breakfast calzones happening, or even breakfast pizzas," he says, adding that the restaurant’s house-made sausage will pop up frequently.
"And why not do frittatas instead of omelettes? The lunch menu will feature things like a chicken parm sub or a meatball sub."
He also plans to offer an elevated brunch experience on Sundays, with mimosas and caesars, along with live entertainment.
The lounge will continue to offer live music on weekends — after starting out as blues joint where Big Dave McLean performed regularly, the Bella Vista has been home to acts from Winnipeg’s roots and folk scene for years. This weekend, Wally Landreth and Oh! Sparkletones will entertain Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2.
Meanwhile, over at the Norwood Hotel, everything old is brand spanking new. Former patrons of the Wood Tavern and the Jolly Friar are going to do more than a double-take when they walk into the dramatically renovated space at the St. Boniface landmark.
"For the tavern, I wanted a camping feel to it," says executive chef Brian Roloff, who’s been at the Norwood for seven years. "Like when you go on a camping trip with family and friends and you’re cooking food over a fire — a sense of community and togetherness."
That vibe is aided by the pub’s new look, kind of "chic hunting lodge" that’s at once modern and retro — only a few touches remain to remind people of the cosy-but-dated wood-heavy former lounge.
There’s a long communal table that sits in view of the open kitchen, which features a massive, 2.25-metre wood-fired grill that’s a focal point of the new space.
"We’ve got a hobby farm at home, so I do a lot of outside cooking," says Roloff, 42. "But it’s a little different cooking over a couple of logs compared to this whole big grill, but it’s been fun so far."
The menu of elevated tavern fare puts that wood-fired flavour at the forefront, with burgers, wings, roasted chicken and the like all taking advantage of the smoke. Even the beverages benefit from it; the cocktail list features a caesar with a rim of house-smoked salt.
Roloff admits there was some hesitation about revamping a menu that longtime customers love.
"We do have a few things on the menu that are kind of homages to the old place, " he says. "We still do the ribs — we’ve been famous for our ribs for years — with the same sauce, but we’re just smoking them instead."
The Jolly Friar is now Pauline, a bright, beautiful breakfast/brunch resto with the feel of a Parisian bistro. The café is named for Pauline Boutal, the famed St. Boniface commercial artist, landscape and portrait painter and actor; wall panels feature drawings that emulate her illustrations for the Eaton’s catalogue.
Featuring gorgeous tiled floors and an ultramarine tile wall, the restaurant is done in shades of blue and yellow with long banquettes and bistro tables, and giant windows that look out onto Marion Street. Its menu, too, nods to Parisian bistro favourites, with omelettes and tartines (open-faced sandwiches), as well as breakfast classics, healthy bowls and fresh juices.
For brunch, there are soups, benedicts and sandwiches, as well as comfort foods such as peasant pie, mac and cheese (with jalapeño, bacon and smoked gouda cream sauce) and lamb perogies.
Pauline relies somewhat less on the wood-fired camping feel of the Wood, but there are smoky touches, such as a charred tomato aioli, a rotisserie chicken and the coal-roasted onions in the french onion soup.
The restaurant also features a takeout coffee counter with a rotating array of pastries, muffins and cookies to go. New signage and a street entrance on Marion (which also leads to a separate bar and the Carousel gaming lounge) makes Pauline feel like part of the neighbourhood.
Senior copy editor
Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.