These days, there’s nouveau deli (chopped liver with port-spiked onion jam), deluxe deli (smoked wagyu beef) and retro deli (self-aware hipster takes on Baba’s brisket).
Throwback Thursday: Oscar’s Deli
175 Hargrave St.
Throwback Thursday: Oscar’s Deli
75 Hargrave St.
Go for: big breakfasts and classic deli
Best bet: corned beef on rye with hot mustard
Sandwich platters: $13.50-$14.50
Monday-Friday: 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
★★★★ out of five
★★★★ Very Good
No stars Not recommended
But how about plain old classic deli?
Oscar’s Deli celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. This longtime Winnipeg institution — even the "new" owners, the Brown family, have been with the business for 40 years — started out in the North End and opened a second downtown venue in the 1980s. That Hargrave Street location survived after the original closed, and still serves all-day breakfast and old-school deli sandwiches to business people, youngsters and loyal regulars.
The key to nine decades of deli success seems to involve reliability, consistency and a solid, unpretentious approach to meat and bread.
Oscar’s has changed — incrementally — over the years, adding soups and salads, burgers and hotdogs and more recently venturing into french fries. But mostly, the deli sticks to the basics, and here it takes advantage of some equally venerable Winnipeg companies, relying on City Bread for rye and pumpernickel, Gunn’s Bakery for bagels and Elman’s for pickles, mustards and beet horseradish. (Can I take a moment to say how lucky Winnipeggers are that we can get these products, not just at Oscar’s Deli but at our neighbourhood supermarkets?)
A corned-beef sandwich is simplicity itself — City rye loaded with super-thin shaved meat and finished with hot mustard. Everything is fresh and good, and the amount of corned beef is generous but still sane. (If you crave that kooky Carnegie Deli-type scale, the menu lists a "More Meat for the Hungry" option, for a surcharge.) Sandwiches are also properly wrapped for takeout at Oscar’s — i.e., not squished in plastic.
The tasty Rubin sandwich uses a variant spelling and also departs slightly from the standard ingredients, starting with pumpernickel and a good balance of cheese, corned beef and sauerkraut but ending with a zingy horseradish sauce rather than the usual rich Russian dressing.
This is a Jewish deli that also features bacon, and the BLT is really good — not fancy but with all the elements working together, including lots of bacon, cooked just right.
There’s also a smoked-salmon club with three layers of bread stacked with lox, red onion, cukes, horseradish dressing and more bacon, as well as honey dill and lemon cream cheese. It’s a wacky combo, but it works.
Over-salted beef and barley soup was a disappointment. Available sides include comforting, creamy potato salad; vinegary slaw; crisp, skinny fries; or potato chips (Old Dutch, of course).
Breakfasts run from the small, one-egg version to some major breakfast action, including some big hashes of eggs, potatoes and meat or veg. The satisfying salami and eggs features short-order scrambled eggs jumbled together with Smith’s all-beef salami and served with a big mound of spuds (billed as hash browns but closer to chipped potatoes) and rye toast.
Oscar’s slings unlimited coffee for $2.60, standard but strong, and offers an absolutely stripped-down liquor menu, with domestic beer and one Canadian wine.
Available desserts can vary. One day saw Gunn’s applejacks and some good chocolate-chip cookies.
The furniture is bare-bones basic, but the space is airy and open. Service is what I’d call deli-style — brisk and friendly, with some comic byplay for the regulars.
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.
Updated on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 at 2:09 PM CST: Fixes typo