December 15, 2019

Winnipeg
-12° C, Light snow

Full Forecast

Shift into D, for delicious

Dedicated -- and hungry -- Free Press road warriors Erin Lebar and Jen Zoratti got their taste buds rollin' outside the Perimeter

LOCKPORT — Pelicans are rude.

We are hanging out at the St. Andrews Lock and Dam on the Red River after digesting our latest meal on the hottest afternoon in June, along with at least 100 American white pelicans. This is their designated conservation area and, if the gate is open, you’re allowed to walk down the stone steps to the shoreline to get a closer look. Or, in our case, record Instagram stories.

They saw us coming. Well, more like heard us coming. And then they just jumped in the water and swam away from us. We swear they turned on their heels and had their beaks in the air. We can’t understand the snub — who wouldn’t enjoy two grown women obnoxiously yelling, "Pellies!" in their general direction?

Free Press writers Erin Lebar and Jen Zoratti outside Shelley D's in Gimli.

Free Press writers Erin Lebar and Jen Zoratti outside Shelley D's in Gimli.

We watch them for a while. Erin suspects they are using the rushing water from the dam as their own refreshing bidet on this 34 C day — lots of pelican butts in the air — but we quickly see they are fishing at what appears to be the world’s most terrifying live catfish buffet. (FYI: they swallow fish whole, and drown their non-fish prey in that pouch of theirs. Pelicans are stone cold.) They return to shore just as we are leaving, likely for some damn peace and quiet.

We didn’t eat a single catfish on our second annual Rural Eats Road Trip, and we received a much warmer reception at the places we ate at — places suggested by readers who reached out with suggestions after last summer’s inaugural experiment. The raison d’etre for this year’s trip was the same as last year’s: get out of the city, taste some worth-the-drive grub and meet the people who feed our province.

Welcome to Rural Eats 2: new towns, new wildlife run-ins, same very-hungry ladies.


 

DAY 1: SOUTH x SOUTHEAST

Everything you need to know about Two Peppers in Blumenort can be summed up by its weekly specials: Perogy Thursdays and Enchilada Fridays.

Two Peppers is a Mexican-Canadian breakfast and lunch diner located just off Highway 12, tucked into a convenience store, across the street from a gas station. In other words, it’s unassuming. But it’s also home to delicious, scratch-made food prepared in a kitchen whose cooks have roots in Mexico, Paraguay and Ukraine — places where Mennonites have settled or, in the case of Ukraine, fled.

Huevos a la Mexicana is a breakfast feast at Two Peppers in Blumenort.

Huevos a la Mexicana is a breakfast feast at Two Peppers in Blumenort.

A quick detour for a short history lesson here: Russian Mennonite farmers founded the community of Blumenort in 1874. During the First World War, many Manitoba Mennonites made their way south, forming colonies in Mexico and Paraguay. Now, Blumenort is home to families from both countries, and that’s why you can find a Mexican restaurant off Highway 12 in Manitoba that offers perogy and enchilada specials.

Inside, the white walls are lined with colourful sombreros and maracas. Bottles of hot sauce are on every table. You order at the counter, and regulars know to help themselves to coffee. The menu, which offers breakfast and lunch options, boasts burritos, tostadas, tacos and nachos, as well as a killer burger, so we hear. It’s morning, so we split the huevos a la Mexicana, which is more than enough for two people. The eggs are perfectly scrambled, with finely diced peppers, onion and ham, and can be scooped up and folded into soft corn tortillas. It’s all served with a heap of refried beans.

Lendra Friesen (left) manages Two Peppers' restaurant, while Robyn Kornelsen manages the building.

Lendra Friesen (left) manages Two Peppers' restaurant, while Robyn Kornelsen manages the building.

Robyn Kornelsen, 25, joins us at our table. She is the manager of the convenience store, the gas station and the restaurant — a busy post she’s held for just three months, but she’s worked here in some capacity since she was 15. Her relationship with Two Peppers is an example of small-town interconnectedness: owner Roberto Hiebert was also her hockey coach.

Her pride in the place is obvious. "We make everything from scratch. The girls are really good back there," she says, fondly referring to the women in the kitchen, some old enough to be her mother. One of them is, in fact, Hiebert’s mother. "They’re geniuses."

All the ingredients are locally sourced, too — New Bothwell cheese, meat from just across the road at Country Meats. But Kornelsen says it isn’t just the fresh, lovingly prepared food that has kept regulars coming back.

"I think it’s the atmosphere here," she says. "It’s very laid-back. The cooks are friendly, and we’ll bring the food to you. It’s a family atmosphere."

We settle up our bill, and saddle up our chariot. We are not driving Sheila, our beloved Free Press-branded PT Cruiser that we drove last summer. We are driving Erin’s CRV, Big Dave.

And, for the 12 minute drive south down Highway 12 to Steinbach, Jen, a 34-year-old woman who still has a learner’s permit, will be behind the wheel for her first time driving on the highway. She’s practising for her... seventh road test? Who knows, anymore? Anyway, she drives exactly 102 km/h, much to the chagrin of experienced Steinbach-area drivers, and Erin grabs the "holy s—t!" handle above the door only once. Nobody dies.


 

We are headed to the Co-op on Brandt Street in Steinbach in pursuit of a Mennonite sundae, which, we learn, is vanilla soft serve topped with maple syrup and sunflower seeds. It’s the perfect salty-sweet combo. It is so good that we both mainline it like we didn’t just eat a full plate of eggs 20 minutes ago and are immediately furious with our Mennonite friends for keeping this a secret. PSA to Steinbach teenagers: stop moving to Winnipeg to form bands and start moving to Winnipeg to open Mennonite sundae stands. You are sitting on a goldmine, oba yo!

This dish would be pretty easy to re-create at home, but the soft serve at Co-op is so delicious that honestly, it’s... um, worth the trip.

We do what anyone reasonable does after eating a bunch of ice cream — we head 25 minutes southwest to the pretty little town of St. Pierre-Jolys to eat more ice cream. And also schnitzel.

Waiting at the front counter of Oma’s Schnitzel Stube when we arrive is Oma herself, Gudrun Zimmermann.

She and Opa, her husband, Wilfried, bought the house-like space 12 years ago and have become local legends when it comes to serving up quality — and very hearty — German fare.

The polka music is pumping as we take a seat at a table, noting the sunflower-heavy decor and lace curtains, the delicious smell of deep-fried meat in the air. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to go to an Eastern European grandma’s house, this is it.

Wilfried (left) and Gudrun Zimmermann are Oma and Opa.</p></p>

Wilfried (left) and Gudrun Zimmermann are Oma and Opa.

Gudrun and Wilfried have been married for 45 years ("Too long," cracks Wilfried. Gudrun is not amused) and ran a huge restaurant and 45-room hotel in their hometown of Heidelberg, Germany; their dining area and beer garden there sat about 200 people. When they relocated to Steinbach, it wasn’t long before the restaurant bug hit them again.

"I drove by this space often, so I got Oma to take a look and she said, ‘ja.’ So, we got it," Opa says.

We both order the lunch special, a big ol’ piece of schnitzel with a side of fries, though we are tempted to try the "Fitness Platter." We later find out that is one of the most popular menu items, and the name has to do with the whopping quantity of salads that come with — you guessed it — a large piece of schnitzel.

Our schnitzel arrives hot out of the fryer, crisp but not greasy, and well-seasoned; it’s clearly made by experienced hands. With a little hit of lemon from the wedge provided on every plate, it’s almost perfect. The portion is sizable, as you would expect and, after our best effort, we admit defeat and take half home for later.

Free Press writer Jen Zoratti adds some ketchup to her plate of schnitzel at Oma's Schnitzel Stube in St. Pierre-Jolys.

Free Press writer Jen Zoratti adds some ketchup to her plate of schnitzel at Oma's Schnitzel Stube in St. Pierre-Jolys.

Wilfried then moseys out of the kitchen and plunks himself down at the table and starts to tell us about his homemade sausages; the man is very passionate about meat.

Oma’s Schnitzel Stube is closed every Monday and Tuesday so Oma can go into the city to procure supplies, namely large cuts of meat that she brings back to Opa, who debones them. On Tuesdays, Opa makes sausages. All day. Up to 20 varieties can be found next to the till in a large cooler which, on this particular Wednesday, was already half-empty.

"Everything here is made fresh; I cut each schnitzel from a larger piece of meat, nothing comes from a box," he says.


The only boxes we see are the ones with our leftovers in them, which we clasp tightly — precious cargo! — as we head out the door to our last stop of the day, which just happens to be more ice cream.

Pro-tip, per a reader: did you know that the best gelato outside of Corydon Avenue — nay, the best gelato outside of literal Italy — can be found at the Bigway Foods in St. Pierre-Jolys? Well, it can. Head to the back of the grocery store and you’ll find the Villagio Pizzeria & Deli and a display case of at least 16 flavours of house-made gelato. We try the raspberry and the pistachio. You can tell the latter is legit because it’s not radioactive green. The raspberry is bright, fresh and tart, and the pistachio is creamy and nutty. We leave happy, until Jen spills melted raspberry gelato all over Big Dave. Erin is not amused. Time to go back to Winnipeg.

Erin is finding bright pink splotches in her car weeks later.


 

DAY 2: EAST

Q: How many educated women does it take to pump gas?

A: Sadly, two.

We are at a gas station and can’t quite figure out how to fill up Jen’s husband’s Ford Escape — which we’ve tentatively dubbed Shania, due to the astonishing amount of Shania Twain we’ve heard so far on this adventure. Jen has never pumped gas and Erin avoids pumping gas. We finally get things going, without the help of Google or a gas-station attendant — which makes us feel disproportionately confident in our own abilities — and head out to tackle the restaurants on our list for Day 2.

Jenerating laughs on the highway

"I'm careeeeeening!"

One of the caveats of Erin agreeing to do a second rural eats road trip was Jen had to drive at least part of it. Jen has a learner's licence, but Erin has been a fully licenced driver for more than a decade, so having Jen behind the wheel was, indeed, a legal option. Jen's commitment to 10-and-2 rivals her commitment to pistachio ice cream.

"I'm careeeeeening!"

One of the caveats of Erin agreeing to do a second rural eats road trip was Jen had to drive at least part of it. Jen has a learner's licence, but Erin has been a fully licenced driver for more than a decade, so having Jen behind the wheel was, indeed, a legal option. Jen's commitment to 10-and-2 rivals her commitment to pistachio ice cream.

So, this trip resulted in Jen's first highway driving experiences. She did very well, says Erin, but she also yelled out some very funny things as she processed her fear.

"I'm careeeeeening!" — On the bendy roads in the Whiteshell (note: She was not careening).

"This is definitely intermediate driving" — Also in the Whiteshell

"What do I do?! What do I do?! What do I do?!" — When a large tractor was oncoming

"It's 100 km/h here, you (expletives)! I'm doing 105 and they're still passing me!" — On the way to Brereton Lake Resort

Erin: "Hey, look at this cool thing!"; Jen: "I can't look, I'm driving!" — Every 20 minutes

Before we go anywhere new, we stop in at Blue Haze, a barbecue joint in Beausejour that we’ve been thinking about at least once a week since it charmed us last summer. We are basically in the neighbourhood. And it’s brisket day. We place our orders to pick up on the way home (because, you know, we might be hungry later), and deli manager Jolene Bespalko loads us up with their signature house-made sweet tea for the road.

With Jen behind the wheel, it’s time to hit Highway 44 East for an idyllic drive to Whiteshell Provincial Park. People like to think of Manitoba as vast land and sky, but drive for a bit and the diversity of this province is striking. As you move east, pastoral countryside starts giving way to forests of spruce, pine and aspen jutting up from rugged Precambrian shield.

As we get deeper into cottage country, we pass Alfred Hole Goose Sanctuary (the sign for which Erin incorrectly read as, "Alfred’s Hole," which gives us a good giggle.) We consider stopping, but Erin declares the entire province is basically one giant goose sanctuary this time of year, plus we are already running late, so we press on.

When we arrive at Brereton Lake Resort, which sits beside its namesake body of water, the patio is already packed with people enjoying the beautiful June weather and that fresh lake air. Inside, the restaurant feels like a laid-back yet-upscale cottage, with huge windows overlooking the lake.

When Greg and Kim Ftoma bought the resort 17 years ago, it was just a little general store and a couple of tables for burgers and fries. They added the restaurant in 2010. "We increased our food service by about 400 per cent — we just went from little to huge," Greg says.

The Ftomas, who have been married for "forever" by Kim’s estimation, created their expansive menu of classic comfort food guided by a simple premise.

"It’s just all stuff we like," Greg says. "We cook food the way we want to eat it, which is the most important thing I tell my staff in the summer. Would you eat that? Is that something you’d want? If it’s something you’d want, we’ll serve it."

And they’ve inspired cravings among their regulars, which include area cottagers in the summer, snowmobilers in the winter and those who need home-cooked fuel for their hikes and canoe trips through the Whiteshell.

"We’ve tried specials and we end up eating them because people come in specifically for the Brereton burger, or for the wrap, or for whatever it is that’s their favourite," Greg says. "The pizza. A couple of fishing sites say it’s the best pizza in Manitoba."

The restaurant will get hundreds of people through the door on a busy day in the summer.

Jen Zoratti at Brereton Lake Resort.

Jen Zoratti at Brereton Lake Resort.

"The biggest day last year was about 600 meals out of our kitchen," Greg says. "And the kitchen is about the size of the one at your house. We’ve got an oven, two burners, a 36-inch charbroiler —"

"— we’ve got it down to a science," Kim says.

On the day we visit, they are prepping for a rehearsal dinner and a wedding.

"It was challenging at the beginning," she says of their small kitchen. "We’ve invested so much into this, we needed it to work — and so far, it has."

We try one of their signature appetizers, the bacon-wrapped walleye, which is plump, tender and enveloped in a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce. That’s just the prelude for what is, hands down, one of the best burgers we’ve ever had. The Brereton Burger is a thing to behold: a juicy patty loaded with pickles, onion, tomato, lettuce, relish, mustard, mayo, bacon and chili. (Get it with a side of "frings" — fries and onion rings — for the best of both worlds.) We’d drive even farther for that mouth-watering burger.

We wipe the chili from our chins — there’s really no dainty way to eat a Brereton Burger — and push on. Jen (deftly, she’ll have you know) zips through the lakes — including a slightly harrowing patch where Provincial Road 307 bisects Heart Lake, leaving little room for error — on the way to Otter Falls Resort on the crystalline shores of Margaret Lake. We can see why people like to live out here.


Otter Falls Grill is supposed to be closed today, but owner Lori Derksen and her daughter, Amy Vereb, are nice enough to allow us to stop by for a quick bite and a chat.

We walk into the restaurant (they also own a seasonal store and several cabins they rent out year-round) and the rustic esthetic is certainly a strong one; the Derksens have run with the wood-panelling and taxidermy theme and, you know what? It’s great.

Derksen and Vereb explain they are on the cusp of their busy summer season, during which they can blow through around 275 kilograms or more of pickerel, their hottest menu item.

We don’t need to be told twice when it comes to top-notch pickerel, so we order up a fish sandwich to share. The pickerel is delicately coated and fried, and so, so tasty. Topped with a tartar sauce on a soft white bun, it’s Manitoba summer in one bite. Oh, and we can’t forget about the curly fries. There’s something just so magically delicious about them, and they, too, are a popular pick for Otter Falls regulars.

Previously, the Otter Falls Grill offered an all-you-can-eat pickerel buffet once a summer, on the first Saturday of July, but it became so popular they would go through nearly 500 kilos of pickerel in four hours. So, obviously, that had to stop. Now, they offer the same deal every Saturday in July to spread out the demand.

Derksen and her husband, Peter, have owned Otter Falls Resort for 19 years, after purchasing it on a whim when they decided to move back to their home province from Alberta, desperately in need of a change of career.

Pickerel sandwich at Otter Falls Grill.

Pickerel sandwich at Otter Falls Grill.

"We saw this place for sale and his (Peter’s) lights went on. It was all him, I just went, ‘OK.’ So we moved back to Manitoba with our three kids," she says with a laugh.

"When we started it was me and my hubby running just about everything, and we had a cook. Now we have six staff members plus the four of us family members and Amy’s toddler. It’s really something.

"I had a five-year plan. I had no interest, none, because it’s all encompassing, it takes the whole summer over, we have 13 cabins, we have the store... but here I am, 19 years later. The five-year plan just… I couldn’t close it. I just couldn’t, people love it."

The Derksens are the third owners of the resort, which was built sometime around the mid-1940s. The original owners held onto it for about 30 years, the second owners for around 20, and now the Derksens are also nearing the 20-year mark. To this day, they still use the original hamburger recipe the first owners created.

"It’s hard to leave," says Derksen, who mentions she is considering retiring soon, and hopes to turn the reins over to Vereb and her siblings.

"I’m to the point where I think I’m done, almost 20 years in it, it’s a lot of work, doing 16-hour days in the summer, but it’s got a really good history. It’s neat to see all these people who have been coming forever, to be part of their summer traditions."

We decide to take a jaunt around back to see the cottages Derksen rents and to take a few steps onto the beach. It’s still early June, so the lake water is freezing, but it’s so hot out it’s tempting to jump in. Alas, all we have time for is a quick dip of the toes.


The Spicy Radish in Whitemouth is easily the most reader-recommended restaurant. We recieved more than a dozen emails and comments suggesting — demanding, in some cases — that we drop in, along with some gentle admonishments for missing it last year.

It’s late afternoon by the time we make it to "the Radish," as many regulars call it; we already know owner Shannon Stebelko isn’t around today, so we just grab a table and order a few things that pique our interest.

Spicy lentil soup and beet salad at the Spicy Radish.

Spicy lentil soup and beet salad at the Spicy Radish.

Erin goes for a spicy lentil soup with a very high ratio of veggies to broth; there is so much flavour — and yes, quite a nice kick — and it just feels good to eat. It’s nourishing and comforting and is exactly what you’d want if you were trying to get over an illness or warm up on a frosty winter day. Eating it in 30-degree heat is also good, though.

One of the specials was a plate of root-veggie fries, so we tried those too, along with a beet salad we are told is a customer favourite. Let us tell you (and this is not something we say often), that is a dang good salad. The beets are pickled in house and have maintained their crunch and earthy taste, bits of feta offer a bright, salty hit and the balsamic vinaigrette is present, but not overwhelming. The veggies fries are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.

We drown all of it with massive glasses of house-brewed iced tea.

"The iced tea is extremely popular and has become a cornerstone of the Spicy Radish experience," Stebelko later tells Erin when they meet up in Winnipeg.

Spicy Radish

Spicy Radish

Stebelko, who was raised in Whitemouth and moved to Winnipeg to pursue culinary arts at Red River College, moved back to Whitemouth and opened the Radish with her business partner Lauren Proceviat in March 2012. They rented a small restaurant space attached to a gas station for two years. When it came time to decide what they wanted to do next, it was their customer base that made the decision for them.

"Our community and our customers weren’t, ‘What next?’ They were ‘Where next? What do you need? How do we get you there?’ So we had this incredible community support that carried us," says Stebelko.

They moved the Radish to its current location, a small space in the heart of the 300-person community of Whitemouth that had been vacant for more than a decade. But while their location changed, the mindset behind their menu did not.

"We knew we were going to be a small-town diner but we also knew we had to differentiate a little bit," says Stebelko, 31, who recently announced she and her husband, Paul, will be taking over all the operations of the restaurant, as Proceviat has decided to take a step back and focus on other things.

"We’re in a very small community, we can’t be too niche because we have to appeal to a broad market, but at the same time, we can’t be everything to everyone and I don’t want to have that too-many-pages-in-your-menu thing. I wanted to create something that is familiar, but still fresh and still pulled from my culinary background to elevate an ordinary menu just a little bit.

"We’ve created this small-town hospitality that is unique and we’re ordinary but we just have that extra touch and I think that’s what makes people want to come to us... it’s just a great place to eat and a great place to go, all the bases are covered."


 

DAY 3: NORTH

It was a wildly hot day, but nothing will stop us when pastries and other baked goods are involved, so with Erin back behind the wheel, we head north to Teulon to Blue Skies Bakery.

A big, decorative yellow door, hanging flowers and the alluring scent of freshly baked bread is getting our hopes high for what we are about to encounter. Inside, the small space is warm in atmosphere and aroma, decorated with vintage everything and tchotchkes galore. But our eyes are immediately drawn to the display case full of pies, rolls, muffins and other treats.

Now, we have eaten a lot of baked items in our day. More than we care to mention. So when owner and chef Janet Dyrda brings out a sample plate and we take our first few bites, it is clear to us Blue Skies is something very special.

Blue Skies Bakery owner Janet Dyrda, who is a trained chef, handles all the baking herself.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blue Skies Bakery owner Janet Dyrda, who is a trained chef, handles all the baking herself.

The first piece we reach for is a sauerkraut bun, a specialty of Dyrda’s she had described to us earlier; for all those Ukrainians out there, it’s basically a giant perishke, with beautiful, bacony sauerkraut sitting in the centre of the softest, most delicious bun you can imagine. It’s topped with garlic butter and dill, because almost everything is better with garlic butter and dill, and it’s still warm when we bite in.

We make audible, "Mmmm," noises so loudly it is almost embarrassing. We both buy some to take home.

Next, we stick to the savoury side and try a slice of Fergasa, a white bread packed with cheese and dill, two staples of our diets. We both buy a loaf to take home.

Janet Dyrda handles all the baking herself.</p>

Janet Dyrda handles all the baking herself.

Now the two danishes on the plate are calling our names; one with rhubarb and one with wild blueberries. The pastry — oh, the pastry! — is buttery and flaky and melts in our mouths and the fruit and icing on top are perfectly sweet but not heavy. We buy some of those to take home, too, fearing no one would believe us later when we told them how good they are.

Dyrda, who handles all of the baking and shop-running herself, is a trained chef who used to commute to Winnipeg every day to work. After too many years of that, she decided to quit her job. She worked her last shift on a frigid January day and, when she left the building, looked up and saw that bright, crystal-clear Prairie sky we all know so well, and knew that she was on her way to better things. Not long after, Blue Skies Bakery opened for business.

It’s been 14 years since then, and Dyrda is still going strong.

"In a small town it’s hard to maintain a business, and I just think that with the quality of my food, I have a good clientele base," she says, periodically popping out of her chair to help customers who don’t even have to tell her what they want (she knows her regulars well.)

Winnipeggers can catch Dyrda in the city during the summer at the Seven Oaks Wellness Centre Farmer’s Market, but she says she has lots of people making the drive in the off-season to get their fix.

When we get to the till to pay for our take-home stash (it’s cash only, just FYI), Dyrda announces our totals and we look at each other in disbelief. For everything we both bought, it was only about $20. It feels like we are robbing the place, but we gladly take our stockpile of snacks and continue to discuss their deliciousness as we head toward Gimli.


Watch for the lighthouse off Highway 9.

That’s how you’ll find Shelley D’s, a charming homestyle breakfast and lunch joint run by husband-and-wife couple Shelley and the Bear — which, incidentally, would make for both a fantastic band name and a children’s book title. The Bear is Barry Hayes, Shelley’s husband of 20 years who is known around these parts for his easy banter with diners.

"We’ve never been here before," we confess when we slide into a booth.

"Why the heck not?" he asks.

Good question, especially since we’ve heard from multiple readers that Shelley makes the best breakfast in Gimli. Actually, make that the Interlake. The Hayes opened Shelley D’s — her maiden name is Dale — 12 years ago, but Shelley has been working in kitchens longer than that. "I’ve always been interested in the restaurant business," she says. "My mom had a restaurant for the majority of my life."

Shelley specializes in delicious, unpretentious, comforting fare — especially the big, hearty breakfasts and homemade soups slurped up by her regulars.

"We get a lot of locals, a lot of working-class — it’s a quick in and out with lots of parking for the trucks. People bring us things, it’s crazy. All those bottles up there?" she says, pointing to an impressive Coke memorabilia collection. "They were all brought to us, from Paris and Indonesia and everywhere else."

Jen Zoratti prepares for her first time driving on the highway.

Jen Zoratti prepares for her first time driving on the highway.

The walls are lined with record covers and prints of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Charlie Chaplin. "Lots of dead people," Shelley says with a laugh. There’s also another bear in the restaurant — a big statue named Bruce who stands guard by the door and has posed for many a photo with kids.

We’re a little late for the most important meal of the day, but we decide to share Bear’s Breakfast, which is a toasted open-faced bagel layered with summer sausage, fried eggs, cheddar cheese and the ubiquitous fried onions. There’s a little plaque near the door to the kitchen advertising what seems to be unofficial motto: "everything is better with onions on it." We agree. The sandwich is tasty — more summer sausage on menus, please — and the side of hash browns are perfectly cooked. Real potatoes, no frozen cubes here.

We pull out our phones to snap a photo of the plate for posterity and are playfully and gruffly admonished by Bear. "Put the toys away." One suspects this bear is of the teddy variety, though.

We finish up and go take a bunch of (terrible) selfies in front of the lighthouse. The air is hot and close, and ominous clouds are rolling in. We get back in the car and gun it — we mean, drive a respectful speed — to Lockport.


Lockport is known for its hotdogs; you have the famous Half Moon Drive In, which claims to be the home to "Canada’s Best Hot Dog," and then there’s Skinner’s, another Manitoba hotdog-related mainstay, with two locations across the highway from one another.

But Lockport is also becoming known for its pizza, thanks to Papa Carlo, an Italian pizzeria and gelateria sneakily tucked into a strip mall off of Hwy 44.

Owned and run by brothers Gino and Lucio Guzzi (they are very Italian, if you couldn’t tell), the restaurant is a family affair. It’s named after their father Carlo. Dozens of photos decorate the walls: of the brothers, of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, of aunts and uncles and other family members, most of whom are, or were, from Calabria, in Southern Italy, where the brothers were born. Among the frames on the wall is a review by former Free Press food critic Marion Warhaft,who had many positive things to say.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Gino Guzzi is the co-owner of Papa Carlo Pizzeria & Gelati in Lockport along with his brother Lucio. Our travelling food adventurers approved of Papa’s signature pizza.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Gino Guzzi is the co-owner of Papa Carlo Pizzeria & Gelati in Lockport along with his brother Lucio. Our travelling food adventurers approved of Papa’s signature pizza.

The menu at Papa Carlo is packed with classics from their homeland; pizzas with dough and sauce made fresh from scratch; pasta also made fresh from scratch; salads with dressings that have also... well, you see where we’re going here.

We share the Papa Carlo Italian salad (which has ham on it — a whole new salad experience for Erin; not so much for Jen Zoratti, the Italian) and the Papa Carlo signature pizza. Erin, a crust connoisseur, approves of the golden, perfectly crunchy base. The toppings, including a house-made sausage, are plentiful and flavourful. We can’t quite finish it, but the last few slices are the perfect snacking amount for later, so in a takeout box they went.

Gino (left) and Lucio Guzzi, Papa Carlo in Lockport</p></p>

Gino (left) and Lucio Guzzi, Papa Carlo in Lockport

Apart from the food, what really makes Papa Carlo a must-visit is Gino and Lucio, who are an unintentional comedy duo.

"What are some of the most popular menu items?" We ask.

"Oh, you know, pizzas, pastas...," replies Gino.

"Hey, Hey! Don’t knock down my spaghetti! Whatsamatta you?" Lucio bellows.

"I said pasta! You heard me say pasta, right?" Gino, the younger of the two, sighs.

It’s all in good fun, though; they rib each other like brothers do, but it’s pretty obvious they enjoy their time together.

After a brief tour of the family gallery, hosted by Lucio, and a rather sizable scoop of pistachio gelati for Jen (she is obsessed), we hustle to the car, wind nearly blowing us over now, to try to beat the impending storm back to Winnipeg.


Whether heading north, east, south or west, all roads out of Winnipeg beckon the culinary adventurer. And you never know when you might bump into a fellow foodie explorer.

On Day 2, just as we were leaving Brereton Lake Resort, a very polite, "Excuse me?" was tossed in our direction.

Two women who had just finished their lunch on the restaurant’s patio waved us over. They recognized us, asking if we were from the Free Press, and told us they had read last year’s story, saying it had inspired them to go out and try a few of the places on our list. It was a success, and they had found some new favourite spots.

Other than feeling super-famous after being recognized — literally — in the middle of the woods, it also made us reflect on the numerous other emails and messages from readers last year who, too, felt encouraged to explore the culinary world outside of Winnipeg. We loved hearing about everyone’s adventures.

So, we hope this second edition of our belt-busting road trip will light a spark in even more of you to get out on the road in search of some exceptional eats.

After all, if Jen can make it through the Whiteshell and back unscathed, with only a learner’s licence in hand, anyone can.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.