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Fantastic fare worth the trip underground to eat at Ira's

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/4/2013 (1598 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Bagel with cream cheese and lox at Ira's Deli.


Bagel with cream cheese and lox at Ira's Deli.

It's been there for 23 years, under the same owners, Susan and Ira Brick -- a spacious, softly lit, subterranean charmer with red-and-white checked tablecloths, and looking more Mediterranean than Jewish deli. But, although the kitchen may not be kosher -- not with such sandwiches as spicy southwestern chicken with jalapeno cheese or ham with melted cheddar -- Ira's is Jewish at heart.

Proof positive is in the glorious chicken soup, which comes with noodles, or matzo balls, or (my personal choice) kreplach meat dumplings, or all the above. And if chicken soup doesn't warm your heart or cure your cold there are always such du jours as vegetarian split pea soup, cream of mushroom or bean and barley ($3.75 a bowl, $2.25 a cup).

Regular deli sandwiches range from $4.99 to $5.75 for four ounces of filling, $5.75 to $6.75 for six ounces. Specialty sandwiches cost $8.49 to $9.99, and include a choice of one side -- pasta salad, creamy potato salad, tangy-sweet coleslaw or a cup of soup -- as well as a crunchy pickle spear. Platters go for $7.99 to $8.99, and are garnished with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers and a choice of very good breads.

The sandwiches bulge with good fillings. For the Reuben, soft, dark pumpernickel is packed with juicy corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and the house thousand island dressing. Killer appetites can have the New York Reuben, a triple decker with 1/4 pound of corned beef, 1/4 pound of pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and coleslaw. Ira's Favourite is another winner, combing salami with turkey breast, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. When they ask if you want mustard, say yes -- they make their own.

The open-face bagel and lox is nothing short of fabulous, shmeared with cream cheese, topped by a small fortune in really elegant smoked salmon -- the silken, slightly smoky and not too salty kind -- and sprinkled with capers. The generous serving is worth its weight in gold but sells for a mere $8.99.

You can have your oniony chopped liver in a sandwich, or as part of a platter. Ditto the tuna or salmon salad fillings, (both of which could have used more mayo). Although the Greek salad depends mostly on pale head lettuce, the generous amount of feta almost makes up for it. Other salad choices include a caesar, orange and almond, Mediterranean and chef's salad ($5.99 to $7.99 small, $8.99 to $9.49 large).

Although Ira's basic formula is sandwiches and platters (no burgers, no fries -- no deep fryer, in fact) there are occasional hot daily specials, with everything made from scratch. On Fridays it's usually perogies with kubasa; on other days it might be falafel, mac and cheese, blintzes or chicken pot pie. In the past I have loved a puffy quiche and a homey shepherd's pie. Phone early to find out what's on.

There are only a few desserts but they too are made in-house and vary daily ($3.99 to $4.99). I missed the pumpkin cheesecake; on other days there might be cinnamon torte or lemon meringue pie. I can't report on the chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies because they were sold out ($1.35 each). However, the subtly spiced carrot cake with cream cheese icing is quite wonderful.

The Bricks and their staff are uncommonly friendly and accommodating. One catch: Ira's is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Fridays only. On the other hand, they do deliver, depending on the area.

-- -- --

Banh Mi (cold cut ) sub from Khanh Hoa


Banh Mi (cold cut ) sub from Khanh Hoa

There are no tables Khanh Hoa. It isn't a restaurant, or even a deli, just a bare-bones Vietnamese butcher shop that makes banh mi for takeout that are among the city's best sandwiches.

They take a 10-inch (literally, I measured it), substantial baguette-style roll (a holdover from French colonial times), smear it with a soft liver p¢té (another lingering French influence), and pack it almost an inch thick with different kinds of meats and a host of other ingredients. They are so huge I usually make do with only half for lunch.

One filling involves three different kinds of cold cuts; others offer a choice of grilled, big-flavoured marinated meats (some with a punch of chili). Strips of marinated carrots and daikon are added, as well as a slice of cucumber and heaps of fresh cilantro, for a mind-blowing bargain of $3.95 each.

Also available, also a bargain, is the pho which, at $6, is generous enough for two. A beef broth that is aromatic with garlic comes in one container, with all the other ingredients packaged separately, to be added at the last minute -- three different cuts of beef, rice noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, sprigs of basil and a wedge of lime.

I can't leave without a container of do chua -- those slivered carrots and daikon, in a tart sweet marinade that is more garlicky than most. I also sometimes succumb to the oddly addictive little ball-shaped dumplings with savoury bits of ground pork in a smooth, starchy white wrapping of (I'm guessing) glutinous rice flour.

A few other Vietnamese items are available, but some of them (ban xeo crepes, among them) must be ordered in advance-- not easy on the phone, since communication is minimal. The owners are really nice though, and knock themselves out to please. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.


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Updated on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 9:48 AM CDT: replaces photos, adds fact box, adds map

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