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This article was published 29/9/2012 (2546 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Notice a Latin American vibe in the East Exchange lately?
South America is moving north, and it's not by chance it's established a base on Bannatyne Avenue.
It's all part of entrepreneur Noel Bernier's dream.
"You know how most cities have a Little Italy or a Chinatown?" says Cynthia Murray, a 27-year-old Argentine, who manages Corrientes Argentine-style pizzeria with her sweetheart, Gonzalo Agrimbau. "Noel is making a new area here." In fact, the cluster of restaurants representing different countries of South America will stretch from Main Street to Waterfront Drive.
Hermanos restaurant at 179 Bannatyne is already booming, with dinner reservations booked up to two weeks ahead on the formal side. Corrientes Argentine-style pizzeria, with a library lounge in back, opened at 137 Bannatyne in time for the first South American Carnival this summer.
Now renovations are underway for the new Carnival Brazilian BBQ restaurant in the Excelsior Building on Waterfront Drive at Bannatyne.
So why is a guy with a French-Canadian name knocking himself out for a Latin American quarter in the city?
Bernier, a Winnipegger, fell in love with a beautiful woman from Brazil.
"He's engaged to Najara Barros," says Monique Gillan, a manager at Hermanos who used to be a flight attendant. Now she has swapped the uniform for a ruffled red dress like the tango dancer pictured on the wall at Hermanos.
She says Bernier flew south with his fiancée to meet her family and friends. There, he fell in love with the Brazilian people and their culture. His business background is in propane, but the entrepreneur didn't see that as an impediment. "He went all over South America and researched and researched," says Gillan. He's also been sending restaurant staff down to stay and learn first-hand how things are done South American style. About a half-dozen employees have gone on learning gigs.
Paul Stafford, the 26-year-old sous-chef at Hermanos, went to Brazil for two months this summer to work at La Tavola restaurant to learn about their food and become a Brazilian BBQ expert. He also went to learn Portuguese, the language of Brazil.
"I learned a lot of Brazilian language, but I still had a translator and there was a lot of pantomiming," he laughs. "I'm obsessed with meats now. You need someone who's into that in a steak house like this. I just made some chorizo (spiced sausage) for the restaurant."
Bernier's first South American restaurant, Hermanos, is Brazilian with some Argentine dishes, and it offers wines exclusively from South America. On weekdays, the place is booming with the Portage and Main business crowd coming for lunch and happy hour. Later, the dinner-date gang takes over the white-tablecloth section behind the divider, along with out-of-town hotel guests and celebs sent over from The Fairmont Hotel. As the sun goes down on weekends, the younger crowd comes out to drink and dance to the wild music in the lounge.
Down the street at Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria, it's a different feel — more casual and laid back. Murray says they open at 7:30 a.m. for the local condo crowd and early-bird business types. Argentines love pizza for breakfast, and in Buenos Aires, where 70 per cent of the population is of Italian background, the main avenue, Corrientes, is full of pizzerias. In the morning, they feature breakfast pizza like fugazzeta rellena (thin crust, melted cheeses, with onions on top) and Corrientes restaurant serves it here — along with more traditional Canadian breakfasts.
The rest of the day, the Corrientes gang feeds the business and arts community as well as visitors who love the Exchange. People are charmed by Manitoba pizza made with fresh pickerel cheeks and Rock Star empanada made with dried prunes, bacon and mozzarella cheese.
The house dessert, called Manzana, features caramelized apple, cinnamon and Sambuca. All afternoon, people come in through the trees out front for snacks, desserts, coffees (there are about a dozen espresso-based delights) and wine. In true Argentine style, the staff encourages patrons to stay and visit and read books in the library at the back.
"Corrientes is the main avenue in Buenos Aires and there are many bookstores," Agrimbau explains.
Everyone at Hermanos and Corrientes is looking forward to the next phase in Bernier's dream: the November opening of Carnival Brazilian BBQ, with its myriad of meats on skewers and world-famous serving style. The exotic restaurant will anchor the east end of the new South American neighbourhood — just in time for patrons to tango in the snow!