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Big prices, tiny portions make café's successful dishes seem less impressive

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/9/2013 (1427 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The decor is either cool, or cold, depending on your taste. I like it -- a long, narrow room done simply but sleekly in shades of grey that range from near-ivory to slate, and a tomato red wall at one end, with dark caramel wooden table tops, and pale caramel wooden chairs.

The food menu is short -- expect snacks, not dinner-- but long on beverages of all kinds. Fitzroy stays open until midnight (until 2 a.m. if there are still people present), so possibly it may find its niche as a more upscale alternative to the neighbourhood bars as a place to drink, with the addition of a few good, if pricey, nibbles.

Fitzroy's late hours should appeal to the cocktail crowd.


Fitzroy's late hours should appeal to the cocktail crowd.

I think of it as the little café that could have. And still might, with some tweaking. The menu is small, to a fault, but most of the main dishes are good. Some are very good, in fact, although often with disappointing, occasionally incompatible garnishes. Moreover, the mostly tiny portions are priced unrealistically high, delivering too little for too much.

The best thing on the menu, though, doesn't need any tweaking, and it also happens to be the simplest and most generous of the choices. I'd award Fitzroy a medal for its fabulous salt beef sandwich -- moist, flavourful and not-too-salty brisket, hand cut in thickish chunks, piled thickly on City Bread rye and perfectly complemented by slices of new dills. It costs almost twice as much as most corned beef sandwiches, but it was also almost twice as big, twice as good and worth every penny of its $12 tab.

The superior burger might have been another top choice -- juicy, tasty, topped with melted onions and even nicely pink in the middle. But it was also one of the smallest burgers I've ever seen -- plump, yes, but no more than three inches across for $11 (with no included side). One wouldn't be much more than a snack, and even two probably wouldn't leave you feeling stuffed.

These days, some chatty menus offer more information than you ever wanted. Not this one, and given its extreme vagueness, the servers' recitations of the components and preparation of each dish are probably welcome. What, for instance, is the "chopped salad of 11 ingredients?" A nice if unexceptional variety of diced root veggies, it turns out, in a light vinaigrette. It is also one of the less pricey dishes at $7 for a fair-sized small portion, $11 large.

The $6 for chunky chips is harder to justify. In fact, we were astonished at the sight of about eight (at most) thick, limp, over-salted chunks, that weren't anywhere near as satisfying as the heaps of fries one gets in almost any burger joint, at a fraction of the cost.

The few thin slices of cured trout, which tasted a lot like gravlax, were lovely, served with marinated apple slices, some rocket leaves, and labne -- a kind of thick yogurt, which was nice on its own, but not a happy match with the trout ($15). The shrimp -- five plump ones -- were also very good, but the purée of parsley and horseradish that came with them was insipid ($12). Pressed house-made tofu was too dense and flavourless, served cold, with equally bland diced carrots and a smidgen of carrot marmalade, slightly perked up by a sprinkling of pistachio bits ($13).

A small lamb roll (cooked for hours, possibly sous vide) came bedded on a pleasant pea purée dotted by petits pois. The flavour was wonderful, and it would have been a winner, if it weren't for the big chunks of inedible fat. I don't know why the sticky pork is called sticky, since it wasn't, but it was tender and good. It also came with the nicest side of the entire menu -- near-puréed creamy corn enlivened by the crunch of roasted kernels of corn ($14).

Some have praised the Crunched Chicken. I can't. Mine was just thin slices of flavourless chicken, overwhelmed by a heavy coating of crumbs, and tasting not much different, in fact, from the breaded fried chicken that's sold everywhere, and for a lot less than $13. The nicest part of the dish was the refreshing watermelon garnish.

The only remaining, unsampled items on the menu as it appears on the Internet were a "warm pretzel with soft brown butter" and "stems of broccoli in spicy condiment." According to our server, there are no plans to offer daily specials, but evidently some new menu items have been added since last weekend.

I tried two of the three desserts (the untried one was "raw fruit with honey and lavender" which, I've been told, has more to it than its menu description). The chocolate and toffee dessert was described as a mousse, but was far too dense for a mousse. It was, however, perfectly luscious, pierced by a few crisp wafers of meringue, and circled by an unnecessary fluff of whipped marshmallows. The soy-based vanilla custard with some granola topping, however, was unpleasantly bland and runny.

There were few others present on my visits, so it's impossible to predict the noise level in a full house. For the same reason, I can't predict the service on a busy day, but ours was very pleasant, attentive and knowledgeable.

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, September 26, 2013 at 9:03 AM CDT: Changes headline, replaces photo, adds map

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