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New & Notable: Saperavi brings the flavours of Georgia (the country) to Winnipeg

Some people may know the “the most interesting man in the world” to be the bearded Dos Equis guy, but I’m telling you that Saperavi restaurant owner Landis Henry could give him a run for his money.

He is a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry (King’s College London, class of ’78). He was born in Jamaica but grew up in London, England. He originally moved to Canada to work with the National Research Council as an industrial technology advisor in biotechnology, from whence he was moved to Global Affairs Canada and was posted abroad from 2004-2012 where he was Canada’s representative in a program that redirected former Soviet weapons scientists.

In Henry’s words, “Canada, the United States and the European Union felt — I should say correctly felt — that rogue states were coming to Ukraine and other former Soviet states to take and hire nuclear scientists, and scientists in biological warfare, to develop their own programs.”

Saperavi and Il Molino owner Landis Henry and chef Zena Nozadze (PCG)

Saperavi and Il Molino owner Landis Henry and chef Zena Nozadze (PCG)

“So Canada, the U.S. and the E.U. knew they had to address this potential threat, so that weapons of mass destruction, or their delivery systems, could not get into the hands of terrorists and rogue states. So from 2004-2012 I was Canada’s representative [at this post]; I was the executive deputy director for Canada at the centre in Ukraine for eight years.”

Henry would go on to tell me that at the end of the Cold War Ukraine had the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world; I tell you this man of the world is full of fascinating tidbits.

Prior to this role in Ukraine, Henry and his family were in Denmark for ten years (where his son Christer, who runs Saperavi was born), while before that, upon completing his postdoctorate in London, he lived in Switzerland (he also did an MBA in 1988).

A selection of Phkhali -- Georgian vegetable spreads made with walnuts along with cheese-stuffed mushrooms (PCG)

A selection of phkhali — Georgian vegetable spreads made with walnuts along with cheese-stuffed mushrooms (PCG)

After the former Soviet scientist redirection program ended in 2012 — which would see Henry constantly travelling around former Soviet Republics like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova etc… Henry moved with his family to Winnipeg, where he bought a multiuse building at 709 Corydon Avenue (it has apartments above, and two commercial spaces on the ground and basement floor).

So what do you do when you are a worldly fellow who now owns property on Winnipeg’s famed Corydon strip?

You open restaurants of course, restaurants where you can bring some of your favourite flavours from Europe to Winnipeg, that being the food of Georgia — that picturesque, mountainous, wine producing country that is sandwiched between Europe and Asia on the Black Sea — at Saperavi, and Danish smørrebrød — those fancy open-faced sandwiches that are becoming all the rage these days in the culinary world — at Il Molino.

Shrimp and Avocado sandwich ($10) from Il Molino (PCG)

Shrimp and Avocado sandwich ($10) from Il Molino (PCG)

As a primer, Il Molino sits in the basement of the building and is open for breakfast and lunch (for breakfast they also serve authentic Belgian waffles from Wafflicious). It opened in the summer of 2015.

Saperavi sits on the main floor of the building and is open 4:30 p.m – 11 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, Sundays until 9:30 p.m. It just opened on April 15 and has been busy with a clientele of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants — two groups that actually know of Georgian cuisine.

Both restaurants share a 50+ seat patio, along with a fine selection of European import beers (more on that later).

Anyway, after getting Landis’ history, my first question was (of course), “why Georgian cuisine?”

“When I was there — which was constantly — I felt the cuisine was different [than anything I had tried] and that everyone who came from the West really liked it. So I thought what we should do here is reproduce it, just like you would get in Georgia.”

“But of course, there were obstacles,” said Henry.

The main barrier was getting a chef. According to Henry — and a quick Google search on my part — there are possibly only three Georgian restaurants in Canada, all of which seem to be in the Toronto area.

Here in Winnipeg Henry could only find three Georgian families, none of which had a chef for hire.

Khachapuri - Imeruli ($12) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese (PCG)

Khachapuri – Imeruli ($12) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese (PCG)

So Henry looked back to the country he is so fond of and acquired the services of Zena Nozadze (after jumping through a great deal of hoops with Canadian immigration services), Saperavi’s Georgian chef.

Nozadze makes all the food of her homeland from scratch, including all the light, airy breads that are excellent for both sopping up sauces — of which there are several, and for lathering with phkhali, the savoury, super garlicky vegetable spreads that are composed of walnut, onion and either beet, leek, eggplant or spinach ($3.50 each).

“Georgia is referred to as the crossroads of Europe and Asia…. Its cuisine has been influenced extensively by the surrounding countries like Turkey to the south, and Russia to the north… most of which were powerful states,” said Henry.

“But similar to Switzerland — because it is mountainous and easily defendable — it was able to remain independent, keeping it’s unique characteristics. You do not see the same dishes [in Georgia] that are available in other countries. For instance, in a cosmopolitan country like Turkey you can still get fish and chips.”

“In Georgia, you only see its national dishes, and we all loved that,” continued Henry.

A selection of Shashlik - skewered marinated meats grilled on a spit (PCG)

A selection of Shashlik – skewered marinated meats grilled on a spit (PCG)

The flavour combinations and dishes I had during an extensive lunch with Henry and chef Nozadze where quite unlike anything I’ve tried before.

The main ingredients found throughout the menu are coriander — which is used in pronounced fashion in dishes like the minced pork and beef kebabi ($10) where it gives the meat a floral, citrusy element like sumac does on a Persian kabob — onion, garlic (big time #datenight), cumin, walnuts, pomegranate and vegetables in many forms (stewed, puréed and roasted) with the main flavour profile being savoury and herbaceous.

There were many standout dishes: for starters there is the shashlik (marinated meat skewers veal/chicken/pork, $13/$17/$22) whose delicious pork shoulder version is marinated in spices and Georgian wine before being roasted on a spit so the fat is rendered and crispy. The same can be said of the chicken thighs which are served whole (bone-in), featuring meat that glistens with juices below a crisp skin. Get them with the tomato sauce ($3.5), which is somewhat like a gazpacho, whose acidity rounds out the herbaceous, charbroiled meats.

Another excellent chicken dish is the shkmeruli (“chicken cooked in milk with garlic and Georgian spices,” $15) which features braise-tender drumsticks swimming in a white sauce (almost like a béchamel) that is cooked and served in a clay ramekin. Get it with that delightful, airy bread, so you can sop up the rest of that sauce.

Khachapuri - Adjaruli ($14) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese and topped with an egg (PCG)

Khachapuri – Adjaruli ($14) Georgian flat bread baked with cheese and topped with an egg (PCG)

On bread, I also have to point you to the khachapuri-Imeruli ($12), a flatbread stuffed with salty feta (Henry and Nozadze tell me in Georgia this would be stuffed with Imeretian cheese, a ripe cow’s cheese named after the region) that pairs well with a cold beer, and the khachapuri-adjaruli, that same bread made into the shape of a boat filled with feta and mozzarella, topped off with a barely set egg which you dip the crust into.

Finally, the khinkali ($14 for 5 pieces, or $20 for 10) are a must. These hand-pinched beef/pork dumplings (also available in salmon and mushroom) explode when you bite into them — much like xiaolongbao (Chinese soup dumplings), delivering a delectable coriander-spiked broth. The style, so I’m told, is to pick them up from the pinched top then bite into them while sucking out the broth. You then leave the top of the dumpling on your plate to show off how many you have eaten.

Apparently most of Georgia’s food is interactive like this. You get to tear at bread and dunk stuff, you utilize the phkhali condiments on various things so you are always getting bites of vegetables while also adding textures and flavours. It’s also all meant to be shared family style: “In Georgia, you don’t normally order your own plate, you order for the table,” said Henry, so bring a crew of at least three when you go.

Khinkali dumplings (PCG)

Khinkali dumplings (PCG)

Georgia also is a proud wine-producing country, being perhaps the oldest wine-producing region in the world (the restaurant’s namesake comes from its most-popular grape variety, which is used to make a dry red called Saperavi) and this restaurant is the only place in Winnipeg — and indeed most of Canada — where you can try Georgian varieties like Tibilisi, Tbilvino, and Saperavi (reds), along with Tbilvino, a dry white.

Saperavi, and Il Molino, also have great beer selections, serving primarily premium European imports. The two taps at Saperavi pour Erdinger Weissbeir ($6.50 served in the sexiest 11 oz glass around), along with the much-celebrated Delirium Tremens ($7.50), a fruity, strong Belgian ale (8.5%).

Both beers, along with the wine selection, will be perfect for their sunny, 55-seat patio this summer, where you’ll soon find our office siping away while keeping a steady base of cheesy salty breads, vegetable spreads, soup-filled dumplings, heavily seasoned skewered meats, and a refreshing Georgian salad.

I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

Saperavi and Il Molino are located at 709 Corydon Avenue. Il Molino does catering as well, while reservations for dinner at Saperavi can be made at 204.416.3996.

Funghi pizza at  Vera Pizzeria e Bevande (Terik Cabildo)

Where Winnipeg chefs eat on their days off: Part two

“When you own a restaurant, you don’t frequently have a lot of time to go out. I have one or two days where I maybe can escape for a few hours to go have a meal — I never have a Friday or Saturday off — so it’s really important that [when I do go for dinner] it is correct. You don’t want to risk not having the most comfortable, delicious experience or situation.”

That right there is the chef/owner of The Tallest Poppy, Talia Syrie, setting the tone for this month’s “where Winnipeg chefs eat on their days off.” Needless to say, “days off” is a stretch for most chefs, with Syrie’s claim that a couple hours away from prep and service is more or less the norm.

This month we feature both Syrie — whom we’ve previously dubbed the unofficial comfort food queen of Winnipeg — and chef Mandel Hitzer, the acclaimed chef/owner of Deer + Almond and co-creator, along with designer/architect Joe Kalturnyk, of the winter pop-up restaurant on ice RAW:almond.

In it they discuss atmosphere, customized spicy soup orders, dumplings, and the delicate art of avocado toast.

Mandel Hitzer

Spicy Noodle House (102-99 Osborne Street), the order goes as follows: spicy peanut soup with no noodle, mixed with vegetable tofu soup, with a green onion cake. It’s a secret order — this combination of the two soups, with no noodle.

I work a ton, so sometimes during the long days I fill up on carbs and don’t eat enough veggies. When I’m feeling down and out I get this and it sends me to cloud nine!

The green onion cake… OMG! It’s the bomb, and you have to get chili oil and also dip it in the peanut broth. This might be on my top ten list to eat before I die. It’s my jam!”

Talia Syrie

“As often as humanly possible I go to Vera (670 Osborne Street) on Mondays; I actually get sad if I can’t. I love the pizza and how simple everything is. It’s just so cozy and the service is great, and when you go on a Monday it is like industry night — you know everyone there. Plus it is $1 corkage on Monday, so you can bring a bottle and Terik’s [Cabildo, the owner] dad is always there too, and he desperately wants you to try whatever he is drinking.

It all just makes it feel like you are going to a friend’s house for dinner. So I love that, plus it’s the only place I don’t mind waiting in line.” (Something I certainly agree with.)

Feast for two. 😅 #HappyBirthdayDude #1weekCelebration 😂 #KosMicChronicles #KosMicEats

A photo posted by mika (@mikachoogpak) on

 

“I also eat at Noodle Express (180 King Street) once a week. For me, it’s the best dim sum place in town. I’m honestly not that adventurous, but I love their deep-fried salad shrimp dumpling. It’s a salad because they put mayonnaise in it [laughs], and I love their BBQ pork bun.

I think they are the only place in the city where they serve the pork buns actually hot. And I like how it is not cart service — all the food is made to order so it is really hot when you get it. Plus, you can look in the back and there are a whole bunch of people sitting making dumplings, so you know it is fresh whereas other places may be freezing them… And their peppered beef and the white turnip cake, amazing! It’s like a weird, glutenous… it’s about half an inch thick… almost like a noodle square with little pieces of pork in it, and it is served with a brown sauce. It’s just so delicious; it’s gummy in the inside and crunchy on the outside. I love it.

The other place I go to all the time is Forth (171 McDermot Avenue), pretty much almost every other day. I love Josey’s [Krahn, the barman] cocktails, he makes a seriously good martini. And get this: the other day I was in there, and I didn’t know what I wanted [to drink], so he made me a Mai Tai — which is hilarious — but it was so delicious and very pretty. Where would you order a Mai Tai? He probably put a whole forest of mint in there — so I mushed it all in and it was so bright tasting!

But normally I go there for breakfast — I was just there this morning in fact — because their avocado toast is really delicious….”

#whatdreamsaremadeof

A photo posted by Forth (@forth_wpg) on

 

Q: What makes a really good avocado toast?

“For one, their bread is stellar. They have a secret sourdough — I maybe shouldn’t even say more about it, this top-secret sourdough, that comes from a top-secret location — that is super delicious. Second, I think I really bug them because I am very particular about how I like my egg poached, but they accommodate my special requests and they are lovely about it. Plus, it is a really nice fresh-tasting breakfast — they put a little chili oil on it, the avocado is so creamy, the bread is quite sour so that cuts it, and you get a good squeeze of lime with it — so it is a lovely little breakfast that gives you a jump start on your day. Plus, the coffee is really good. It is just so nice!”

Note: the top image is of the Funghi pizza at Vera Pizzeria e Bevande (Terik Cabildo)

Bringing Popcart pops to a picnic is a total party starter (PCG)

Good to go: food that’s perfect for a picnic in the park

Life’s always a picnic in Winnipeg. And now, with spring finally here, we can drop that figurative part and get literal with this take on where and what you can eat to make your real picnic prime time in the Winnipeg sunshine.

In fact, did you know that Winnipeg experiences one of the highest amounts of sunshine per year at 2,372 hours, and boasts 2,727 hours of clear skies on average per year — the most of all Canadian cities? We also have an astounding 937 parks! (You can find these, and other great factoids, in our Tourism Winnipeg media kit).

Anyway, we have tons of great take-out (more of which you can find in our “Good to Go” culinary guide) so put this list to good use and get your picnic on in these pretty parks that mark all four points of the compass.

North Winnipeg

Kildonan Park features some of the oldest and largest trees in Manitoba, charming bridges, a formal garden where you’ll find Hansel and Gretel’s “Witch Hut,” an Olympic-size swimming pool, and Rainbow Stage — Canada’s longest-running outdoor theatre — so it is a brilliant place to start.

If it rains on your picnic (or you want a pre-play dinner), you can opt to head indoors and hit up Prairie’s Edge (2015 Main Street — it’s the jazzy Pavilion), a newly rebranded WOW Hospitality concept (it was formerly known as Food Evolution) where you can get colourful plates like pickerel (walleye) cheek pops served on a pea puree with garlic confit ($15), or beet fritters with orange fennel slaw and balsamic syrup ($11).

Pre @rainbowstage shawarma from Baraka Pita Bakery is how we roll at TW #onlyinthepeg #rbstage

A photo posted by Tourism Winnipeg's IG Account (@tourismwinnipeg) on

 

But, this being a picnic article, I suggest you hit up Baraka Pita Bakery (1783 Main Street) before you enter the park so you can then sit in the shade of a massive elm tree while eating one of the best shawarmas ever. This Lebanese restaurant has reached legendary status in Winnipeg for its handmade pita and pita pockets that are cooked in front of you in their gas oven. I’m adamant you go with the chicken shawarma, where the meat is cut right from the spit and the intense garlic sauce and super tangy Persian pickles will ensure that your breath won’t be awesome (so maybe not a great choice if you are attending a performance at Rainbow Stage — although it is an open air theatre) but everything else will be. #dontworrybegarlicky

East Winnipeg

There’s no shortage of parks in the east, the majority of which hug the Seine River, so you really can’t go wrong when you head out east on Marion Street. That being said, why not set your sights on St. Boniface’s Happyland Park (520 Marion Street), where you can take the kids to the pool, play some frisbee golf, or find a feasting spot under the foliage.

For take-out there’s an abundance of options, this being St. Boniface, but the obvious choice is to get yourself one of Winnipeg’s original Fat Boy’s at either Dairi-Wip (383 Marion Street), which is just a frisbee throw away (preferably with a mid-range flying disc) or Mrs. Mike’s (286 Taché Avenue) in which case you’ll need a full on distance driver disc (and yes, frisbee golf is every bit as dorky as it sounds, and I’m allowed to say that as I have my own set of discs).

The King Double from Mrs. Mike's is serious (PCG)

The King Burger from Mrs. Mike’s is serious (PCG)

Fat Boy’s are the holy grail of Winnipeg burgers; a messy concoction with a runny chili sauce, shredded lettuce, a big pickle, and a near heart-stopping amount of mayo, and they can be found at reputable shacks all across the city. Both Dairi-Whip and Mrs. Mike’s do fantastic variations, with the Mrs. Mike’s King Burger being a double patty freak of nature that you simply can’t put down (because it will both fall apart and you may not have the strength to pick it up a second time). The Dairi-Wip’s single Fat Boy with a side of chili fries has also worked its way into local folklore, mainly because people say they have the best chili while their nonchalant service is like poetry in motion.

They both do soft serve and milkshakes that bring all the boys from the yard (although if you do a shake with a Fat Boy you should maybe learn some self control and tone it down a little) and they both are cash only — as all good Winnipeg burger shacks are.

South Winnipeg 

In the south you have a fine selection of parks to choose from. There are little guys with water features like Lakeshore Park, AA Leach Park, Baldry Creek Park, Alex Bridge Park (see, we have a lot of parks!) and Kirk Bridge Park (all of which are nestled in suburbia); larger parklands like Maple Grove Park, the very pretty Saint Vital Park — which hugs the Red River; while the University of Manitoba itself has no shortage of picnic-ing areas that are prime for people watching.

Friday Lunches To Go – Charbroiled Chicken Noodle Bowls

A photo posted by Saigon Jon's – Winnipeg (@saigonjons) on

 

For take-out food, remember this rhyme: “you can’t go wrong, with Saigon Jon” and you’ll be in good shape.

Saigon Jon’s Vietnamese Kitchen (2696 Pembina Highway) is a real standout in that they grow many of their own herbs onsite in their Urban Cultivator and they use locally sourced, natural ingredients like free-range chicken, open pasture pork, and all-natural beef. You can taste the difference in their delicious, picnic-appropriate noodle bowls which are gluten free, can be made vegetarian, and are composed of rice noodles, pickled daikon, carrot slaw, shredded romaine, cucumbers, sprouts, peanuts and fresh mint (regular $9, large $12 — you’ll only need a large if you are sharing and/or a CFL lineman).

Here’s the scoop, one person should get the hot honey chicken version, another should get the charbroiled pork version, and you should both get the sweet and sour dressing and the peanut sauce and mix them together in your bowl. Follow these steps are you are ready for one winning picnic. As an added ordering bonus, Saigon Jon’s owner is also one of the seven friendliest people in Winnipeg.

West Winnipeg

In the west is where you can find the biggest park in the city — and indeed one of Canada’s biggest urban parks — Assiniboine Park. If you say you can’t find a good picnic spot here you are lying. Between vast open fields — where you can possibly eat while watching a cricket game, the stunning Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, and countless tree-lined paths featuring all the flora you could ask for in the Formal and English Gardens, Assiniboine Park is simply a stunner.

Culinary wise, should you choose to be indoors you can hit up the family friendly atmosphere of the Park Cafe, or you can do as the folks in the know from St. James do, and do the double by hitting up Joe Black Coffee Bar and Sargent Sundae (pretty much side by side at 2037 & 2053 Portage Avenue) before strolling into the park via the pedestrian bridge over the Assiniboine River (here’s a map).

🍦♥️ #winnipeg #icecream #sargentsundae #iloveicecream #sundayicecream #chocolateblueberry

A photo posted by Nayoung Jeon (@very0.jny) on

 

Joe Black Coffee Bar is a bit of a misnomer, in that it’s much more than just coffee (although it does server quality fair trade stuff). This licensed place does a nice array of take-out items including flatbread pizzas like rosemary honey and ham, butter chicken and veggie pesto, along with paninis, and hot sandwiches with gluten-free bread options.

Follow this up with a trip to Sargent Sundae (you may have to eat your ice cream first — unless you are hardcore and pack a cooler with dry ice) where you should get soft serve in a waffle cone, along with a hot double walnut, which is every bit as aggressive as it sounds.

City Centre

Finally, should you be downtown, do as the fine media peeps are doing in the top photo and set yourself up on the Legislative grounds (or perhaps Millennium Library Park) and make your own custom picnic from one of the city’s many food trucks, the majority of which can be found all along Broadway.

Last summer Downtown Winnipeg Biz and I hosted what surely was one of Winnipeg’s greatest picnics, where all the dishes where gathered from food trucks on bicycles built for two from Bee-2-Gether bikes (you can read about it here via our friends at 99.1 Fresh Radio) where we finished it all off with delicious popsicles from Pop Cart. It was an afternoon of pure gluttonous magic, and one you should surely copy this summer when you find yourself starving in the centre of the city.