Oscar’s Deli is brimming with history and great comfort food

I’m willing to guess that when Oscar’s Deli first opened nearly 90 years ago they were not serving a two-patty behemoth with bacon, pastrami, salami, and a fried egg called the “Dirty Burger.” But times, they change.

“Oscar Berman first opened Oscar’s Deli in 1929 and it changed hands a few times until the Ludwigs took it over shortly after World War Two,” said Oscar’s Deli owner Larry Brown, who gave me an abbreviated history of the place as plate after plate of comfort food was coming at me.

“The Ludwigs owned it until the ’70s, then they sold it to their nephew Jimmy, who was a good friend of mine,” said Brown. “In the ’70s I was already working in the food business with my father-in-law in who was a kosher butcher, so when my friend Jimmy took over Oscar’s from his uncles I was already spending a bit of time there. So it was just a natural progression [that I would take it over]”

Brown eventually bought Oscar’s in 1979, after previously being offered the chance to do so in 1971.

Hari Haidau, Rachel and Larry Brown (PCG)

Hari Haidau, Rachel and Larry Brown (PCG)

In 1982 he moved it to this location at 175 Hargrave Street, right beside the RBC Convention Centre in the heart of downtown Winnipeg.

“I still get a couple guys who come in who used to work as teens at the original Oscar’s on Main Street, who used to bring the glass pop bottles in wooden crates up from the basement,” said Brown.

“Back then, up until the mid-’70s, it was strictly corned beef, salami, and pastrami sandwiches, along with pickles and drinks,”

Brown now works alongside his daughter Rachel — who cooks and jokes that she has been clearing tables since the age of four and waitressing since 16 — along with Hari Haidau, who came on as a chef in March of this year.

Nearly forty years on the corned beef and pastrami are still the top sellers, but I was there to be put through the paces by the new brunch and dinner menu, which the Oscar’s crew is hoping will bring added crowds for their newly expanded hours.

Chicken schnitzel and waffle (PCG)

Chicken schnitzel and waffle (PCG)

Let’s start with the brunch dishes (available Saturdays), which includes a chicken schnitzel and waffle, a Yorkshire pudding eggs Benedict (the Yorkie breakfast), and a Mexican-style breakfast with fried eggs and pico de gallo on local La Cocina tortillas with an adobo cream sauce.

The play on chicken and waffle is delicious, if not for the faint of heart. The waffle batter contains candied bacon (yes, there is now plenty of pork on the menu, including all-you-can-eat ribs for dinner on Jets’ home games) and blueberries, while the chicken is pounded flat then marinated in buttermilk for a couple days before getting battered in matzo meal. It all gets served with a healthy amount of bourbon maple syrup and an optional two fried eggs, in case you really want to get a serious start to your Saturday morning.

The stuffed pepper (PCG)

The stuffed pepper (PCG)

The Yorkie breakfast is also a pretty great study in morning gluttony. The cup of the Yorkshire contains both ham and salami, along with garlic, onion, a red wine reduction and chicken gravy, while the runny poached egg is covered in an ancho chili hollandaise. If you are counting at home this is indeed a three sauce benny (four if you count the runny egg) that will keep you warm on a weekend winter’s morn. You can get it with rosemary smashed potatoes that are crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle, and ideal for your three sauce mopping.

“What we are making is food we all love,” said chef Haidau. “It’s food that will fill you up — we’ll obviously lighten it up come summer — but for now it will stick to your bones.”

The gauntlet my appetite ran continued onto the dinner menu that saw a massive stuffed bell pepper overflowing with meaty chili sitting on top of three hefty scoops of cheesy mash. It was hearty, sure, but I dare say not over the top with richness as I had anticipated. The mash was whipped to an airy texture, the chili was well seasoned and flavourful, while the accompanying coleslaw had all the needed acidity and crunch (I poured mine right on top of that meaty mountain and went to town).

I’m telling you fans that are in town for the Grey Cup right now: this is what you need to lay the base down before adventuring out to discover Winnipeg’s bar scene.

The Dirty Burger (PCG)

The Dirty Burger (PCG)

Finally, we come to the Dirty Burger, which customer’s demanded stay on the menu after Burger Week 2015 — and for good reason. When they bring this bad boy out it should be accompanied by a theme song like an ’80s wrestler (preferably something quite grand, like Macho Man when he walked out to “Pomp and Circumstance“). It features with a challah bun slathered in a horseradish sauce, lettuce, caramelized onions, two thin patties of ground chuck, bacon, pastrami, salami and a fried egg with a running yolk.

Now before you say, “dear god, that is too much burger to handle” I assure you it is manageable. I was able to two-hand it and get my teeth into it just fine while the richness did not put me down for the count. The juicy chuck patties have a zesty seasoning to them, the horseradish sauce adds that needed zing, and the meat-to-bun ratio (which is so important in a burger) was spot on.

Despite its seemingly imposing stature, this is one of the best burgers in Winnipeg, and one I will be back for soon for my next burger craving.  The fries are awesome too; the potatoes are pressed on the second smallest fry cutter setting making for a crispness that gives you that satisfying crunch sound when you snap them.

Yes, my meal may have sounded a little over the top for lighter eaters, but it was a menu sampling and I still managed a yoga class at 5 p.m. after this epic lunch at 1:30 p.m. Plus, Oscar’s still has salads and lighter fare on the menu too, while that fabulous, vinegary coleslaw that comes with nearly everything is meant to cut through all that richness.

Oscar’s Deli is located at 175 Hargrave Street and is licensed with beer and wine. It is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. And note, for this Grey Cup Saturday they will open for breakfast even earlier, say 8 a.m. You can follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

Crafting concoctions behind the bar at Smith.

Where to wet your whistle during the 103rd Grey Cup in Winnipeg

Chances are if you are coming to Winnipeg this week for the 103rd Grey Cup, you’re going to look for some libatious places to wet your whistle.

Now, I’m not saying that all CFL fans are drinkers — indeed the 103rd Grey Cup Festival has plenty of family-friendly fare, while our own Grey Cup guide offers plenty of attractions and things to do away from the field — but that being said, Winnipeg is bubbling with both classy drinking establishments and proud dive bars that would be a shameful to miss while you’re in town for Canada’s biggest party.

Plus, they’ve extended service hours until 3 a.m. from Thursday to Sunday.

For the sake of brevity, we’ve listed just a few unique Winnipeg rooms, (not including clubs, because I’m too old for those) while there are no national chains on the list as we are all about keeping it #onlyinthepeg on Peg City Grub.

The Palm Lounge (222 Broadway, located in The Fort Garry Hotel)
With its domed ceiling, lavish draperies and gilded walls, the Fort Garry Hotel’s Palm Lounge provides a step back in time. The 102-year-old railway hotel is a grand dame of historic architecture in Winnipeg with this lounge being its social epicentre. The servers and bartenders are in dapper dress, the clientele is to refrain from wearing hats, there is frequently someone tickling the ivories on the grand piano or some live jazz trio, the cocktails are all of the classic variety while the wine and beer menu is suitable for the surroundings. What more could one ask for to start the evening off with an air of dignity?

Bailey’s (185 Lombard Avenue)
In the Exchange District you’ll find several spots of note, a great starting point of which is Bailey’s. One step inside and you’re instantly transported to an Olde World English drinking room where a massive oak bar serves as the hub for a multi-room lounge. The portraits of long-gone British aristocrats that adorn the brick walls play foil to the many screens that are tuned into sporting events. The main booze draw comes byway of an extensive scotch list – which Bailey’s insists is the biggest in the city – along with a good smattering of cognacs and wine.

Albert Street Cocktail Company (Albert Street Cocktail Company)

Albert Street Cocktail Company (Albert Street Cocktail Company)

Albert Street Cocktail Company (91 Albert Street)
Albert Street Cocktail Company is arguably Winnipeg’s newest and most drink-focused room. It’s a dandy of a place, with industrial-style wood tables that can be cranked to various heights, stately furniture, and an extensive cocktail menu (featuring both originals and “Vintages”) that shows what glassware your drink will come in. Their handcrafted cocktails take a bit of time to be produced but it is worth it (even at around $11 per drink). Word to the wise, don’t be a chump and order a vodka-seven; a sazerac is much more the style here.

Prairie 360 Whiskey Lounge (83 Garry Street, take the elevator to the top)
At 28 floors up in the middle of downtown, nothing beats the view inside Prairie 360’s Whiskey Lounge. This masculine room – complete with deep comfy chairs and a slightly disturbing artwork featuring Winnie the Pooh in a hunting scenario – is a great counterpoint to its sister room, the piano lounge across the hall. Lounge guests come for the view, but it’s the tipple list that keeps this downtown spot on the must-do list. The 30th floor revolving restaurant and its lounges stock an estimated 240 spirits and 200 bottles of wine. The curated whiskey and scotch menu is divided into five tasting categories: floral and fragrant; smoky and peaty; malty and dry; rich and round; and fruity and spicy.

SMITH (75 Forks Market Road)
Inside the Inn at the Forks is where you’ll find SMITH, whose rustic-chic lounge features “antler” chandeliers, Hudson Bay blanket banquettes and rough-hewn tables. SMITH’s house-made bitters and syrups are good examples of the growing trend of mixology in Winnipeg, with most of them being put to good use on a cocktail list that is a double-shot of classic and modern. They also do a nice house-cured charcuterie board to nibble at while their giant ice cubes are the height of sophistication.

Rae and Jerry's iconic lounge seats (Rae and Jerry's)

Rae and Jerry’s iconic lounge seats (Rae and Jerry’s)

Rae and Jerry’s Steak House (1405 Portage Avenue)
This legendary establishment, which has been serving it up since 1957, is just begging to be used as a set for a Quentin Tarantino movie. Rae and Jerry’s retro decor features bright red vinyl chairs set against dark panel where you swear you could squint and see Don Draper tackling a Rusty Nail in a dark corner as Roger Sterling tucks into a steak (which, I kid you not, you can order with a tin of chilled tomato juice instead of a soup course). The lounge attracts a mishmash of devoted clientele that ranges from stylish seniors, dealmakers, professionals, hipsters and the creative class.

Le Garage Cafe (166 Provencher Boulevard)
Leave it to Winnipeg’s French community to make such a fine drinking and eating establishment. Le Garage, located in belle Saint Boniface, is constantly rocking with live bands throughout the week, great food — including a much celebrated poutine, and that fine distinction of being equally popular with the University crowd as it is with older folks.

The Toad in the Hole (108 Osborne Street)
When it comes to Osborne Village, one of Winnipeg’s liveliest nighttime neighbourhoods, The Toad in the Hole Pub and Eatery is most certainly one of the picks of the pool. It houses a whisky bar – which is exclusive to a crowd 25 years old and up – that features over 160 whiskies from around the globe and a main pub area that is always hopping with locals.

Good Will Social Club (625 Portage Avenue)
The hipster capital of Winnipeg could very well be the Good Will Social Club, which recently celebrated its first full year in business. A long communal table is the main feature of one room, along with a pizza by the slice counter from A Little Pizza Heaven and a VHS player and TV (replete with a solid selection of VHS films). The other side is wide-open with a stage at the back (where some form of live music happens every night) along with a dance floor and bar that does solid cocktails and has great beers on tap. Their Instagram account is truly amazeballs if you want to get a real feel for the place before visiting. 

The taps are near endless at Barley Brothers Stadium (FB Hospitality Group)

The taps are near endless at Barley Brothers Stadium (FB Hospitality Group)

Barley Brothers Stadium (2005 Pembina Highway)
With 156 types of draft, along with the distinction of being walkable to the stadium, you’d be a fool not to give a shout out to Barely Brothers. With the FIFA Women’s World Cup already under their belt, where they hosted hundreds of intense American Outlaw fans on a daily basis, this place is ready for (almost) anything that CFL fans can throw at them — even Roughrider fans (we love you Saskatchewan, and we can’t wait to have some pints with you folks and pretend that our seasons never panned out this way).

Glaring omissions that we simply didn’t have room for in this article (also please feel free to fill the comment section with more bars for our visiting CFL fans):
The King’s Head Pub (read about it here)
The Cornerstone (read about it here)
The Grove (read about it here)
Yellow Dog Tavern (read about it here)
Rudy’s Eat and Drink (fabulous retro interior serving classic cocktails right in the heart of downtown in the Manitoba Hydro Building)
Tavern United (several locations in the city)
Blaze Restaurant and Lounge at the Delta Hotel (read the fresh review here)
The MET (newly refurbished space downtown with a classy lounge)
Black Rabbit Bistro (for elevated bar food and craft cocktails)
The Handsome Daughter (read our fresh new review about it here)
The Merchant Kitchen in the Alt Hotel (read our fresh review here then go order the Korean fried chicken and Thai fried rice)
Corydon Avenue in general: with places like Bar Italia, Teo’s & Mano a Mano, Confusion Corner Bar and Grill, SPIN Restaurant and Martini Bar, and newbie The Roost Social House (which I’ll be writing a full article about next week), this is the spot to be in Winnipeg if you and your crew want to embark on a serious pub crawl (let this map from Corydon Avenue Biz be your guide).

And remember, please drink responsibly and call a cab:
Unicity Taxi 204.925.3131
Duffy’s Taxi 204.925.0101


Every neighbourhood needs a Handsome Daughter

When it comes to drinking food (that is to say, food that accompanies boozy drinks — not putting your meal in a Vitamix) the Japanese have izakaya, the Germans have brats in the Bierhaus, and Winnipeg has a Handsome Daughter.

Fresh off its first year in business last month, this proudly proclaimed dive bar is a hipster hang and one of a few places in the city that stays open really late (6 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week) while still slinging food (until at least 1:00 a.m.).

The tight, tasty menu goes down nicely with its roster of drinks, while the space (which has housed many establishments in the past few years) and concept now appears to be a really good fit in the West Broadway neighbourhood fold.

The heavy hart - Canadian whisky, Campari, grapefruit (PCG)

The heavy hart – Canadian whisky, Campari, grapefruit (PCG)

“As far as I’m concerned this is the greatest neighbourhood in the city — it just has so much going for it,” said Jason Evaristo, who tends bar and co-owns the place along with Kirian Eyford, and Steve Diubaldo.

“I’ve been eyeing up this location for almost a decade… this building just had so much potential, and the neighbourhood as a whole is just so exciting to be a part of with places like The Tallest Poppy, Thom Bargen, Sherbrook Street Deli, and all the stuff that is popping up because of West Broadway Biz,” said Evaristo.

Along with the restaurants Evaristo has mentioned, Sherbook Street has become a hub for hip eateries that have added flavour to a street that already included wily veterans like Bistro Dansk, Cousin’s Deli, and The Nook. All these spots, along with Boon Burger and an ever-popular Stella’s location, continue to feed the cool cats who live in the surrounding houses of Wolseley and West Broadway.

The vibe of Handsome Daughter is like that of the neighbourhood: eclectic and laid back with a dash of cheeky artistry.

Regulars sit at the bar doing a Pickleback (a shot of Jameson with a pickle brine chaser) while waiting for the “Big Mike” — a braised brisket burger replete withMcD’s inspired condiments like thousand island dressing and iceberg lettuce — while young couples are seated at tables having glasses of wine and sipping bottles of Molson Standard, which is their most popular beer. They also sell Labatt 50 (should they start selling OV they’ll complete the “dad beer” triangle) while they also have a selection from local brewery Half Pints along with PBR (of course) on tap.

The "Big Mike" burger with braised brisket (PCG)

The “Big Mike” burger with braised brisket (PCG)

Events take place on nearly every night (which you can follow on their sweet Instagram account) including bands, very specific and very popular trivia nights on Wednesday (it started with The Simpsons and has gone through Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny…), Thursday night comedy shows hosted by my nemesis (JK) Winnipeg’s other Mike Green (whom I’ve never actually met but who is an Arsenal fan… LFC all the way!), along with WWE pay-per views once a month that draw, so I’m told, “very serious wrestling fans.”

Needless to say, The Handsome Daughter is doing well as a cultural hub.

Chef Michael Wyspianski and sous chef Mischa Decter took over the kitchen a month and a half ago and came up with a new menu that Decter — whose culinary background includes Cafe Carlo (4 years) and Osborne Village Cafe — took me through. (I should mention Decter also books the bands; it’s a real communal effort over there).

Kale, beet and roasted cauliflower salad (PCG)

Kale, beet and roasted cauliflower salad (PCG)

It’s heavy into pickled items — Decter said he loves to brine, as evidenced in his nice work with heritage carrots, the pickling liquid containing some cumin and chili powder that lends a linger of heat — along with other salty, warming items that come out of their oh-so-tiny kitchen.

Let’s start with their Sher-Broke Mac N Cheese (two sizes: $9 or $5 – $5 version pictured at top of article) that is everything you want in a bowl to accompany a pint of beer. The old cheddar sauce is creamy and runny enough to let the elbows bathe, it comes with optional slices of Winnipeg Old Country hot dog (should you wish to relive your childhood, minus the ketchup) that you can substitute cauliflower for, while it gets topped with a runny poached egg, some crispy kale and crunchy, battered onions.

The kale and beet salad ($7) subscribes to the salad school that says if you put a bunch of good things together, it is going to taste good. Roasted beets are seen with their regular partner in crime, goat’s cheese, while you get both raw and toasted kale, roasted cauliflower, and pumpkin seeds and chickpeas for nuttiness and texture. The dressing is an acidic red wine balsamic vinaigrette that lifts up all the elements.

Confit chicken wings and cauliflower wings (PCG)

Confit chicken wings and cauliflower wings (PCG)

My favourite dish is the panko crusted cauliflower wings ($7, full portion not pictured above) that are laid over housemade buttermilk ranch dressing and hot sauce. I’d eat that all day long, while the actual chicken wings, cooked confit and not finished fried, are also a pleasant surprise.

I’ve always felt that the only way to do wings is to make sure the skin is super crispy, but this proves me wrong; the skin here is ridiculously soft (without being fatty or greasy) and kind of melts in your mouth. Get them served with the Asian BBQ sauce.

The Handsome Daughter also does fun food specials, like El Salvadorian pupusas, while their pulled pork tacos are pretty solid.

With it’s laid back vibe, late, late hours, and nice little menu, I’d argue that every neighbourhood could use a Handsome Daughter. But they don’t, so go find that girl in West Broadway.

The Handsome Daughter is located at 61 Sherbrook Street