A serving of Little Italy has landed on plates in the heart of downtown Winnipeg.
Opening in July, Little Maria's Porchetta & Meatballs is one of the newest restaurants on the city's buzzing food scene. (An estimated five new food purveyors are expected to open in the Exchange District and Wolseley by the end of September.)
Located just steps south of Broadway on Edmonton Street, Little Maria's is a cute and kitschy diner with a deli vibe.
Mismatched tables and chairs, including a white arborite table, decorate the sunlight spot. Guests can also take a seat at several tables on the sidewalk patio. Inside, walls are painted a cheery pink and yellow. Your mood instantly lightens as soon as you walk inside Little Maria's.
Guests order at the counter and then friendly staff deliver meals to the table. Food service was speedy and boy, was it hot. Steam came off the plates.
Little Maria's serves exactly what it proclaims in its name: porchetta and meatballs.The menu is tight and focused. Eight sandwiches loaded with all kinds of meat, cheese and veggies, all on Italian loaf, are the stars here. Or choose from three different meatballs (chicken, classic beef and pork, and veggie), then add your own sauce (tomato basil, rose parmesan, arribiata and bolognese).
The size of a billiard ball, these meatballs are hefty. Expect tender and moist bites.
A note about the tomato basil sauce: It was an absolute highlight. Bright, fresh and clean tomatoey flavour burst forth. A touch of sweet spiked this light and oddly summery sauce.
A conversation with chef/owner Joe Pelligrino, formerly of Pop Soda's Coffeehouse and Gallery, revealed the secret to the sauce. It's a family recipe that goes back to his great grandmother. Whatever's inside, it's a winner. That sauce also made an appearance on the daily pasta-baked penne with parmesan.
Porchetta is slow roasted and tender with a hit of salty divineness. It bathes in all its porky, fatty decadence. Order a six-ounce plate of porchetta for a unadorned taste. The accompanying sautéd garlic and spinach was a nice touch of green on the plate.
The Gandolfini sandwich was stacked with salami, capicolla, provolone, sautéd red and yellow peppers, garlic spinach and thick-cut slice of ripe tomato. This ain't Subway. Lightly toasted Italian loaf held this two-hander masterpiece in place.
Diners can add sides to their meals including: white bean and sweet peppers; peas, onions and salami; smashed burnt end potatoes; daily roasted vegetables; and the daily pasta.
A note to families: Come to Little Maria's. Little people are warmly welcomed here. A play area with art supplies and toys is tucked into a small corner of the dining room and divided by sheer drapery. Single meatballs on a mini-loaf or porchetta on a little garlic bun are good options, along with the daily pasta.
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