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.
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).
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.