Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — Mike Green is a bit of a shmoo, all things considered. Actually, once you meet him in person it will become quite clear that he’s also a real Goog-head, and a big one at that.
Fighting words for sure. Go to a bar in Calgary, Charlottetown, Regina or Ottawa, look a man in the eyes and call him a shmoo or a Goog-head and you’ll probably end up being asked to continue the conversation outside. But this is Winnipeg and in these parts, everyone is a bit of a shmoo.
A freelance journalist from Winnipeg with a passion for food and food journalism who started cooking at 15, Green recently appeared on Master Chef Canada, where he had a chance to show off his cooking skills.
Today, you can find him telling the world about the city’s food highlights with the Winnipeg Tourism office as the digital marketing and communications coordinator.
Green explained that Winnipeg’s food scene is interesting because there is a fun contrast between the vintage establishments — like the old institutions that probably haven’t changed their menu or décor since the day they were founded decades ago — and the new young chefs who have travelled and worked abroad, who recognize where dining has gone in the past decade in North America, and who are now doing great things to bring the city’s scene up to what you would find say in Portland, or Vancouver, or maybe on the Ossington Street strip in Toronto‘s hip west side.
“Chefs like Mandel Hitzer at deer + almond, Scott Bagshaw at Deseo Bistro and Enoteca, and Adam Donnelly at Segovia are doing outstanding things in their respective tapas restaurants,” says Green. “I feel as though they have really been introducing the Winnipeg dining audience to the idea that excellent food doesn’t have to be served on white table clothes, that the service should not be anywhere near pretentious, that servers don’t need to wear black pants or uniforms, and that rooms should be designed in a manner that is both hip and inviting.”
Read about Winnipeg’s Fantastic Young Chefs in this article by Adrian Brijbassi
Green went on to say that deer + almond — which ranked 18th in the 2014 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide — does an excellent job at serving often whimsical food in a setting that really is a reflection of the Exchange District’s arts community, where people are being creative for creativity’s sake.
“There is a reason why so many musicians and actors hit that place up when they are in town — because it is a cool spot and the food is always groovy,” says Green. “Scott’s dishes at Deseo and Enoteca are always on the mark, expertly plated with big flavours and sauces that will make you want to lick your plate. Plus both rooms are really cool to be in. Same thing with Segovia, what Adam does in that beautiful room night in and night out would be noteworthy in any Canadian food city — we are super lucky to have him here. Whenever we are hosting out-of-town guests we always take them to one of these spots.”
While the new wave of chefs are bringing contemporary fare to the city, old-time establishments continue to please their regulars and visitors to the city. Earlier this summer, I discovered exactly what makes Winnipegers go ga-ga for city classics googs and schmoos. Green helped break down these hidden culinary gems. As I learned, when it comes to food there are names you will see only in Winnipeg.
Claim to fame: The Nip
Description: A hamburger, described as a small bite, or “nip” of Salisbury steak. Several different styles can be purchased, and there are also breakfast nips. Really tasty. The restaurant serves delicious poutine, sweet potato fries and desserts as well.
Cool fact: Bread is warm and fluffy, cooked in house every morning.
Cooler fact: This place oozes music history. A Winnipeg institution now going into its 84th year, Salisbury House is partly owned by Burton Cummings (of The Guess Who fame), and it shows. One of the first things you see when you walk in the door is a musical tribute featuring autographed guitars and other memorabilia.
Cost: The biggest sellers in the nip categories are Cheese Nip ($5.99), Mr. Big Nip ($6.49), Salisbury Nip ($5.49), Double Cheese Nip (Cheese Nip $5.99) and Bacon Bacon Nip Platter ($11.99).
General manager Pat Panchuck says: “The quality is number one. We make the meat, we make the bun, onions, everything. It’s a very unique product, and if you’re visiting Winnipeg you have to have it because it’s unique to Winnipeg.”
Nip connoisseur Mike Green says: ”There is a reason why it is always so busy at all their locations, they are working with a classic that does not need changing, plus Winnipeg loves the inside joke, or whatever it is, about getting a nip.”
Claim to fame: The Goog
Description: A gooey cup of ice cream sweetness featuring banana and nuts. Served in a paper cup.
Cool fact: This place has been serving up premium soft-serve ice cream in Winnipeg since 1957.
Cooler fact: Bridge Drive-In, or BDI as it’s known to locals, is named after the famous Elm Park Bridge, that crosses the Red River. The bridge just turned 100 years old.
Cost: $5.75 (16-ounce cup)
Owner Justin Jacob says: “I think it’s a part of a tradition. We are the only place in Winnipeg where you can get it. You can also customize it. If you didn’t want blueberries, you can eat cherries. You can change the hot fudge to hot caramel. It’s a unique combo of flavours, and that’s why people like it so much.”
Goog connoisseur Mike Green says: ”BDI is vintage cool as far as an ice-cream stand goes, and if they ever changed their menu there would be riots. Like the Goog, for instance. That thing is so over the top yet delicious that sometimes you’ve just got to loosen the belt a couple notches and have at it.”
Claim to fame: The Shmoo
Description: A beautiful, fluffy cake — a bar-mitzvah favourite.
Cool fact: This dish has been a regular in Winnipeg for more than 75 years.
Cooler fact: This delicacy won first prize at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans.
Cost: $7.50 a slice.
Owner Beth Grubert says: ”How can you possibly not like whipped cream, caramel sauce and nuts in a cake? I’ve been selling the Shmoo for 30 years and people love it. Sometimes cakes go in and out of popularity, but the Shmoo really has remained constant for all that time.”
Shmoo connoisseur Mike Green says: ”Do you really need that much caramel? No, but damn if you are not going to enjoy it.”