If you are into food festivals and all round gluttony, Winnipeg in September is the place to be.
Much like kids who are currently hitting the panic button with that first day of school looming so close, your midriff might be looking to pull the parachute too, as this upcoming month is no friend to diets or calorie counting.
To truly conquer this month's epic epicurean events you'll have to eat 59 burgers in one week, sample food from 30 food trucks in three days, then eat 10 poutines in one evening. And then, you will most likely die.
So now that we've put that out there, let's see what September has in store, shall we?
Up first is Le Burger Week, which takes place in Winnipeg (and other select Canadian cities along with Port-au-Prince, Haiti) from September 1st to the 7th.
This is the fourth year for Le Burger week in Winnipeg (the excellent peeps of Charcoal organize the Winnipeg leg -- check out their website, it is full of stylish Winnipeg stuff), and as I alluded to above, there are nearly 60 participating restaurants in Winnipeg, that Charcoal has listed here in alphabetical order, along with sexy burger pics from their photographer Brett Howe.
The Le Burger Week gist is this: go out and eat a bunch of burgers at a bunch of the participating restaurants, then vote for your favourite burger(s) on the Le Burger Website (link here), once it goes live on September 1st.
Get this: some people (or more often groups, whereby people can share and take a bite of a burger each) have gone out and tried them all in years past. These are the kinds of people who will be the first to colonize far-off planets, such is their lust for adventure and daring. In fact, if you can prove to me that you ate (almost) every single burger over the course of the week, I will personally take you for lunch at V.J's Drive-In (my fave burger joint).*
NuBurger -- Winnipeg's locally sourced, grass-fed, hormone-free burger spot will be looking to take the crown for a fourth straight time while facing competition from some truly dazzling offerings that are worth noting. Indeed, some of the entrants are so elaborate that their list of ingredients constitute full paragraphs.
Take for instance The Steamed Ham from The Handsome Daughter, a belligerent burger on a brioche bun toasted in bone marrow with a house-ground beef patty with sautéed lobster mushrooms, a "disc of bacon," Bothwell smoked gouda, tomato jam and more... including an extra of pan-seared foie gras #meatsweats.
Many feature at least two types of meat. King + Bannatyne's River City Brisket Burger looks particularly impressive with its house-ground brisket and chuck patty topped with its near-famous smoked brisket and special sauce, while VG at the Fairmont's Bite Mi has a shrimp, chorizo and beef patty. And it's not just beef -- of the several fried chicken burgers the KYU Bistro KYU Burger and Bernstein's Deli's Super Delicious Fried Chicken Burger look terribly exciting, while Chosabi is doing an ahi tuna patty. Perhaps best of all is the vast selection of sexy homemade buns, which is so important for getting that golden bun to burger ratio.
For my two cents, I was really impressed last year with Deer + Almond's entry, the "Big trouble in little China" chicken burger, which tasted like everything great about steamed buns at dim sum (along with bonus points for a toasted nori dusting on the bun). While on the traditional side of things Oscar's Deli's Dirty Burger was massive, bold, and extremely juicy.
Two days after Le Burger Week wraps up is when you can take your appetite to the streets, as Downtown Winnipeg Biz presents one of ManyFest's (September 9-11) marquee events, that being Food Truck Wars.
Winnipeg's food truck scene is really off the chain these days, with our comprehensive guide now listing nearly 50 trucks on the city's streets. The majority of these trucks will be competing over the course of three days for Food Truck Wars' four coveted titles, those being People's Choice Winner (based on overall votes) and Judges' Award Winners for Best Presentation, Best Bang for your Buck and Most Original.
Here's the gist: when you arrive at ManyFest, which takes place on right on Broadway at Memorial Boulevard, you will see at least 30 food trucks lined up, along with a table in the centre where you can pick up your ballot to fill out once you've had your food truck fill.
If you can eat from all 30 food trucks over the course of three days, I won't offer you anything -- not even a hug -- because you won't want one. I was on the judging panel last year for this and after eating one dish from every truck, all I wanted to do was to be left alone, like a python who has gorged on an entire antelope and then is physically useless for the next year while it digests.
But that doesn't mean it can't be amazing! The trick is to be selective (use our guide!) and assemble a sturdy group of gourmands to grab dishes from the Many trucks. This way, you get so many options without having to truly stretch your eating endurance.
You are guaranteed to find some culinary delights from wonderful wood fire pizzas (The Red Ember is a perennial crowd favourite -- as massive lines will attest, but don't forget about Fire'd Up which scored big on our judges' scorecards last year), to all sorts of tacos, to sushi, to what appears to be a whole slew of barbecue trucks that are new to the scene.
Last year KYU Grill took People's Choice Award for their Heroshima skewer-style sandwiches, while us judges were enamoured with Tot Wheels (Best Presentation, and I would have given them taste were there such an award), The Churro Shop (Bang for your Buck) and Island Fusion, whose plantain sliders were vote Most-Original.
After that, you at least have a few weeks to hit the gym, yoga studio, TRX class or what have you (because Winnipeg is #blessed with some great facilities) so you can get back into fighting shape for the 2016 Poutine Cup, which takes place on September 28 starting at 5:30 p.m. at everyone's favourite festival venue, Fort Gibraltar.
Poutine Cup -- now entering its third year -- is more than just ten excellent Winnipeg restaurants putting their best fry forward with Bothwell cheese curd and gravy for one of two trophies. It's a real cultural event and pretty sweet little party, where you can mingle with at least 300 other poutine enthusiasts in the Fort's beautiful setting while washing it all down with some cold local beers and cocktails.
I also judged this one last year (and I will be again this year) and although it can be salty -- in the literal sense for once -- it can also be innovative and incredibly tasty.
Case in point during the first Poutine Cup when us judges (which included chef Mandel Hitzer and food writer Robin Summerfield) awarded our Judges' Choice to Maw's Eatery. The Maw's crew blew us away by pickle brining their fries for their ruben poutine, which now sits in my memory bank of top five poutines (and that includes post-bar ones, which always taste the best).
Last year (link here), Marion Street Eatery took both People's and Judges' Choice (in 2014 they took People's Choice too) with a tremendous poutine called "The Drunken Baba," which featured vodka horseradish cream, julienned beets and dill pickles, garlic sausage crumble and caramelized onion gravy on thin fries. Sweet mercy, it was marvellous.
Poutine Cup is being organized and hosted by culinary power couple Connie and Shawn Brandson, who, along with running Fort Gibraltar Dining Corporation, also own Promenade Cafe and Wine and run Provisions at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site.
For tickets, you have to visit the official website (link here), where you can join the mailing list to ensure you get first dibs when they are released -- which you will want to do, as last year this event sold out within hours.
Three hundred tickets will initially be sold for Poutine Cup, with another 200 released the day or so before the event weather depending (if it rains, they can't release those other tickets).
*Offer valid only for the first person (and/or group of four or less) to prove that they have indeed done this. We'll be getting a V.J's Special with extra crispy fries in a box, as it should be.