JOLLY FRIAR CAFÉ
Neighbourhood: St. Boniface
Address: 112 Marion St.
Change to The Norwood Hotel’s Jolly Friar Café began last March when Chef Brian Rolloff, formerly of Inn at The Forks, stepped in to lead the kitchen. The days of buffets are done, Rolloff has quietly launched a revised and deliberately elevated menu, the first prong in a plan that includes a name change and full dining room and kitchen renovation slated for later this year.
Meatloaf and lasagna have been replaced by a concise, upscale and family-friendly menu highlighting meat, fish and pasta with a number of steaks and classics such as French onion soup, Caesar salad and fettuccine alfredo.
This 80-seat burgundy and blond wood dining room is currently festooned in charming grandma-chic fashion. It displays a healthy collection of knick-knacks that gives nary a clue to the culinary evolution occurring in the back of house.
Pickerel cheeks and lamb croquettes are two regionally influenced starters that command attention. Rolloff intends to incorporate locally sourced proteins in his dishes.
A generous portion of fish bites come lightly breaded and crisply fried with dense, earthy sun-dried tomato pesto, of which a little daub goes a long way.
Braised-then-ground lamb is moist and dense with a thin, crisp coating. Creamy aïoli laced with subtle notes of citrus and curls of paper thin ribbons of fresh fennel complements gamey flavour.
One menu item that remains unchanged is the ribs. Consistent recipients of high marks in both the finger-licking and fall-off-the-bone categories, these slabs of baby back ribs are generously slathered in sweet and tangy house barbeque sauce. The caramelized, smoky char achieved is a carnivore’s dream.
Split pea soup evokes nostalgia. Hearty and thick with smoky chunks of juicy ham and whispers of warm cloves, its traditional French Canadian preparation is a tribute to the restaurant’s French Quarter locale.
Shepherd’s pie here is a comfortable blend of mildly seasoned ground beef specked with peas topped with a contemporary dose of mashed sweet potatoes and melted cheese.