Address: 175 Hargrave
Dining out serves different purposes, depending on the day. We dine to expand our epicurean horizons. We also return to places that beckon with familiar wafting aromas, and battered menus full of old favourites. For many, Oscar’s Deli, which has been serving Jewish-style diner food to comfort-seeking Winnipeggers since 1930, is that place.
Outwardly, not much has changed at Oscar’s. This Winnipeg institution, located in the heart of downtown on the ground-level of a Hargrave high-rise, still specializes in simple sandwiches piled high with ribbons of shaved meat between fresh slices of City rye. Of these, the Reuben, served here with beet horseradish and delicate layers of corned beef on pumpernickel bread, stands out. One bite is enough to convince even the most progressive that some traditions are worth holding on to.
The lunch-only spot serves droves of diners with machine-like efficiency, churning out dill-laden scratch-made soups and heaping platters garnished with the ubiquitous dill pickle slice. The scene is set with hungry power-lunchers hunkering down to their favourite rendition of childhood favourites, including egg salad sandwiches served open-faced with a tremendous scoop of the good stuff.
Despite this, the business has shown signs of evolving with the times. Popular grill options have found their way onto the menu, and a few labour-intensive items, like chili and roast beef are limited to weekday specials, which is the sort of thing die-hard patrons plan their weeks around. Oscar’s has also expanded evening hours to accommodate the downtown Jets crowd during home games.
The family at the helm of the operation, Larry Brown and his daughter Rachel, are unabashedly passionate about simple-spun and delicious comfort food. In a lunch-counter culture obsessed with low-fat hermetically-sealed options, Oscar’s is daring to preserve the tradition of cured cold-cuts heaped on classic bread. And there’s still something for everyone: calorie counters can opt for the mandarin-almond salad, for their fix of garden greens.
This city treasure has outlasted nearly a century of progress by upholding the pillars of family and tradition, and its continued success is a testament to the timelessness of those ideas.