Feast Café Bistro
Neighbourhood: West End
Address: 587 Ellice Ave
Food is many things, from basic sustenance and nourishment to an exercise in creativity. In many ways, the food we eat is tied to identity. When Ciao! pioneered Manitoba Regional Cuisine as a dining category in 1997, seeking to highlight the food of this land and its people, pushes for the simple addition of bison, lakefish, or wild rice to a menu were completely novel.
Today these regional staples have become ever more popular, but in the hands of Christa Bruneau-Guenther, these ingredients speak with added significance. Feast Café and Bistro opened on the corner of Ellice and Sherbrook last December, and in doing so became Canada’s first Indigenous cuisine restaurant.
At a time when our country is, more than ever before, acknowledging the rights of Indigenous peoples, Feast represents both a celebration and a reclamation of the ingredients and techniques that make up First Nations food. On the menu are homey staples, like bison chili—twists on comfort fare that would be at home in many kitchens—alongside preparations that have spanned generations, like the pillowy bannock that forms the basis of many dishes.
Inside the welcoming room in the former Ellice Café space, accented with warm colours, pendant lamps, and large black and white photos of prairie scenery and traditional scenes—a canoe, a tipi, bannock cooking over a fire—the intimate restaurant feels at once chic and cozy.
Food is straightforward, filling, and well prepared. A twist on French dip made with shredded bison is juicy and bursting with flavour, a melty mess of Bothwell cheese, sautéed peppers, and mayo lightly kicked with fresh horseradish. Pickerel “sliders” (presented open faced) make use of shore lunch flavour enhancers—lemon pepper, chive, and dill—to amp up the favourite fish.
Traditional “Tipi” Tacos are the signature dish, a riff on popular powwow food from Southwestern First Nations groups like the Navajo. Feast’s version is all Manitoba, topped with a hearty bean and local bison chili. Puffy wheels of lightly fried bannock support a mountain of chili, lettuce, salsa, and a drizzle of sour cream hinting of chipotle. This may be the only taco that requires a fork and knife, but it is easily devoured.
The same light-as-air frybread makes the base for pizzas with creative toppings. A vegetarian version sporting nutty-sweet roasted butternut squash, a rich cream sauce, a smattering of pine nuts, and chipotle cream is an out of the park hit. Simple variations on classic breakfast items draw neighbourhood crowds in the morning, from pancakes and French toast to “eggs banny” on a bannock bun.
While fare is familiar, hinting of classic diners and home cooked meals, small substitutions point to Feast’s real charm. Bannock replaces bread in nearly every dish; bison sausage swaps for breakfast sausages and pepperoni on pizza; fish fingers become oven-baked pickerel. From the use of traditional ingredients to the warm neighbourhood atmosphere, dining becomes more than just the experience of a meal; it is a connection to land, culture, and community.