Address: 175 Hargrave St.
Longevity is not by default the same thing as quality, so what’s the difference between “longstanding” and “classic”? At Oscar’s Deli, the 90-year-old sandwich shop in the heart of downtown, it comes down to perfect execution of well-loved tradition, supplemented by a splash of the new and fresh.
Oscar’s opened its doors in 1929, and has been in its current location, a clean, fuss-free, window-wrapped corner on Hargrave, for more than 40 years. The restaurant staked and claimed its spot in the city’s dining landscape with excellent versions of the Jewish deli’s bread and butter, so to speak: fresh rye (from City Rye), mouthwatering corned beef and pastrami, and of course, the perfect pickle, with just enough snap and a little bit of pucker.
But Oscar’s Deli is all about putting its own spin on tradition. That’s why you’ll find a hot-pink layer of beet horseradish sauce adding an extra boost of prairie flavour to most sandwiches.
It’s also why the menu has evolved in recent years as the restaurant has extended from a lunch-only spot to opening for dinner hours on weekdays. New grill options offer updates on diner staples that manage to feel like, well, classics.
On a recent visit, a plate of “schnitzel fingers” elicited a gasp from one dinner guest upon first bite (“I didn’t think that chicken fingers could be surprising!”). The juicy poultry, encased in a layer of breading somehow both substantial yet light and crispy, tasted like deli detoured through an Austrian schnitzelhaus.
The “dirty burger,” another recent menu addition immediately draws the eye. This behemoth burger embodies that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink philosophy that’s been so popular in burger land in recent years. Yet, if you can wrap your mouth around the sandwich – stuffed with a chuck patty, grilled onions, bacon, salami, pastrami, cheese, a fried egg, lettuce and tomato and smeared with beet horseradish and hot mustard – it becomes clear that the maximalism belies a certain genius. The perfect marriage of rich egg yolk with a crisped-up piece of pastrami, cut with horseradish zing, is thoroughly convincing.
Other sandwich options venture beyond the simple meat and mustard formula to deliver unexpected and delicious results. Grilled cheese is stuffed with juicy brisket and amped up with spicy banana peppers; the salmon club applies the triple decker formula to a light, bright creation layered with smoked salmon, bacon, crunchy veg, and a lip-smacking honey dill cream cheese.
Vegetarians need not be left out of the jaw-stretching sandwich fun. A filling veggie option is tiled with green pepper, red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes and crunchy lettuce, stacked as if it were corned beef.
There are many reasons Oscar’s Deli has been feeding hungry Winnipeggers for almost a century, of which the pickles are only one. Quality ingredients treated well and the perfect balance of tradition and creativity; these are the true hallmarks of a classic restaurant.