Monday, October 8

A new breed of Vietnamese

I've always been a huge fan of Vietnamese cuisine, and growing up in central Winnipeg had related perks. Ever since junior high, I was always within a two block radius of a Vietnamese restaurant or two.

From one eatery to the other, most adhere to a similar format. They're largely family-run sit-down restaurants, featuring a menu with at least 30 different options to choose from. They're always a little overwhelming at first. Of course, you soon figure out your favourites and number 53 soon becomes synonymous with the deluxe vermicelli bowl.

After becoming so accustomed to the culture of Vietnamese dining in our city, I was delightfully surprised by newcomer Saigon Jon's Vietnamese Kitchen. Unlike any I've ever gone to, this restaurant has taken the traditional model and turned it into something refreshing and modern.

The familiar Pembina location turned out to be an old Blockbuster we used to frequent. They completely gutted it from the inside out (you can see progress of the renovations on their Facebook page).

The two-step ordering process is simple. You first choose your main dish: banh mi (Vietnamese sub), rice bowl, noodle bowl (vermicelli noodles) or salad. In the second step, you choose what type of protein you'd like. They have a wide range to choose from, including lemongrass steak, hot honey hoisin chicken and tofu. They pride themselves in serving seven ounces of protein with every meal, a generous portion for dishes all under $10. All of their meat is also fresh, never frozen and marinated for 12 hours before being cooked on the grill.

Saigon Jon's also offers a unique selection of sauces, including Thai basil aioli, siracha mayo, roasted shallot aioli and cilantro lime mayo. They grow their herbs in-house using a Commercial Urban Cultivator, a product previously featured on Dragon's Den. That's pretty rad.

Asides from their four main dishes, you can also order the Vietnamese staple - sirloin beef pho. Their pho comes in two sizes: regular and make you strong.

My company and I ordered a sub with hoisin garlic steak, a rice bowl with lemongrass steak and peanut sauce, and a vermicelli bowl with tofu and peanut sauce.

The general composition of their dishes stayed true to their traditional formats, with a modern take on some of the marinade and dressings. The meats were fragrant, and all pieces of the dishes were fresh, warm and crispy. They held true to their seven ounce statement, and there was plenty of food on all of our plates. Some of us even ended up having to doggy bag the rest to take home.

The open atmosphere of the restaurant is truly inviting, and the staff are friendly and accommodating. The format is a little strange for those who are used to traditional sit-down Vietnamese restaurants, but after a few visits, you will easily become accustomed to the streamlined ordering process.

This Winnipeg restaurant has a franchise-like feel, and I won't be surprised to see it expand across the city and beyond in the years to come. We had a wonderful and satisfying dining experience at Saigon Jon's, and I would not hesitate to visit the restaurant again to try out their other dishes. For those of you who love traditional Vietnamese cuisine, you may want to switch it up because Saigon Jon's is definitely worth the taste!

Saigon Jon's Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 21

It's Fabulous Underground

Last week, I went underground. As in, to the Underground Cafe on 70 Arthur Street.

The restaurant is tucked away in the building's basement, featuring some colourful murals and some delicious lunchtime dining eats.

I tried the Fabulous Sun Burger for the first time (which is apparently a famous Winnipeg staple, accordingly to everyone I've raved to). Their burger is a masterpiece made of toasted sesame and sunflower seeds, vegetable protein, mozza and cheddar cheeses, rice, eggs and assorted spices. The patty is served with lime-dill sauce, romaine lettuce, green peppers, onions and tomato, served on a perfectly toasted bagel.

It was definitely one of the best vegetarian sandwiches I've had in a while, on par with the White Star Diner and Boon Burger Cafe. The restaurant features a delicious selection of other menu items, featured on their website.

The Underground Cafe is also excellent at updating their Facebook page with their specials of the day. Check them out!

Friday, September 14

So many things to do at Manyfest!

As a proud downtown Winnipeg supporter, I was absolutely ecstatic to hit up Manyfest for the first time last weekend.

Manyfest is a street festival organized by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. It celebrates the arts, entertainment, health and most importantly, community in the heart of our city. Downtown Winnipeg's largest street festival anticipated 30,000 people in attendance this year, and stretched all the way from the Manitoba Legislative Building almost all the way to The Forks!

The festival was constantly bustling with vendors selling goodies like crafts, baked treats, vintage clothing and fresh produce. One wing branched off into food trucks offering delicious eats including my favourite indulgence in the world, mini donuts.

At night, the medians of Broadway hosted space for a wide array of performers such as fire dancers, Bollywood talent and local bands.

Although I loved every aspect of the street festival, I would have to say my personal highlight was the outdoor wine tasting event. You could purchase taste tickets for $1 each, which gave you a small sample of their huge selection of wines or you could redeem it for a tasty treat, like a kebob of cheese of a few slices of bread with bruschetta.

At the end of Saturday night, volunteers passed around candles for Lights on Broadway. Those who cycled to the event also had the opportunity to light their bikes up at a designated station. It was beautiful to see lights flickering as far down as the eyes could see.

All in all, the festival was a great experience and shone light on local business owners, performers and most importantly, the spirit of togetherness in downtown Winnipeg.

Friday, September 7

Here will always be home

Dear reader,

It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since I first started writing for The Downtown Dweller.

Last September, I practically pulled my hairs out of their follicles trying to choose something worth blogging about. Food? Crafts? Fonts? (Yes, I was seriously considering pitching an anti-Comic Sans website.)

And suddenly, it came to me. Why not write about what I already know? Quite practically where I eat, sleep and breathe. Downtown Winnipeg was, and still is, a huge part of my life and why wouldn't I want to share my love for it with the rest of the online world?

I moved into the Exchange District over a year and a half ago. Since then, I've discovered (and blogged) about dozens of new eateries, shops and festivities I originally knew nothing about. During my short lifespan in our city's DT, I've grown to appreciate all of its quirks and character. The people and places here truly highlight the best that our city has to offer.

Never mind the breathtaking architecture in the Exchange. Forget about the scenic trails down Waterfront Drive. Who cares about the fun festivities held at Old Market Square and The Forks - they're nothing here compared to grandeur of big cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, right?

Well, in my opinion, anyone that hasn't put in the effort into appreciating our city's bright and vibrant personality is truly missing out. It's not only these things I cherish, but also the not-so-glamorous qualities - like rowdy Jets fans flooding the streets for a late celebratory night. Heck, I'll cheer with them.

Downtown will always be my home. Wherever I end up in a few months, years or decades from now - this part of our city will always have a part of me.

Always yours,

Friday, August 31

A summer in the city centre

It's time to sharpen your pencils and open up your textbooks. Summer, like a hunger pang, has come and gone and the educational grind has finally been reinstated.

Spending another summer in the Exchange District has definitely opened my eyes and diversified my taste palette. There was never a shortage of festivals to attend, new restaurants to dine at and chic boutiques to stare hopelessly into.

In the spirit of celebrating the end of the season, here are a few of my summer highlights:
  • Festivities at The Forks
  • Yoga & Zumba in the Park
  • Let's Do Lunch Downtown
  • The Winnipeg Fringe Festival
  • The TD International Winnipeg Jazz Festival
  • The Chinatown Street Festival
  • Heck, all the festivals!
  • ... And did I mention food?
 Burger and fries from Boon Burger down Sherbrook

A mixed greens salad from Deer + Almond in the Exchange

An assortment of empanadas from Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria in the Exchange

Lahmaçun (Turkish yoghurt pizza bread) from Arkadash Bistro & Lounge on Portage

Vegetarian nacho platter from La Bamba on Portage

Needless to say, my summer was nothing short of amazing - and I hope yours was, too. Here's to another eventful school year, and an upcoming collection of interesting tidbits straight from downtown Winnipeg from your Downtown Dweller.

Thursday, June 21

Feel The Rush

It's time to get down and dirty.

On June 23, teams of four will be spitting out dirty and trekking through mud for The Rush MS Adventure Challenge. The Rush is a 5 kilometre adventure challenge designed to push competitors to their limits by tumbling through a series of obstacles around Adrenaline Adventures.

You can team up with friends, family or colleagues to complete this obstacle course. The fun is not in who finishes first - but managing to complete it together as a team! Registration is $50 per person, which includes participation in the event, a T-shirt and lunch after completion of the course.

All proceeds raised from the Rush will go directly toward the MS Society of Canada, helping fund programs and services for Manitobans living with multiple sclerosis.

For more information on the event, click here.

Wednesday, June 20

Meditate at Memorial Park

Winnipeg summers are short and sweet - so why bothering exercising indoors when we can enjoy stretching in the sunlight?

Yoga in the Park is the perfect solution for the season, providing fun outdoor fitness in a beautiful green space. This year, they've added an exciting new class for hip-swingers of all ages - the latin-inspired Zumba dance class!

Zumba and Yoga in the Park are held in Memorial Park, at the corner of Broadway and Memorial, from now until August 30. The classes are free to attend, but donations are kindly accepted and will help fund Guardian Angels Cancer Care.

Photo courtesy of

Yoga in the Park happens every Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. Participants must bring their own yoga mat.

You can catch Zumba in the Park on Tuesdays from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.

For more information on Yoga and Zumba in the Park, visit the Downtown Winnipeg Biz's website here.

Tuesday, June 19

Big Bike is back

It's not every day you pass by a 30-seater bike weaving through the streets of downtown Winnipeg. That's when you know it's Big Bike season - the famous fundraiser held by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba.

Photo courtesy of

From June 20 to 22, teams of up to 29 riders (and a driver provide by the HSF) will cruise around in the flashy red bike to help raise funds and awareness for heart disease and stroke research. The rides last for roughly 20 minutes to complete a 2km to 4km drive. The best part about Big Bike is that it's free to participate, with no registration fees. The minimum requirement from each individual rider is to raise $50 worth of pledges, and aside from doing a good deed, there's opportunities to win tons of prizes too!

Photo courtesy of

Even if you're not riding, come out and support our local philanthropists by cheering them on at the Forks. For more information on the event, volunteering, or if you're interested in putting a team together for a future event, click here.

Tuesday, June 12

Wednesday is no longer Hump Day!

Because there aren't enough reasons to come taste the diverse delicacies downtown already, how about we chalk another one to your list.

For the next three months, Air Canada Park (355 Portage Ave.) will feature some of Winnipeg's richest musical talent every Wednesday afternoon from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. The Out to Lunch free concert series will bring people together in the already flourishing streets of downtown Winnipeg to listen to the harmonic sounds of local artists including Lindsey White, Luke and Murray, Leanne Pearsno and Steele.

And the best part about these events? They're free!

So pull up a chair, sit back and relax as you enjoy your lunch and free entertainment in the heart of our sweet city.

Here's a list of Out to Lunch's upcoming performers:

June 13 Lindsey White
June 20 Two Dollar Pistol
June 27 Luke and Murray
July 4 Leanne Pearson
July 11 Salinas Band
July 18 The Dead Stringers
July 25 Kyla Cederwall
August 1 Steele
August 8 Troy Westwood ft. LittleHawk

The series will be followed up the the Edmonton Street Festivals on Wednesday afternoons from August 15 to 29. Performers are yet to be announced.

For more information on the Out to Lunch events, visit the Downtown Winnipeg Biz.

Saturday, June 2

Downtown Dweller swag

Check out this sweet gear I came across!

Ethik Clothing Co, a clothing company based out of New York City, created these Downtown Dwellers tanks, caps and sweaters. The similarities between my blog title and their gear are purely coincidental, but I thought this coincidence was a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on this emerging clothing line!

Their pop-up shops are similar to the type of stores you'd find in the Exchange, and their style is  reminiscent of other successful urban clothing brands like OBEY or Crooks n Castles. They have a ton of wicked designs available for viewing on their website (, or you can visit them the next time you head down to NYC.

Here's a little background on the company:
Ethik Clothing Co is a New York City based clothing company providing garments and ideas for the new age culture while keeping the clothes on your backs clean and fresh. The Ethik brand is about building a reputation and following for skaters, photographers, street dwellers alike, artists, promoters, and people of all walks of life who understand and agree with our vision and lifestyle. Ethik was created in 2010 by two friends who saw an opportunity to portray what they see in their everyday lives. Whether its vice or virtue, the Ethik family consistently relates the product with reality. With all products being screen printed by hand in NYC, we are a close knit community with our company motto being Rising Through Collective intellect. We have collaborated with several local groups such as, GVNG (music Group) Colossal Mantis (DJ) Boppo! (skate group) Deps (street artist) to build an ever growing bond with the underground culture of NYC. We have opened two Downtown pop-up shops in the past few months to help promote our brand, one at the old Flight Club in the Financial District and one in the Lower East Side. We look to continue to innovate, create, and work with others in the future, and will always be  coming at you with the good stuff. Stay Tuned. 
Their innovative designs and creative marketing techniques lead me to believe they'll be a company to look out for. Mac Miller has already taken notice of their success, and I'm sure the rest of the world will soon follow suit.

If you'd like to learn more about them, check out these links:


Thursday, May 31

Get your jazz hands ready

Jazz Fest is back for yet another year featuring an incredible array of performers. And for those of you who don't fancy jazzy tunes, there's much more than your typical sexy sax solos in this year's line-up.

photo courtesy of

The TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival will be held from June 14 to 23 all around downtown. The festival will not only feature local artist, but has also brought in national and international singing sensations such as Janelle Monáe, Ramsey Lewis and The Hold Steady.

Join the festivities on opening weekend for four straight days of free entertainment at Old Market Square. From June 14 to 17, listen in on some rhythm and blues, jazz, indie rock, fund and more.

Photo courtesy of

Nearly 100 performers will be featured at this year's event, and tickets are selling quick. If you're interested in attending any of the upcoming concerts, you can purchase tickets at, or call the Jazz Winnipeg office at (204)989-4656.

For a complete list of performers, visit this link.

Wednesday, May 30

Loud and proud

Winnipeggers will get the chance to let their true colours show at this year's 25th annual Pride Winnipeg festival.

From May 25 to June 3, everyone is invited to participate in Pride Week, from the rainbow flag-raising ceremony to the rockin' dance party. The annual Pride Parade attracts thousands of people every year, marching through the streets of downtown to celebrate Winnipeg's colourful diversity. The Pride festival at The Fork included the talents of Anjulie, The Cliks, Jeffery Straker, Jerry Sereda, Womyn of Pride and DJ Hollywood Hype.

Come join the fun on June 3 for Pride's official dance party.

Sunday, June 3, 2012
Whisky Dix Night Club
Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door
Featuring DJ Tec-G, DJ Electric Kitten, DJ Danthrax, DJ Patelli and DJ Alucard

Pride Winnipeg began on August 2, 1987, when about 250 people bravely marched on behalf of the LGBTTQ community. Many of the marchers wore paper bags over their heads in fear of being recognized, and the struggle for societal acceptance continues on until present day. The LGBTTQ has moved leaps and bounds since, and Pride Winnipeg is a true testament to the love our city has for this community.
To learn more about Pride Winnipeg, visit their website here.

Wednesday, May 2

Who is Pina Bausch?

Yesterday, I won tickets to see the 2011 German documentary Pina at Cinematheque in the Exchange.

Upon receiving the tickets, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  From the surface, I knew the film focused on a group of contemporary dancers called Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.  Pina was their artistic director, who unexpectedly died during the making of the film.  Instead of axing the project, the dance group convinced director Win Wenders to pursue its creation as a tribute to her work.

The documentary features scenes from Pina's best known pieces, Le scare du printemps, Café Müller, Kontakthof and Vollmond.  The members of the dance company also reenact solo pieces in the most peculiar yet beautiful landscapes, like on a train and by a canyon.

The choreography and cinematography is absolutely stunning.  Some scenes are almost chilling, as though Pina is present - in spirit.  The interviews from the members of the dance company are candid, but they end up saying so much more through their actions than their words.

Pina is playing at Cinematheque from Friday, May 4, to Thursday, May 10.  For anyone who's passionate about dance, film or simply emotion, I would highly recommend this tribute to the late Pina Bausch.

See the trailer:

Thursday, April 19

The Exchange in flames

This morning, I watched out my bedroom window as my neighbourhood was engulfed in thick grey smoke.

My boyfriend left for work at around 9:30.  As I was getting ready to leave for school, I read a text message from him telling me to take a look outside.  From the top floor of the Lindsay Building, I watched as a grey cloud hovered beside the Royal Albert Hotel.

One fire truck was on the scene.  It looked to me like the fire was sustained, but I realized shortly afterward this was not the case.  Sirens were soon blaring in all directions, and within the hour, over a dozen service vehicles arrived and yellow tape lined the streets.

At some points, the smoke got so thick I could barely see anything from my 10th floor window.  The smell of burning was slowly seeping into my building - even more so as I entered the hallway.

A few bystanders lined Notre Dame with their phones out, snapping away.  The media was beginning to arrive, and Twitter was blowing up with photos of the incident.

The smoke was dense and I could hardly make out which building was on fire.  I later found out War on Music and Ken Hong's took the majority of the damage.  Needless to say, it was a sad day for two notable businesses in the Exchange District community.

Revisiting the scene after a few hours, the fire was almost completely doused and local businesses around the area were reopening their doors.  The streets are flooded, and it will take some effort to finish cleaning up the area.

 Let's hope this is the last time the Exchange will face a fiery fate.

Monday, April 9

Dionysus in Stony Mountain

I must admit my limited experience and knowledge of prison standards has been tainted by Hollywood’s glamour – feature films in general, but The Shawshank Redemption in particular.

Photo courtesy of

That being said, I do realize the dramatization on camera and the real life practices of criminal institutions are like night and day.  Although I’ll probably never get to witness it firsthand, I’d be curious to explore the relationships between inmates and prison staff.

Dionysus in Stony Mountain is a play that examines one version of this relationship.  The play was written by Steven Ratzlaff, directed by Bill Kerr and presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba.  It played from March 29 to April 8 at the Rachel Browne Theatre in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

As Ratzlaff’s first full-length play, Dionysus in Stony Mountain began as a one-act production in Winnipeg’s 2009 Fringe Festival.  The second act now completes the two-hour play, focusing on the characters James (a Stony Mountain inmate, played by Ross McMillan), Heidi (a psychiatrist, played by Sarah Constible) and Eric (Heidi’s uncle, also played by Ross McMillan).

Dionysus in Stony Mountain is presented simply as a ping-pong conversation between James and Heidi in the first act, and Heidi and Eric in the second.  The simplicity of its set up allows the intelligent and sometimes witty dialogue to shine through.  And trust me, there is plenty of it.

Photo by Leif Norman

The play begins with James paying a regular visits to his prison psychiatrist.  His parole hearing is quickly approaching, and Heidi expresses she’s concerned he has become unstable after refusing to resume his lithium treatments.  James explains he’s gone off his meds in favour of absorbing Friedrich Nietzsche’s work, a 19th-century German philosopher.

Friedrich Nietzsche, courtesy of

Heidi begins to realize that James is probably on to something.  A psychiatrist who feels imprisoned by her work taking advice from someone who’s imprisoned by walls, but completely free in the mind?  The irony behind this concept pushes Heidi to question where her place is in the world, which is further explored in the second act.

Photo by Leif Norman

The over-arching themes on religion, politics and society are fleshed out through carefully written dialogue.  McMillan delivers a riveting performance, although those unfamiliar with Nietzsche may lose some context of the story.  Thankfully, Ratzlaff has made the dialogue easy enough to digest without too much philosophical background.  McMillan carries many interesting points on our justice system, political system and the foundation of religion.  The most impressive feat, however, was his ability to perfectly execute all of his dialogue.

I found the most interesting theme of this play to be the psychiatrist/patient relationship.  Normally, this type of relationship would focus on a one-way stream of dialogue.  As opposed to a question and answer period, their exchanges became more of a discussion, which allowed James to tear down Heidi’s walls of professionalism and get into the mind of the individual behind the nametag.  The turning of the tables is unordinary, but not completely out of left field.  It opens up the discussion of a criminal’s mindset, of sound mind or otherwise.

Artist drawing of Vince Li, courtesy of

James’ mental condition makes me curious about the preconceived notions our society has about prisoners. There’s often the question of mental health, and whether or not criminals were of sound minds when committing the act.  Take the Vinci Li case, where on March 3, 2009, Li pleaded not criminally responsible for his crime of stabbing, decapitating and cannibalizing Tim McLean. Diagnosed with schizophrenia by a testifying psychiatrist, Li claimed it was God’s voice who told him that McLean was a force of evil and had to be executed.  Certainly, this is not the first of its kind.

Watching this play has heightened my sensitivity to the clockwork of society.  I believe Ratzlaff is an excellent playwright, and has done amazing work in his premiere piece.  Dionysus in Stony Mountain is a thoughtful product and makes the audience critically think about the confusion behind what makes humans tick.

More information on the play can be viewed here.