Owner Peter Paley at the Oakwood Café (Mike Green/CBC)
Decor be dammed! I want to find the best little Winnipeg neighbourhood haunts. I want to find some good old home cooking and see where the regulars congregate.
This is the call I put out to my foodie friends -- it was answered, and a list was made.
Up first, I could not resist the amount of hype I got for the Oakwood Café, the little South Osborne gem which is sandwiched between a Subway (yes, bad pun) and a tax shop. Soon I found myself sitting across from the Oakwood's owner, Peter Paley, asking what constitutes a "neighbourhood haunt," as I slurped at the cafe's lovely -- if not a touch sweet -- borscht.
"I think it's just being the spot where all your friends, family and neighbouring businesses want to come to," said Paley. "To achieve that status, you really have to cater to what your customer wants. Our menu has evolved over the last six years for sure based on customer suggestions."
For me, the comment sounded a bit against-the-grain for a restaurant owner to make, as most rooms now are more about expanding culinary horizons (despite the demands of regulars). But that is not the model of the neighbourhood haunt, and seeing how busy the Oakwood is, I realized that Paley knows his stuff.
He has been working at the restaurant since he was 17, back when his aunt owned the place. Paley would go on to do his degree and become a banker, all while still working at the restaurant during weekends. Even while working for TD Bank, he could still be found bussing tables, doing dishes, and working the line at the Oakwood on weekends.