Alycia’s is a Ukrainian-Canadian restaurant that has been wandering in search of a home for the last few years. Opened in Winnipeg’s North End in 1971 by Marion Staff. It closed in 2011 shortly after Staff’s death. It reopened in Gimli in 2016, run by Staff’s grandson, Aaron Blanchard. Last year, Blanchard’s mother-in-law, Coleen Swifte, took over the restaurant as it moved to Arnes, just north of Gimli, and this spring moved back into Winnipeg when Alycia’s took up residence in the Royal Albert Arms, in the Exchange District. You can read more about this history at the CBC website.
I have to admit that I’ve only ever been to Alycia’s once over the years, and that was so long ago that I don’t really remember anything about it. However, I’ve been following the story over the last couple of years because Swifte, the current owner has been a long-time follower and supporter of Dining with Donald. Swifte had previously been owner of Paul’s Grill out in Gimli but because of my tendency not to get out of the city, what with not driving and all, I never paid it a visit. I was however determined to make it to Alycia’s once it reopened.
Alycia’s for Buffet
As they get off the ground. Alycia’s is currently open Wednesday to Sunday. On Wednesday through Friday, they are offering buffet between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm. Wednesday’s are the day I preside at the noon hour Eucharist at Holy Trinity, so I figured it might make a good time to visit Alycia’s and try the buffet.
I arrived at the restaurant toward the end of the buffet time. The restaurant, on the day I went, was located in the glassed in area along Albert Street. There was plenty of sunshine coming in, and given that the temperatures were quite hot, I took a table as far away from the window as I could. The server came and brought me water and pointed me in the direction of the buffet.
the buffet itself is fairly small, in terms of the number of items it contains. The plate shown above contains all of the items, with the exception of the borscht which I picked up on my second trip through. I enjoyed all the items, I really enjoyed the Ukrainian Sausage in that it was flavourful but not particularly fatty. I also appreciated the fact that the perogies were well stuffed. There was plenty of filling in each.
The other thing that I really liked about the buffet was that it was well maintained. Often if you arrive in the last hour of a buffet period you’ll find that certain dishes are out. Here, even though I arrived about 40 minutes before 2 pm there was still some of everything, and at 10 minutes to do they were still reloading the serving trays so that even last minute arrivals would be able to try all the options.
Not surprisingly, between the quality and the quantity, I waddled out at the end of my lunch feeling very satisfied.
Alycia’s for Supper
My second visit to Alycia’s was more interesting, mainly for the work it took me to get there. Being that Alycia’s is in the Exchange and it’s festival season, it’s also time for the City of Winnipeg’s annual attempt to make the Exchanged as unwalkable as possible. Having got off a bus on Portage Avenue just about two blocks from the restaurant, I had to walk an additional half dozen blocks to get around all the barricades the city has up.
This time there was no buffet on. I wanted to get an idea of what else there is on the menu. One of things I always find interesting is what happens when you visit a restaurant that is known for one thing, and then order something they are not known for. On the whole, in my experience this has not been a great experience. The secondary items aren’t always bad but they are usually a notable step down from the famous items.
With that in mind I decided to order the ribs. There wasn’t a huge price difference between the whole and the half, so I went with the whole. My server assured me that I had made a good choice as that was her favourite menu item.
I had hoped for a salad, but they had run out. Being that it was the very end of the week that wasn’t too surprising, so I went for the cup of borscht. My meal also came with perogies, cabbage rolls, and coleslaw. For the perogies I was given the choice between the pan-fried and the boiled. The perogies in the buffet are boiled, so I chose the pan-fried.
If I had any doubt about the quality of the ribs it was gone the moment I went to to bite into my first bone. The meat was falling of the bone tender. The sauce was sweet, and tangy, and melt in the mouth delicious. This rib dinner was as good as any I’ve had in Winnipeg. I also appreciated that they brought a bowl of hot lemon water to keep my hands clean.
The other part of the dish I really enjoyed was the coleslaw. The coleslaw features dill, and is not overly dressed. The flavour is great and you don’t have to worry about dribbling juice everywhere.
After my meal I waited around for a couple of minutes so I could introduce myself to Colleen. We chatted briefly while she told me about the history of the move, and pointed out an old newspaper clipping that featured her son-in-law Aaron, balancing several coils of garlic sausage on his arms. This is just one of several bits of memorabilia from the original location that you will find scattered throughout the restaurant.
While talking with her, I discovered that they would be moving the dining area from the glassed-in enclosure into what was once the bar area of the Royal Albert Arms. This was several days ago, and I imagine the transition is now complete.
With the Winnipeg Fringe Festival coming up, now would be a great time to visit the new location for Alycia’s. While the buffet is dine in, I believe you can also get to go containers. Alycia’s had a forty year run up in the North End, here’s to another 40 years in the Exchange.