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Support Changes: Winnipeg Restaurant Review

Please take a moment to read this review of a great little eating establishment in Winnipeg.  This is one of the many programs established by Changes, one of our clients that provide individualized and person-centred services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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For Whom the Lunch Bell Tolls

by Katie Nicholson

For original review with photos, please click Here.

 

Most of the time we want to feel good about the food we eat. I say most of the time because who among us hasn’t shared Tina Fey’s dark culinary nadir/fantasy of being in a room up to your neck in McDonald’s french fries and you’ve got to eat your way out. Hangover food doesn’t count either. But I digress. MOST of the time we want to feel good about the food we eat. And not in a Portlandia “have you got a photo of this chicken with his wing over his little chicken friends way.” We want to feel good about what we are putting in our mouths mostly in a gustatory and nutritional sense. Increasingly, we want to feel good ethically about our choices, too — as though that aids in digestion.

If you are searching for a meal that hits all three sweet spots: tasty, healthy, and do-goody… ding, ding ding! That’s the Lunch Bell Bistro and it tolls for thee.

Its bright white tiles gleam in the morning light. It’s in the Bell Hotel but it could just as easily be in some impossibly well-designed Scandinavian boutique hotel. Generous windows bathe the room in sun. The easygoing and soft-spoken General Manager, Josh Marantz, greets you at the door. Staff shyly but courteously appear offering coffee and menus. Service is prompt. The plates aesthetically minimalist: like little sandwich art installations.

In a rush? There’s a grab and go fridge.

The Lunch Bell Bistro’s Executive Chef, Chris Tascona, is a classically-trained Italian chef and it shows on the menu. The Baker Street Turkey Meatball Sub’s ciabatta is stuffed with handmade ground turkey meatballs, house basil tomato sauce and provolone. The rich, creamy basil spread on the Basil Street Roasted Chicken sandwich is a variation on a pasta sauce Tascona used to make.

But there are other flavours from around the world. The curried tuna sandwich hints at the exotic between thick fluffy slices of bread and refreshing slices of apple. The vegetable wrap is a little bland but unusually textured with soft sweet potato mash.

In addition to daily specials, there are soups and salads which diners are encouraged to mix and match.

“There’s no deep fryer here,” Tascona boasts, “and that was by design.”

There are plenty of fried foods in this neck of Main Street. It’s Chinatown, after all. Land of Dim Sum. The emphasis at the Lunch Bell Bistro is on fresh, easy-to-assemble, signature sandwiches. This is clean eating with real honest-to-goodness ingredients.

“We wanted to stick out like a sore thumb,” Josh Marantz assures me.

There are plenty of fried foods in this neck of Main Street. It’s Chinatown, after all. Land of Dim Sum. The emphasis at the Lunch Bell Bistro is on fresh, easy-to-assemble, signature sandwiches. This is clean eating with real honest-to-goodness ingredients.

And it’s not just the menu that sets them apart.

The restaurant is also a training ground for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Its staff are hand-picked by the not-for-profit group Changes and enter a 20 week training course. They learn kitchen essentials like food prep, hygiene, protocol and knifework. They also get a solid grounding in front-of-house skills. At the end of the program, participants take a specially modified food-handlers certification exam. Marantz hopes the program will graduate its first successful candidates in February.

For participants, the program has been affirming and confidence-boosting.

“They latch on quickly,” Marantz says, “and they’re excited about the prospect of getting a job in a restaurant.”

Sheldon Lachose plans on taking the exam soon. He’s been with the program all Fall and has mastered most of the skills he needs under the watchful eyes of Tascona and Marantz. Back in the spotless prep area, he throws together a Caesar Salad. He’s admittedly a little nervous doing this for an audience — especially an audience with a big honking camera slung around her neck… but despite his jitters there is a pride and meticulousness as he works the lettuce around the bowl. He plates it for me — beaming now; one of many dishes he could serve in a long career.

It’s a decent Caesar salad to be sure: garlicky, cheesy, creamy, with generous seasoned buttery croutons. But, is it just my imagination, or does it go down better because I know this salad is helping someone like Sheldon become empowered and more independent?

 

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