Our meal begins with a scoop of tomato ice cream, lightly breaded and deep fried, served with homemade garlic sausage, chocolate balsamic sauce and a slice of Orange Crush tomato.
It all makes perfect sense, says Horfrost Chef Jeff Mialkowski. "Tomato is a fruit, and we make fruit ice cream all the time. This dish covers all the markers-salty, sweet, bitter, crunch-so much fun!"
In the smallish city of Portage la Prairie, Chef Mialkowski and biz partner Chris Kehler have found a dedicated clientele for an ever-changing menu that straddles the line between small town favourites and avant guard cooking, and it all works.
For example, there are fries on the menu, but these fries are tossed with maple syrup for a wonderfully sweet and salty dish. Then there's a house salad. But this one comes in a bottle for a build-your-own kind of experience.
Why Portage la Prairie and not the big city of Winnipeg?
"I get cabbage, still warm from the sun in the field, brought to the restaurant. It's as simple as that," says Chef Mialkowski. The fields surrounding Portage la Prairie are home to a massive variety of fruit and vegetable growers. "I could do a 100-mile diet every day."
We continue to dance through our meal. Next comes a baked cauliflower soup crowned with quark cheese made in the tiny Manitoba town of Notre Dame de Lourdes. Then it's on to the dish where the Prairies meet with some Asian influence. We have bison spring rolls, stuffed with mango, goat cheese and arugula. The tempura shrimp arrive, drizzled with three big-flavoured sauces-smoked curry, chipotle and cinnamon hoisin.
Creativity in the kitchen has obviously spilled over into the bar. The seasonal cocktail menu has seen a pumpkin butter martini become a favourite for dessert. "It's all about fresh ingredients, even behind the bar," says Kehler.
Moving on to mains, you'll find the kinds of hearty meals that rural folks love, but always done up with a bit of a twist. There's a traditional rib eye, but this meal comes with the bonus of a stuffed beef cap and a little foie gras. In true Manitoba fashion, the menu's bestseller is the pickerel because we love our fish. This one get served with lemon vodka and dill butter.
Even though you may be uncomfortably full at this point (okay, really, really ready to burst), do not opt out of the house-made ice cream. You'll get three scoops showcasing some of those grown-right-over-there fruits and a dish of all-you-can pour chocolate sauce.