It’s opening day and Talia Syrie hasn’t slept much – possibly not in three days — she tells me. But there’s a weary contentment in this statement. In the space of roughly 3 months the old Campsie space in the Sherbrook Inn has been radically transformed from dank, dated, and carpeted to bright, modern, and cheery.
There’s a Partridge-family-esque “C’mon get happy” ceiling, wide evening sun-worshiping windows, and sky blue wall-mounted squares. Fans slowly rotate above an eclectic assortment of mix and match tables and chairs. The restaurant runs deep. You hit a good-sized bar on the way to the brightly-lit kitchen. Across from the bar, in a little nook, hangs the warm wooden sign of the original Tallest Poppy. Four tin-plated ridges nestle in the ceiling above two cozy tables.
Syrie’s impish partner in crime, Steve Ackerman, tugs at his hair while he sorts some last minute business out on the phone. He kind of has the air of an expectant father from the 1950s pacing outside the delivery room.
Of course, most Winnipeggers remember the original Poppy on Main St. From the moment it opened, The Tallest Poppy seemed woven into Winnipeg’s fabric. Situated in the Occidental Hotel, the Poppy had a rustic, haphazard charm: like hanging out in a really cultured grad student’s apartment who also had, like, this AMAZING way with food. The Poppy on Main had its problems, sure. It wasn’t always the most consistent spot but Syrie says that’s all going to change in its new incarnation.
And with its cool retro design, its ipad ordering and payment system, and its fully operating bar, this Poppy certainly seems a lot more grown up. But Syrie is adamant; the unpretentious charm of the original won’t be lost in this swank new spot.
“I want people to feel comfortable. To, like, really feel — not like at home — but maybe like you had an aunt. A really cool aunt. You don’t get to see her very often but when you do she makes you something your mother would never make for you, and she serves you booze and you play gin rummy in the afternoon.” Syrie pauses with a toothy grin, “Like that.”
The Tallest Poppy exudes comfort. Not just in the decor or the easygoing staff but in its comfort food-rich menu. The Poppy used to boast it was where the Deep South meets the North End. A quick glance at the menu confirms it still is.
Pickerel po’boys, chicken and syrup-infused waffles, and the most moist and tender otherworldly pulled pork sandwiches you could ever hope to put in your mouth. “They take 100 hours to slow roast,” jokes Syrie… or is she joking?
I’m not much of a meat expert but I brought along a friend who is. After several appreciative and thoughtful bites of the onion-laden patty she declared the burger to be superior because it let the meat be the main event. ‘It doesn’t try to hide the meat with a whole bunch of sauces and extras.”
In the kitchen, staff hand-form the patties of the Trifecta burger. There’s an easy camaraderie here, too. “Take a picture of the bread,” beams one young guy. It glistens under the overhead lights. Most of the original staff have returned – for Syrie it feels like some classic band has gotten back together… only they now have a much bigger venue.
If Syrie is everyone’s cool aunt, that makes Steve Ackerman the cool uncle – a cool uncle with a wicked flair for mean cocktails.
The cocktail bug bit Ackerman hard in New York where he studied photography. He remembers the time his sister visited him and they went from bar to bar ordering Manhattans “because we were in Manhattan.” Ackerman was fascinated with the chemistry of it all — how each bartender tweaked it just a little.
With a crooked grin he tells me his vision of the new Poppy: “I want to be a place where people relax and have delicious food made by someone who cares. I want them to enjoy a cocktail not for the sake of getting drunk but for the deliciousness of the drink.”
He’s crafted several drinks on the menu but two are absolute stand-outs. First there is the Mantucky: where Winnipeg crabapple juice collides with icy bourbon, laced with black pepper syrup, lemon, bitters and mint. He calls it a “slow, genteel drink that wakes you up and soothes you at the same time.” And then there is the two-tone Caesar: classic Caesar on the bottom, a green salsa verde-spiked mixture on top. I defy anyone to not to fall in love at first sip.
Post by Katie Nicholson
Katie fell in love with Winnipeg the moment she arrived (despite the fact it was minus 30 that day). She loves tasting everything life has to offer which is a nice way of saying she has a tendency to overdo it. She has worked as a theatre and film critic in Canada and the UK. She has roadtripped all over the US in search of dynamic regional flavours and the perfect cocktail. She can occasionally be found sabring bottles of bubbly.