Outlet Collection Eateries “Up” Food Court Game

18 May Outlet Collection Eateries “Up” Food Court Game

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A Big Smoke cheese burger and onion rings.</p>
BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSA Big Smoke cheese burger and onion rings.

Generally speaking, shopping mall food courts don’t make for destination dining.

But here you are, checking out the stores at the newly opened Outlet Collection and needing some fuel. So, now what?

As food courts go, this one is not bad, mostly due to the natural light flooding in through the massive clerestory windows that completely surround it. Bucking the decades-long trend to keep malls in an enclosed realm of artificial illumination, encouraging shoppers to lose themselves in a cocoon of consumer capitalism, this one is opened up to the outside world.
Resisting the temptation to blow my paycheque on kicky shoes, I head for two chains new to Winnipeg. Both Chachi’s and Big Smoke Burger try to balance the lure of fresh ingredients with the convenience of fast food, with up-and-down results.

Big Smoke Burger, a Toronto-based franchise with locations in Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and the Middle East, offers zhooshed-up versions of drive-in favourites.

I had the best luck with the classic combo of beef burger, fries and milkshake. The Big Smoke burger is good, made with fresh ground AAA chuck cooked medium-well with just a tiny tinge of pink in the middle. (You can also ask for well done, if you prefer.) Add-ons include real cheese, nicely caramelized onions, horseradish mayo and fresh iceberg lettuce and tomato.

Fresh-cut fries are plump and potatoey rather than skinny and super-crisp, along the lines of good British chips rather than French frites. The chocolate shake, mixed up to order in a metal cup, tastes like a traditional fountain treat. Big Smoke also offers old-school cane sugar Boylan sodas.

The fancier options can be hit-and-miss. A classed-up poutine ($8.50) includes sautéed mushrooms and cheese curds that are recognizably cheesy, but the rosemary aioli is a bit de trop. (And I say this as someone who loves aioli.)

The lamb burger is tasty, but its relatively small patty is overpowered by cilantro cream. The chicken in the Southern Fried comes tender and moist, but the coating is under-seasoned and over-browned, to the point of being slightly acrid. Onion rings are crispy but a bit tough.

Service is friendly, though sometimes pressed by the move-it-along imperatives of the mall lunch or dinner rush, and wait times between lining up to order and eating can stretch to 10 to 15 minutes. Prices are also higher than those for average food court fare, with signature burgers ranging from $8.50-$11.