food city – Saskatoon: innovative food in the prairies

By / Food / February 8th, 2018 / 8

Farming, flat, potash and prosperity — according to a survey completed in 2015 by Insightrix Research Inc, these are just a few of the terms that come to mind when Canadians think about Saskatchewan. There were other less positive terms, like “boring” — gasp — but if Saskatoon is any indication, this flat, farming province is anything but boring.

Saskatoon is the next stop in our Food City series. This small-town, big-city stop on the Trans-Canada Highway is the largest city in Saskatchewan. It boasts a rich culinary scene that is growing in leaps and bounds as locals take a look at what their farming neighbours are producing and realize that these local ingredients make for great fare. Next time you find yourself in this prairie town, take a tour of these must-visit locales that are helping to put Saskatoon on Canada’s culinary map.

Read the food city installment for St John’s, Newfoundland here. 

Must Visit

Bakeries & Cafés

The Night Oven Bakery
629-b 1st Avenue North

Owner Bryn Rawlyk serves handmade artisan bread pulled out of his hand-built brick oven each morning. His approach is simple — start with organic, local ingredients and create breads and pastries that highlight the flavours of Saskatoon. “The main focus of what we do is to utilize local ingredients to create breads, pastries and foods for our customers,” says Rawlyk. “Our style is rustic French with some eastern European specialties at times. Customers have grown to know our standard for quality and appreciate our creative seasonal items.”

His creative menu includes different cultural breads during the holidays; Red Fife sourdough bread, which has just the right amount of chewiness, moistness and sourness to please any bread critic; whole-wheat brioche hamburger buns; and a wide (and changing) selection of French pastries difficult to find anywhere else in Saskatoon, including flaky, crisp croissants and savoury or sweet tarts (try the lemon, if you can get there in time — all of their pastries sell out quickly). You can place an order to take home and share with your family, or sit in the café, sip an exquisite coffee made with organic milk and enjoy with a good book (or a close friend).

If you’re visiting Saskatoon over the weekend, stop in for their Friday Pizza Night. Rawlyk and his team make every style of pizza — meat, veggie, cheese — and they change up the selection each week. Their fresh, local ingredients are framed by a soft, crunchy crust that has a slight sourdough flavour, all baked fresh that night in the brick oven.

The Night Oven also mills its own flour right there in the store. “Using local, organic grain is a big part of what we do,” says Rawlyk. “In starting the bakery, I really wanted to connect customers with the grain that is grown all around our town. I think starting with quality ingredients is very important to creating a great product.” You can bring home their stone-ground flour, Two Stones Mills, to try to recreate some organic pastries of your own, though you can’t beat the experience — and the mouth-watering smells — of visiting The Night Oven Bakery. You’ll never want to buy store-bought bread again.

Citizen Café and Bakery
18 – 23rd Street East

House-made treats, excellent coffee and lounge-worthy couches for an afternoon pick-me-up, this little coffee shop and bakery is a great place to rest your feet as your tour Saskatoon.

The Karma Conscious Café & Eatery
2-157 – 2nd Avenue North

A flavourful fusion of vegan and vegetarian food accompanied by espresso made from hand-picked fair trade coffee. Three percent of all revenues go towards helping charities in the community.

Last Mile Coffee Truck
Saskatoon Farmers’ Market

If you’re spending the day at the Farmers’ Market, stop by this truck for some independent roadster coffee.

Dinner & Drinks

The Hollows
334 Avenue C South

Chef Christie Peters was a 2016 Mav Chef and she’s still working hard to craft seasonal dishes in the heart of Saskatoon. “After cooking in larger cities, Saskatoon feels like the Wild West,” says Peters. “Being my own boss allows me to focus on any areas I feel passionate about at the time. At this time, I am able to practise charcuterie in conjunction with whole-animal butchery.”

Peters and her husband, Kyle Michael, own The Hollows and Primal Pasta (see below). Both restaurants work around Saskatoon’s climate to ensure all dishes are made with local ingredients, all year round. “The challenges of the harsh climate and short growing season here keep us on our toes,” explains Peters. “We are always finding new ways to preserve items from our gardens so that they carry us through the long, cold winters.”

Gardening is a major passion for Peters. She planted her gardens in order to grow her own ingredients. “The gardens guide the menus at both restaurants,” she says. “Every year we are learning new things. Right now [in July], we are harvesting rose petals, raspberry leaf, rhubarb, wood sorrel, lamb’s quarters and dandelions. And next week, it could be entirely different!”

Her menu at The Hollows is as eclectic and creative as you could want. Dishes crafted with local ingredients, focusing on texture and unique flavour combinations, mean you’ll get to enjoy buttery-salty roasted bone marrow; or dandelion tempura with spicy mayo, one of the daily specials, seasoned just right and not too spicy. Main dishes — served in reasonable portions rather than piled on the plate — include creations like pork sausage with kimchi and olive oil potatoes, where the pork sausage has the perfect ratio of meat to fat and the kimchi gives it all a nice kick. Finish your meal with the dessert flight, a sampling of all of their desserts in just-the-right-size portions so you can have a taste of everything.

“Our motto is high quality, seasonal and sustainable,” says Peters. “It happens to be that the most high-quality and fresh products available are usually locally grown, or foraged, or locally pastured animals. This philosophy guides our menus in such a way that the slightest micro-changes in the season are reflected.”

Primal Pasta
423 – 20th Street West

Here, you’ll find a menu replete with fresh, homemade pastas and sauces crafted with local ingredients (including those from Chef Peters’ garden). A nice Saskatoon-twist on traditional Italian cuisine.

Ayden Kitchen & Bar
265 – 3rd Avenue

If you’re looking for high-end pub food, heavy on the meats, Ayden Kitchen & Bar is the place to be. The relaxed, inviting atmosphere, replete with rich dark woods and antiques, is the perfect setting for an evening of dining, after-work cocktails or a night cap. The menu includes special selections that showcase all that Saskatoon has to offer, made with local vegetables, seasonings and meats.

“We work with a lot of local farmers and producers. We’ve built great relationships with them and there’s that sense of satisfaction knowing that we can take their locally crafted products and create something extraordinary for our guests to enjoy,” says general manager and mixologist Christopher Cho. “We learn so much when working with local suppliers, about how their product has been handled and the amount of love and care they put into it. We want to give the products justice by giving the same love the suppliers have and that is why I think it changes the taste of our menu.”

Their drinks list is a big draw as well and includes signature cocktails created by Cho. These are created to pair with the menu, though Ayden also has all the classics and the bartenders can recreate whatever cocktail you crave. “The moment you walk through our doors to the moment you walk out, we want our guests to feel as if we took them on a journey,” says Cho. “We strive to exceed our guests’ expectations when it comes to the food, the service, the drinks and the ambiance.”

Judging from the reviews and the number of awards they’ve received, they have succeeded in achieving that goal. “Ayden Kitchen & Bar was the first restaurant in Saskatchewan to be acclaimed in the Top 10 Best Restaurants through Vacay.ca, Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Canada through enRoute Magazine, and Top 100 Best Restaurants in Canada through Macleans. We couldn’t have achieved that without the support of this city,” explains Cho. “Throughout my travels, I find Saskatoon to be one of the friendliest cities across Canada. There’s a huge support culture in Saskatoon. People who are from here or live here have a big amount of pride to be in Saskatoon.”

Prairie Harvest Café
2917 Early Drive

Prairie Harvest isn’t actually a café — it’s a small, quirky lunch-brunch-supper spot found in the middle of a charming neighbourhood. Owner/chef Michael McKeown, and his co-chefs Bret Eldstrom and Adam Carrier, serve up interesting seasonal dishes, all surrounding their three staples: lasagna, pierogis and doughnuts. “We change the menu weekly [or] bi-weekly, depending on what ingredients are available,” says McKeown. “Maple bacon doughnuts, PH lasagna and pierogis have been there in one form or another since Day One; the rest of the menu kind of fits around that.”

Local, seasonal ingredients are the cornerstone of Prairie Harvest’s menu. McKeown and his team transform these ingredients into handmade dishes. “We don’t bring anything in store-bought at all. Everything that goes on the plate, we make,” explains McKeown. “We make all our own doughs, all our own breads, all our own pastas.” They also make sauces, mayo, ketchup, mustard — literally everything. This means that the dining experience is truly home-style and one-of-a-kind.

Take the maple bacon doughnut, for example. The strong, smoky bacon flavour combines so well with the hints of maple — an interesting fusion of savoury and sweet. Their breads are dense and hearty. Sausages perfectly juicy. The actual bacon crispy and thick. The combination of local ingredients with the out-of-the-box approach to flavour makes it worth hunting down this small, out-of-the-way space.

To help prolong the availability of seasonal ingredients, Prairie Harvest preserves its sauces, pickles ingredients and does its best to store enough to get the restaurant through the winter. “Right now, we’re pickling asparagus,” mentions McKeown. “With tomatoes, we roast them off, make sauce and freeze that and use it as long into the winter as we can. But we’re a little, tiny place, so it can last as long as it can last.” If they do run out, all they have to do is change the menu up a little bit — tweak it so that if they run out of something, you won’t even notice. Even if it is in the dead of winter.

Saskatoon Station Place
221 Idylwyld Drive North

When Saskatoon Station Place opened, it was the first Greek-Canadian fusion restaurant in the city. A visit here is like a journey to the past, when trains featured classic food cars, bar cars and even smoking cars. This is the full fine-dining experience at its best.

More to See

Shopping

Last Shoes
318 Avenue C South

Cordwainer (aka, shoemaker) Adam Finn opened up Last Shoes to provide Saskatoon with custom shoes. “Last Shoes is all about craftsmanship and self-expression,” explains Finn. “When a customer buys a pair of handmade shoes, it’s an investment in their aesthetic sensibilities as well as a unique story and experience.”

Finn opened up Last Shoes because he’s “always had an interest in craft, creating objects that people interact with and build a relationship with.” Given how important shoes are not only to the comfort of our feet but also our posture, back and overall balance, having a good pair of shoes is key — especially if you’re a chef, like Christie Peters, who pointed me to Last Shoes, the creators of her kitchen clogs and apron with sturdy leather accents.

Finn has had a lot of success marketing his custom shoes and other leather products — and he hasn’t looked back. “I love working in a city that is growing and changing. There’s a mentality of collaboration rather than competition,” he explains. “The response has been great.”

The Cure Artisanal Charcuterie
110-209 Avenue D South

Artisanal meats are the only thing sold at this carnivore’s grocer. Treat yourself to an epic meat and cheese platter for your next gathering or for a snack while you relax at your hotel before dinner.

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market
414 Avenue B South

Every vendor at the market sells only what they produce, so this is the place to be if you want a true representation of all that Saskatoon has to offer.

Hazlewood Clothing Co.
120 – 20th Street West

Antiquing in style. A curated vintage shop with clothing, home furnishings and handmade apothecary.

Drinks & Nightlife

The Rook & Raven Pub
154 – 2nd Avenue South

When The Rook opened in 2011, it started the locally owned and operated pub revolution of downtown Saskatoon. A comfortable, casual spot to unplug from the outside world and enjoy a pint.

Melody Lounge Bar
255 – 3rd Avenue South

This brilliant, off-the-beaten-path bar has live music, great cocktails and a selection of nibbles to keep you satisfied all night long.

Bartari Videogame Restaurant & Bar
511 – 20th Street West

Retro games and adult beverages with some food thrown into the mix. Not sure about you, but to me, that’s a recipe for a great evening.

Mana Bar
523 – 20th Street West

New to the Saskatoon bar scene, this is a prime spot for gamers, nerds and trivia lovers who refuse to give up on those pastimes they enjoyed as kids. Every day is a new theme — Magic Mondays, Tabletop Tuesdays, Waffle Wednesdays and Trivia Thursdays, plus they host events throughout the year.

Festivals

Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
June 2018

For 10 days every summer, Saskatoon is home to the biggest names in jazz, with over 85,000 music fans grooving to jazz, blues, funk, pup and world music.

A Taste of Saskatchewan
July 2018

Foodies rejoice! This five-day event features more than 30 of Saskatoon’s finest restaurants, plus a selection of local music, all celebrating the flavour of the prairies.

Ness Creek Music Festival
July 2018

For more than 26 years, music fans have made their way to Prince Albert National Park for the “Woodstock of Saskatchewan.” With big-name musicians, intimate local bands, tents and drums, this festival is a must for any music fan.

Nuit Blanche Saskatoon
September 2018

Free, all-ages night-time arts festival showcasing art and culture in Saskatchewan.

Microbreweries & Distilleries

9 Mile Legacy Brewing Company
229 – 20th Street West

This brewery represents the close-knit community of Saskatoon like no other: the two families that own 9 Mile Legacy (the Moens and the Pedersons) have lived roughly nine miles apart for over a century. Their collaboration creates a selection of smooth beers, each with its own unique flavour.

Prairie Sun Brewery
2020 Quebec Avenue

The vision of Prairie Sun Brewery was the result of a road trip to the beer-capital of the US: Denver, Colorado. Cameron Ewen, a Humboldt, Saskatchewan native, and Heather Williams, originally from Boulder, Colorado, transform Saskatoon’s local grains into beers that wow the palate. Try their Toffee 5 or their 306 Urban Wheat Beer.

Paddock Wood Brewing Co.
116 – 103rd Street East

Buy some beer, pick up a kit to make your own or reserve a keg, Paddock Wood is a must-visit. The friendly staff will help you find the perfect ale to quench whatever thirst hits you.

Lucky Bastard Distillers
814 – 47th Street East

The cold winters and short, hot summers in Saskatoon make for some of the finest growing conditions in the country, which is probably why the whole province is synonymous with wheat fields. These quality grains are transformed into some of the best micro-distilled liquor in Canada via owner Michael Goldney’s hand-hammered copper pot still named Ginger.

Black Fox Farm & Distillery
245 Valley Road

Black Fox makes gins for non-gin drinkers. Their assortment of juniper-based spirits (four recipes in total) are a good way to introduce your palate to gin. They also have some delicious fruit liqueurs made from apples, haskap berries, raspberries, blackcurrants and sour cherries — all grown on their farm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A freelance writer and editor, Lisa Hoekstra loves learning and trying new things. She can be found with her nose in a book or multiple tabs open on her browser as she researches the latest and greatest in the world of food, style and everything in between.

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