Forget everything you assumed about Saskatchewan.
Saskatoon, a city located in central Saskatchewan on the South Saskatchewan River, was not at all what I expected it to be. A very walkable city boasting a beautiful riverfront with seven arching bridges, it is surprisingly trendy and home to fiercely proud, welcoming and friendly Saskatonians. If you love to experience places by means of their cuisine and eat your way through your travels, Saskatoon has a great food scene with some noteworthy food and beverage establishments.
Here is a small sampling of Saskatoon’s yummy eats and libations:
Ayden Kitchen & Bar
A new Saskatoon hotspot, Ayden Kitchen & Bar is the brainchild of Saskatoon native and Canada’s original Top Chef Canada winner, Chef Dale MacKay. Using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, Ayden Kitchen & Bar brings patrons a globally inspired menu of modern comfort foods. Pop in for lunch and give their Thai chicken wings and award-winning pulled pork sandwich a try. Paired with an oh-so-good dipping sauce of lemongrass, kaffir lime, fresh cilantro and garlic oil (I wanted to drench each morsel of chicken in it!); the lightly dusted wings were so tender and delicate, while the soft pulled pork sandwich perfectly nestled in a chewy homemade bun.
Not only is the food superb, but the hand-crafted beer cocktails are a must try! The restaurant is a cleanly designed urban space adorned with interesting artwork and objects you would find in your kitchen cupboards and drawers. Their open kitchen concept gives you a view of all the cooking action and the full bar makes for a great place to dine in or just pop in for a cocktail.
Duck Duck Goose Tapas Bar
Tapas and shareable plates are perfect for someone who always has difficulty choosing just one item off a menu because they just want to try it all (er, me!). This is a great place to meet up with a small group of friends to eat and drink the night away. Once I parked myself in the small and cozy space, it was hard to leave. I love the camaraderie that happens over food and the concept of sharable plates is really conducive to socializing. The beauty of tapas is that you can order several dishes and try plenty off the menu without feeling too gluttonous. The spicy meatballs, bacon wrapped dates and ricotta gnocchi were definite highlights. Some plates were more generous than others. Before ordering, I recommend consulting a server if you are dining with a larger group. Don’t leave without trying some of their refreshing cocktails.
This was the most unique dining experience I had during my stay. Using locally raised and harvested ingredients from small local farms and their own permaculture garden, menu items are tailored according to the ingredients available with the changing seasons. Located in Riversdale, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Saskatoon, Chefs Christie Peters and Kyle Michael set up shop in the historic Golden Dragon building which used to be home to a Chinese restaurant. Their decision to keep the existing décor and furniture, makes dining in The Hollows like being in a universe where the past meets the present. Illuminated by the dim glow of old Chinese lanterns and candlelight, adorned with old wall decals, original upholstery and antique tea cups, dining here offered both a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere and an eerie feeling of nostalgia.
Although the dishes are at a higher price point, the food was delicious and the menu has a few items for the uninhibited diner (think beef heart ravioli and roasted bone marrow with squid ink). There is also an impressive cocktail menu which includes house made ginger beer. They are serious about their commitment to sustainability, so much so that even the drinking straws are biodegradable and they make their own charcuterie boards in their basement.
Lucky Bastard Distillery
There are all sorts of heavenly liquids distilling and being aged to perfection at the Lucky Bastard (LB) Distillery. What started with plans of being a single-malt whiskey distillery (they currently have whiskey aging in barrels for a minimum of 3 years, with just over a year of aging left to go), evolved to offering a variety of vodkas, gin, rum and naturally flavoured berry liqueurs.
I spent a fun-filled afternoon touring the distillery and sampling an extensive assortment of their product selection (all in a day’s work!). They offer free tours and it’s worth popping by to say hello. After trying many different samples I couldn’t name one favourite, but I would most definitely take home a bottle of their delicious Haskap liqueur made from blue honeysuckle berries and Chai Vodka flavoured with natural spices such as cardamom, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla. The end product took four recipes before it was just right. Other tasty beverages include a traditional Ukrainian honey pepper spiced vodka. LB opened its doors in May 2012 and is currently the only micro-distillery in the city.
Paddock Wood Brewery & Woods Ale House
Owner and Brewmaster Stephen Cavan started his business purely because he could not find a decent craft beer in Saskatchewan. Stephen had a desire to recreate styles of beer from around the world for personal enjoyment. In order to recreate these international brews, he had to import the same malt, yeast and hops that were used abroad. Wholesalers would only export to companies; thus, Paddock Wood Brewery was born.
Being the first ever microbrewery in Saskatchewan, no laws had previously been established for such a business. Paddock Wood set the groundwork so that other micro-breweries could open in the province. Their beers are very pure, light and clean tasting and so varied in flavour; everyone is bound to find a brew they like. Pop by the Brewery for a tour or Woods Ale House and try their “Heart Stopper”, a delicious sweet and spicy brew with chocolate and cayenne pepper.
Poached Breakfast Bistro
A cute and inviting breakfast and brunch spot in the downtown core, Poached offers a mouth watering menu with some twists on traditional brunch favourites. Features include sweet and savoury options like butternut omelettes, poached eggs over crab cakes and peach stuffed pan crepes. You must go here just to try their pecan and maple syrup bacon roll-ups. They are a wee bit pricey, but they are absolutely to die for, and so good, I went in twice just to experience that deliciousness all over again before I departed the city. I recommend getting a dish off their plated menu for more value and unique menu items then adding the roll-ups on as a side.
There are no shortages of watering holes and great places to eat. I merely scratched the surface of foodie heaven in Saskatoon.
A very big thank you to Tourism Saskatoon for sponsoring my trip and for taking me on a tasty food and drink tour throughout the city. This story was originally published in Eat Drink Travel Magazine.