Why Saskatoon Is Canada’s Next Great Culinary Destination
If you want to experience some of the best food and drink Canada has to offer, head to the "Paris of the Prairies." Here’s how Saskatoon’s chefs, bakers, brewers and distillers are shaking things up in the nation’s bread basket.
A foodie’s guide to Saskatoon
Saskatoon is known for many things: parkland trails beside the South Saskatchewan River, bridges and the Roughriders. But the largest city in Canada’s bread basket—Saskatchewan is, after all, home to 44 per cent of the nation’s farmland—is giving rise to a refreshingly unpretentious food scene. Did we mention Saskatoon was the lone Canadian entry in the New York Times‘ best places to visit in 2018? From the locally-sourced cuisine of the revitalized Riversdale neighbourhood to a farm-to-still distillery located just outside of the city, food and drink in this buzzworthy destination goes far beyond the namesake Saskatoon berry.
Baba’s Homestyle Perogies
The first wave of Ukrainian immigrants began settling in Saskatchewan in the 1890s, and about 13 per cent of the province can trace their ancestry back to the Eastern European country. Nowhere can that cultural history be felt more than through Saskatoon’s food. Baba’s Homestyle Perogies churns out 3,000 cabbage rolls and—wait for it—9,000 perogies per day. Your grandmother’s recipes never change, and neither do the ones at Baba’s—after all, “baba” is the Ukrainian word for “grandma.” The potato and cheddar perogies remain Baba’s most popular item, as does the homemade borscht. Not in the mood for traditional boiled perogies? Wednesdays are the only day of the week when Baba’s serves them fried.
The sight of retro glass lanterns and kitschy porcelain wall decor might make you think you’ve gone back in time, but we promise you’re in the right place. Located in Riversdale and housed in the former building of a Chinese restaurant, The Hollows is a throwback to a bygone era. On her eclectic, seasonal menu, co-owner and chef Christie Peters marries the “live off the land” philosophy of early prairie settlers with modern techniques. She and her team forage vegetables, flowers and roots around the province, and their dedication shines on dishes like rabbit schnitzel with carrot-top salsa verde and steelhead trout with wood sorrel.
The Night Oven Bakery
Plenty of bakers make breads in wood-fire ovens, but few build said ovens with their own hands—or grind flour from scratch twice a week. Bryn Rawlyk opened The Night Oven Bakery in 2014 based on the principles of Lionel Poilâne, a renowned French baker who created high-quality breads using past traditional methods. The former stay-at-home dad is fully self-taught and now sells his artisanal creations to a diverse clientele. The Saskatoon sourdough ($6), lentil rye ($7) and red fife whole wheat ($7.50) are particularly delectable. Craving something sweet? Opt for the pain au chocolat!
Black Fox Farm & Distillery
The award-winning Black Fox Farm and Distillery is one of the only farm-to-still distilleries in North America. In keeping with the city’s focus on local produce, owners Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote and John Cote—grain farmers by trade—grow 90 per cent of the ingredients that go into their spirits and liqueurs right on the property. Make yourself an adult lemonade with Black Fox’s raspberry liqueur; the honey ginger liqueur, meanwhile, tastes delicious on its own. In 2017, the husband-and-wife team’s new oaked gin was crowned the best cask gin at the World Gin Awards in London, England. Interested in visiting the farm? Black Fox also offers flower-picking experiences and tasting tours.
What Hearth lacks in square feet, it more than makes up for in great food. Beth Rogers and Thayne Robstad opened this tiny neighbourhood gem in June 2018, and its spin on seasonally-focused prairie cooking is Saskatoon in a nutshell. Menu highlights include wild mushrooms with Mornay sauce—the morels and chanterelles have been foraged from across the province—and marinated pike conserva with lemon, chilis and cucumber (pictured above). Even the plates are a labour of love for the young couple: Rogers and Robstad have been collecting mix-and-match antique China dinnerware for years.
Lucky Bastard Distillers
Every great city has a signature drink: Dublin has Guinness, Havana has the mojito, and Paris has the French 75. For Saskatoon, “signature drink” means dropping a shot of Lucky Bastard Saskatoon berry liqueur into a glass of Great Western beer. The rite of passage even has a name: “getting Saskatoon’ed.” Speaking of names, Lucky Bastard Distillers alludes to its co-founder Michael Goldney, a former physician who won a $14.6 million Lotto 6/49 jackpot in 2006. A rising star in the world of micro-distilleries, Lucky Bastard produces 100,000 litres of vodka, rum, gin, fruit liqueur and whiskey ever year.
Owned and operated by Andy Yuen, his wife Rachel, and his parents Sam and Jane, Odd Couple serves up a mix of Cantonese and Vietnamese cuisine in a laid-back setting. The menu is traditional with a twist, featuring crowd-pleasing favourites like crab Rangoon and mango avocado salad, and quirky, Canadiana-inspired options like bacon fried rice. Non-carnivores need not worry: the vegan spring rolls are absolutely drool-worthy. Odd Couple’s fusion of influences reflects Saskatoon’s significant Southeast Asian population: more than 23,000 residents identify as such, and the Filipino language Tagalog now ranks second behind English as the city’s most common mother tongue.
9 Mile Legacy Brewing
The food and drink scene in Saskatoon is all about collaboration, not competition. Located across the street from Odd Couple is 9 Mile Legacy: a beer lover’s paradise. Taking its name after the fact that the families of founders Shawn Moen and Garrett Pedersen once owned farms roughly nine miles apart, the brewery has eight beers on tap, including Belgian blonde, oatmeal stout and a collaboration ale with Odd Couple infused with Szechuan pepper, lemongrass and ginger.
Little Grouse on the Prairie
A five-minute walk from the iconic Bessborough hotel is Little Grouse on the Prairie: an Italian restaurant that seats around 30 and features birdcages that double as chandeliers. For a truly decadent experience, we suggest eating family-style: think courses of scallops with artichokes and farro verde, beef belly with cannellini beans, and risotto with fried zucchini blossoms (pictured above). Little Grouse is owned by former Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay!
Botté Chai Bar
Tea snobs might think the middle of the Prairies is the last place to find a great teahouse, but Botté Chai Bar has got it down to a science. Opened in early 2018, this Persian-inspired eatery features a variety of infusion teas. The emerald splendour—green tea infused with spinach, red paprika, mango, lemongrass, lemon peel and pink pepper—is highly recommended. Homemade meals include Turkish quinoa salad, green bean pilaf and kuku, an Iranian version of an Italian frittata. Curious about Middle Eastern food and art? Botté might be your new favourite hangout.