The "Paris of the Prairies" boasts a culinary scene full of new restaurants, new concepts and new talent
If you haven't visited Saskatoon in the past year, you just don't know Saskatoon. The food scene alone has propelled this city a quantum leap forward from where it was just a handful of years ago, with an energy that is palpable and reinvigorated.
The average age of the city's population is five years below the national average, making it the youngest population of any major Canadian city. That's no coincidence. Restaurants demand long hours and unwavering dedication—job requirements ideal for young dreamers. Kitchens in Saskatoon are helmed by chefs half the age of their big city counterparts. Some have returned home after university, others were priced out of larger urban centres but most have worked in kitchens just long enough to know they didn't want to wait decades—or take on the stress of finding financial backers—only to risk millions of dollars opening up their own restaurant in a large city. So they went to Saskatoon.
Small diners, cozy restaurants, repurposed spaces: all mean lower rents and more options in location, giving chefs the freedom to create spectacular menus.
Here are my favourite places to eat and drink around Saskatoon...
Catherine TseOne of the first restaurants to kick start the "Riversdale Renaissance," The Hollows has become a Saskatoon institution in a short amount of time. This hipster gem is located in the former Golden Dragon restaurant. When chefs-and-owners Christie Peters and Kyle Michael took ownership, they left everything intact, from light fixtures to Formica tables to mismatched dishware. Peters and Michael have cooked everywhere from Vancouver to San Francisco to Amsterdam to Spain, bringing an exquisitely international sensibility to Saskatoon. Ingredients are locally sourced, with an increasing amount coming from their patio gardens, so menus shift constantly. But you'll always find a fresh, cosmopolitan representation of the chefs' culinary expertise, such as breakfast ramen, breakfast poutine (kimchi optional), beans and rice and pannekoeken. If you're a local, you can even pick up a dozen farm fresh eggs or homemade jam here, if you prefer to brunch at home.
The Hollows, 334 Avenue C South, Saskatoon
Catherine TseFeaturing healthy, organic, gluten-free, nut-free whole foods, Leyda's offers the perfect balance of delicious and good-for-you, especially after too many perogies. In fact, Leyda's specializes in non-inflammatory meals to help combat chronic disease, favouring the province's own sea buckthorn berries, which are famous—in the Prairies, at least—for their high concentrations of protein and vitamins C and E. With brunch options like huevos rancheros and (nitrate-free) smoked salmon eggs benedict, there's no fear of compromising satisfying comfort foods for high nutritional value.
Leyda's, 112 20th Street West, Saskatoon
Little Grouse on the Prairie
Facebook/Little GrouseHaving been a part of Chef Dale McKay's inner circle for over six years, Chef Jesse Zuber is now helming Little Grouse on the Prairie, part of the Grassroots Restaurants Group. Located in the historic Birks building, this intimate, charming space focuses on homey Italian cuisine, made with prairie ingredients. It's the perfect venue for showcasing Zuber's finesse with pasta, and his love of truffles. The atmosphere is very casual, from the alla famiglia-style menu to the mismatched china bought from local second-hand stores. But the food... the food is spectacular. Zuber has carved out his own brand of epicurean magic, distinct from McKay's, which will only strengthen Saskatoon's culinary scene.
Little Grouse on the Prairie, 167 3rd Avenue South, Saskatoon
Ayden Kitchen and Bar
Facebook/Ayden Kitchen and BarChef Dale Mackay is credited with starting Saskatoon's transformation into Canada's next it foodie city. He's changing the way Saskatoon eats and the way the rest of the country views "prairie food." Winning Top Chef Canada made him a household name although, by then, he had already worked in kitchens around the world, opening restaurants for Chef Gordon Ramsay in London, Tokyo and New York, as well as replacing Rob Feenie at Vancouver's Lumiere (until it closed in 2011). When MacKay opened Ayden (named for his son), he chose to do so in his hometown of Saskatoon, surrounded by a supportive home crowd looking for a culinary hero. The menu sings with the wholesomeness of local purveyors and options are familiar, but elevated: chicken wings with lemongrass, classic burgers with house-cured bacon, trout croquettes with nori aioli.
Ayden Kitchen and Bar, 265 3rd Avenue South, Saskatoon
Night Oven Bakery
Facebook/The Night OvenInspired by the slow food movement, Bryn Rawlyk had a specific bakery in mind when he conceived of the Night Oven. He wanted baked goods made from stone ground, local, organic grains and baked in a stone oven—all contrary to current techniques and equipment. So he made his own stone mill and then, brick by brick, he created his dream oven, which is the first thing customers see when they walk into his bakery. Some come for the croissants, canelés or bread, others come for the flour. At the back of the bakery, Rawlyk has built a 3,000 pound flour mill where he grinds his own organic grain grown an hour outside Saskatoon. His breads are artisanal, made with freshly milled flour, mixed slowly, fermented for 24 hours, shaped by hand and baked in the fire-hot oven.
The Night Oven, 629 1st Avenue North, Saskatoon
Thrive Juice Co.
Catherine TseWhile Thrive Juice offers a lot more than just juice, that's really where they excel. Their brightly coloured juices pop from the cooler, naturally grouped according to colours: green, red, orange, mylks and lemonade. For green juice fans, there are seven options in this category alone. As a stickler for freshly processed drinks, I recommend checking out their fresh smoothie menu. Several feature local sea buckthorn berries while others provide more traditional flavour profiles such as almond matcha and tropical papaya.
Thrive Juice Co.,137 20th Street West, Saskatoon
Lucky Bastard Distillers
Catherine TseHow lucky? $14.6 million lucky. That's how much then-med school student Michael Goldney won in 2006. And that's how this micro-distillery was born. Surrounded by some of the best growing conditions for grains, Saskatoon was the perfect place for this micro-brewery. With some luck and a beautiful, hand-hammered copper pot at the centre of their distillery, Lucky Bastard produces some of the finest and most intriguing micro-distilled liquors in the country. Their dill pickle vodka is outstanding in Caesars but if that's not your preference, spend some time in their beautiful showroom where their bartenders can pour samples and create cocktails showcasing other Lucky Bastard liquors and bitters.
Lucky Bastard Distillers, 814 47th Street East, Saskatoon
Black Fox Farm and Distillery
Facebook/Black Fox Farm and DistilleryBlack Fox only started in 2015, but it's already garnered international acclaim, having just won the "Best Cask Gin" at the World Gin Awards in London, U.K. Located in the scenic river valley just five minutes outside Saskatoon, this on-farm distillery uses ingredients grown on the farm, from grains and honey to fruits and botanicals. They even have astonishingly extensive flower fields, available to the public for picking. 90 per cent of the ingredients in their award-winning gin is from their farm—including rhubarb and the florals—making it entirely unique to Saskatoon.
Black Fox Farm and Distillery, 245 Valley Road, Saskatoon