rasberry-souffle-ayden-saskatoon

Ayden’s house-made raspberry soufflé, accompanied by tasty ice cream and chocolate, is an example of the delectable dishes that have come to Saskatoon. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

Story by Patricia Dawn Robertson
Vacay.ca Writer

SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN — Saskatoon’s once sleepy food scene has come to life. According to the City of Saskatoon, 114 new full-service restaurants have opened their doors and seven new pubs have put out the welcome mat since 2009. That’s a lot of activity in a five-year period for a prairie city with a population just shy of 300,000.

This boom in the restaurant sector means that visitors to the Bridge City have never had more options when they go on a culinary quest. “Are there any good places to eat in this town?” was the question often asked by visitors. These days, the answer is, “You bet.” Not only are 121 more establishments lining the streets of Saskatoon, there are quality fine-dining establishments and chef-owned venues from which to choose.

The old brigade-style kitchens favoured by the high-end hotels like the Delta Bessborough and Sheraton Cavalier are facing fierce competition from emerging talents with modest square footages and a passion for fresh ingredients.

The Bessborough’s Garden Court Café’s traditional brunch complete with a dedicated omelette chef and a groaning dessert table now has to compete with chef Justin O’Reilly’s yummy vegetarian and gluten-free Sunday Brunch at Nosh Eatery & Tap in the fashionable Nutana area. If you like to venture away from the comfort of your downtown hotel digs, I suggest you make the effort to try Nosh and then you can follow up your brunch with a bit of lazy Sunday food shopping.

Dining In Saskatoon Has Never Been Better

The Broadway District is home to the best cheese shop in the city, the Bulk Cheese Warehouse. If you want to cart home a snack to stock up the mini-fridge, this is the place. The store also carries deli meats, tasty samosas and takeout salads for an impromptu picnic. A few short blocks north of the cheese shop you’ll find an excellent neighbourhood bakery, Christie’s Il Secondo. You can grab a good coffee, an upscale pizza or a loaf of bread to complement your tangy brie.

The Broadway District’s most specialized food shop, the Oliv Tasting Room, has no trouble extracting $20 out of local foodies for a bottle of its tasty oil. If you want something extra to drizzle on that pizza or bread, I like the classic lemon-infused olive oil because it’s so versatile and pairs well with roasted purple carrots or splashed over a chicken before you roast it with fresh dill or rosemary. It makes a practical souvenir to take home for your own pantry.

The arrival of a homegrown celebrity chef has been the biggest new development in Saskatoon’s culinary scene in years. Discerning diners can now sample the best-made plates from the kitchen of Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay. Ayden Kitchen & Bar opened late in 2013. It ranked No. 10 in the 2014 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.

It’s no surprise since MacKay has worked in the best kitchens of the world, including one run by Gordon Ramsay. In 2013, MacKay left Vancouver and returned to his hometown of Saskatoon. He brought members of his loyal kitchen crew with him from his former Vancouver restaurant, ensemble. The young chefs have local tongues wagging as they inject new energy and a touch of glamour into the small but passionate food scene.

ayden-saskatoon-saskatchewan

The cozy space at Ayden is elegant and welcoming. It has been the hottest reservation in Saskatoon since it opened in fall 2013. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

MacKay’s rustic, down-to-earth menu has won many fans and the fresh, clean design of the venue matches the simple but elegant food. You can dine down home with a classic burger or take it upscale and savour a silver-aged rib eye. Finish it off with roasted apple and almond cake just like mum used to bake. This is the hottest reservation in town so be sure to call ahead.

In mid-2014, MacKay faced some hot competition with the arrival of head chef Chris Hill at the Delta Bessborough Hotel. Another move-back, Hill relocated from Lake Louise, Alberta, where he worked as a busy sous chef at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Hill’s family hails from Imperial, Saskatchewan, so he’s happy to be back on his home turf working at his “dream hotel job.” The Hill family was in the cattle and grain business and owned the butcher shop in Imperial. Hill’s father has since gone into the sour cherry business.

Just a few months into his new gig, Hill took the culinary community by surprise when he picked up first prize at the annual Gold Metal Plates provincial competition. Hill’s sous vide of lamb wowed the local judges. His humble Saskatchewan ingredients — which featured peas and carrots with a nouvelle cuisine twist — received raves. Watch for a new Hill-curated menu to appear at the Bessborough’s Garden Court Café in early 2015.

If you can’t wait until the new year, you can enjoy the reliable fine dining at Carver’s. It’s across the street from the Bessborough at the Sheraton Cavalier. It’s a favourite among well-heeled business types dining out on expense accounts.

The table service at Carver’s is excellent and the elegantly prepared food matches it. The ambience is intimate and private since the restaurant is small. Their wine list is the best in town. It’s also a great date venue for couples on a romantic getaway.