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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

The Final Five Percent

Noelle Chorney
Published Thursday July 10, 06:34 pm
Riversdale Delicatessen is a fantastic find for foodies

Riversdale Delicatessen
101 20th St. W.

For years I argued that I didn’t lose out on any fundamental foodie delights by moving back to Saskatoon from a larger city — as a serious cook, I can find 95 per cent of the ingredients I need in Saskatoon. The only adjustment has been that specialty stores are few and far between: there’s one store in Saskatoon that offers a given specialty item, for example, rather than 12.

So not a huge deal — but for anyone who follows food trends, it’s sometimes tough not to focus on that missing five per cent. There’s this air-dried beef that’s all the rage in foodie cities, or an especially gooey cheese that the editorial team at Bon Appetit can’t shut up about. I can generally find substitutes for some of those things, but not the real thing.

Until Riversdale Deli opened its glorious doors.

Many people are raving about Riversdale Deli’s sandwiches. Their lunches are killer, and they’re not only delicious; they’re fun. With names like “Silence of the Lamb” and “Heart Attack,” how can you not want to come back almost daily? And a note to my vegetarian friends: the veggie sandwich always sounds just as tempting.

I love having lunch here — but that’s not even the main reason I’ll keep going back: it’s the deli part, the stuff I can incorporate into my own cooking. The missing five per cent.

In my initial scan of the shopping area, I saw high-quality pasta, an impressive selection of olives and antipasto items such as pickled onions, peppers of all sorts, caperberries, marinated vegetables, multiple varieties of rice for risottos and passata (the tomato puree of choice for authentic Italian cooking).

And then I saw the burrata.

Burrata is a gooey, buffalo milk mozzarella that has long been the rage in cutting-edge foodie cities like San Francisco and New York. I’ve been seeing recipes for it in cooking magazines for years, and I’ve eaten it in big city restaurants. Finally seeing it here is when I got really excited about Riversdale, and it only got better from there.

So what else did I find? Braesola (Italian air-dried beef), Serrano and Iberico ham (Spanish delicacies), two kinds of prosciutto from different regions in Italy (swoon), guanciale (the only bacon to use when making truly authentic spaghetti carbonara, at least according to Mario Batali) and schinkenspeck (not only fun to say, but hard-to-find German dried ham). And cheese. Oh, such lovely cheese.

What I fell in love with more than the burrata or their meat counter was their enthusiasm. The owners and all of their employees are falling over themselves to help you find what you’re looking for, and if they don’t have it, they’ll order it. And if you don’t know what something is, just ask, because these people want nothing more than to share their love of meat, cheese and sandwiches with the world.

I got the lowdown on the burrata, which was there one day and gone the next. “We get it in every second Tuesday,” was the reply. “If you want some, call me, and I’ll set it aside for you. Word’s gotten out that we have it, and we haven’t been able to keep it stocked.” That’s what happens when you fill that 5 per cent gap.

Now for my confession: I’m not all that big on sandwiches. In fact, at one point in my life I declared lunch to be a waste of time, because soup and sandwiches get really boring. By the time I hit my mid-20s, I’d figured I’d had every iteration of soup and sandwich there was.

Boy, was I wrong. I’m usually relieved to find even one sandwich on a lunch menu that doesn’t bore me to tears, but at Riversdale Deli — even though they only had four sandwiches on the board — I couldn’t decide.

A roast pork sandwich with figs and provolone? Oh my god, that sounds awesome. But so does the smoked trout sandwich with beets, capers and fennel slaw. Or a Caesar sandwich — a Caesar salad in sandwich form. And broccoli and gorgonzola soup: oh my!

On my last visit, I had it narrowed down to the Silence of the Lamb or the smoked trout when my lunch date said, “They have charcuterie platters for lunch!” I was saved the agony of choosing, and left the sandwiches for another day. Meat, cheese, olives, marinated figs and pickles on a board is one of the best lunches out there.

They go all-out on their charcuterie platter: truffled cheddar, soppressata, prosciutto, marinated figs, Peppadew peppers, a gorgeous Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese and more. And the chef who put it together delivered it himself, and spoke about everything he’d chosen. Lunch and an education, all in one. I love basking in the enthusiasm of someone who has a passion, especially if his passion is also mine.

Since Riversdale Deli is right on the corner of Idylwyld and 20th Street, an added bonus is sitting out on the sidewalk and getting up close and personal with Saskatoon’s city grit. We saw some traffic drama, a bit of road rage, two emergency vehicles and all kinds of interesting characters pass by. (You can always put a window between you and the grit, and still see it up close, by sitting at the sandwich bar.)

I’ve been finding many reasons to stop in to Riversdale Deli: I pick up pasta, I pick up Serrano ham to eat with melon for a summer appetizer, I contemplate the sandwich board. I tell people to meet me there for lunch.

Trust me: you need to start doing the same. 

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