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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Eat It, 2014!

Noelle Chorney
Published Monday December 22, 05:03 pm
The dining scene continues to grow, change and surprise

Holy crap! Did another year just go by? In the life of a dining columnist, another year can be a blur of new restaurants and unusual meals. But if I take a moment to reflect on the 12 months just passed, there are some distinct patterns in Saskatoon’s dining evolution — some exciting, some… meh.

 

YAY HEALTH

 

Leyda’s, which opened in 2013, was Saskatoon’s first gluten-free, nut-free and anti-inflammatory-food-focused restaurant. Following hot on their heels is Nosh, which opened on Broadway in 2014 and appeals to vegans and vegetarians who enjoy great food and drink. You can have beautiful fresh cocktails along with your quinoa salad, and the feature steak on the menu is portobello mushroom (and it’s awesome). Judging by the success of these two restaurants, there’s market demand for healthful dining options.

 

GOOD COFFEE, GOOD BAKING

 

We added an excellent coffee shop (The Local) and an artisan bakery (Night Oven) to the downtown offerings this year. Both make excellent espresso drinks, not to mention some fantastic flaky pastries and the canelés de Bordeaux, the most delightful caramelized cakes with a glossy crust and custardy centre. I have enjoyed every minute that I have spent sipping coffee and sampling treats in these places. Way to go, Saskatoon, for raising the bar on caffeine and baking.

 

INDIAN AND PAKISTANI RESURGENCE

 

There was a time when the Taj Mahal was the only place to go for Indian food in this town. While last year saw the end of an era with the official closing of Taj Mahal’s doors, we now have more and more Indian and Pakistani restaurants to choose from.

 

Spicy Bite took a leap and moved from far 8th St. E. to downtown. They’re still buffet-focused, and enjoying the lunchtime business crowds. “Spicy Time” has replaced Spicy Bite at their old location. And Desi Dhaba moved into town from Dundurn to take up residence in the old Saskaton Garden location on Ave. C.

 

Granted, none of these places has the stately fine-dining feel that Taj Mahal had, but I love that we have to pause and run through all the options if we’re deciding on Indian or Pakistani food for lunch or dinner. Do we go for some of the excellent paneer at Mogul Divaan on the west side, slip right next door to Swadesh for the buffet, go to Desi Dhaba for a great buffet that includes creative sauces and untold sweets for dessert? Or do we make our way over to Kabab King on Central Ave. in Sutherland for the never-ending and most fresh and tender naan to go with the fantastic mushroom and pea curry? While I wouldn’t say no to a new option for fine Indian dining in Saskatoon, I’m totally okay with lots of choice for comforting curry on a whim.

 

CHAIN CHAIN CHAINS

 

We’ve been home to chain restaurants forever, but the new thing is “high end” chains (if there can be such a thing) that we used to only be able to frequent in larger cities (or, in the case of Browns Socialhouse, when we went to Regina). Cactus Club has moved in downtown, although I haven’t been in yet. I used to live in Vancouver and I went there once or twice, but the busty waitresses in low-cut black tops and short skirts just didn’t draw me back.

 

Cactus Club has worked pretty hard on their food, however. A few years ago, they partnered with Rob Feenie, founder of Lumière (at one point considered the best restaurant in Canada — I ate there then, and it was pretty fantastic) to kick the menu up a notch.

 

If you do a cladistic diagram (sorry, my geek is showing — that’s an evolutionary diagram that uses shared characteristics to map the development of a species), you’ll see that Earls, Cactus Club and Browns Socialhouse are on the same branch. In fact, Cactus Club was started by Earls, and Browns Socialhouse was founded by the original owner of Cactus Club.

 

I don’t go out of my way to avoid these places, honest. In fact, when I do end up at them, which is inevitable, I generally can’t find a single thing wrong no matter how hard I try. They’re well-adapted to the market, and so they thrive.

 

CRITICAL MASS ON 20TH

 

Perhaps the biggest trend in Saskatoon’s dining scene this year is the total explosion of restaurants on 20th. I have been spending a lot of time there, and even when I’m not I kind of wish I was.

 

Odd Couple brought Asian comfort food, cocktails and community together in a way that I wish all restaurants could.

 

Riversdale Deli brought the most delightful enthusiasm for cured meats and cheeses I have ever seen, not to mention some fabulous hard-to-find ingredients and high-quality imported pastas.

 

Newest on the street is Grazing Goat, which I would love to curl up in and never leave.

 

Little Bird Patisserie is just around the corner on Avenue B, and turns out beautiful macarons in a rainbow of colours and flavours, as well as some other mind-blowing sweet and savoury French pastries. And don’t even get me started on the soups and sandwiches. They’re so good they make me forget my ambivalence toward lunchtime foods.

 

All of these restaurants add to the already growing density of restaurants and coffee shops, including (inhale) Collective Coffee, Leyda’s, Two-Gun Quiche House, Taste Legend, Seoul Korean, Jin Jin Dumpling and Park Café (whew!). You could seriously do a restaurant crawl for more than an entire weekend and never walk more than three blocks.

 

My own resolution for the new year is to work my way into the suburbs a bit more. Some interesting stuff is happening out there, I hear. Also on my to-do list is to finally set foot in one of those frozen yogurt bars. I haven’t been purposely avoiding them, and I honestly have no idea why it’s taken me so long.

 

I see so many signs that Saskatoon is growing, from having the population and cultural base to sustain all kinds of niche market restaurants, to attracting some of the bigger chains to our suburbs (and downtown). I’m sure there will be some growing pains and some nostalgia for the “old days” along the way, but overall: you’re pretty tasty, Saskatoon!

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