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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Moe Knows

Noelle Chorney
Published Thursday October 15, 05:53 pm
The Woods scores a massive coup with Chef Mathieu

148 2nd Ave. N

The Paddock Wood brewery has become an institution in Saskatoon, even though it’s less than 10 years old. Along with an excellent lineup of beers, they can also take credit for kicking off the craft brewing explosion that Saskatoon — and Saskatchewan as a whole — has seen over the past few years.

And their restaurant / pub, The Woods, is a great place to try their beers (and many others from around the world) fresh out of the keg. The Woods has been open for a while, and it’s become known as a great place to drink beer and go to a games or trivia night, but it hasn’t really been known for amazing food.

When I told a friend of mine recently that I was going to go check out the menu at The Woods, she seemed surprised. But I knew something she didn’t: Just as the Paddock Wood peeps don’t rest on their laurels in beer-making, they’re also working hard to improve the food at The Woods. And the way they’re going about it is brilliant, in my opinion — because they’ve hired Moe Mathieu.

Besides the occasional Top Chef Canada winner, Saskatoon isn’t really known for celebrity chefs. People have their favourites, and sometimes when they change venues fans follow. But there are also those who don’t seek the limelight, even though their pedigrees deserve it.

Chef Mathieu is one of those. Have you heard of The French Laundry in Napa? Alinea in Chicago? Have you heard of Michelin stars? They’re a big deal, and these restaurants have them — meaning that in the culinary world, they’re bucket-list-worthy. (I tried to go to the French Laundry once. I tried to book three weeks in advance, and there were no tables available. Instead, I went to the bistro owned by the same chef — and had one of the most memorable meals of my life.)

Why am I blathering on about these fancy restaurants and revealing my food snobbishness to everyone? Oh yeah — because Moe Mathieu, the new executive chef at The Woods Alehouse, used to work at them. He’s a big deal, and the food at The Woods is now a reason in itself to go there.

Closer to home, Moe worked at The Willows in Wascana, and was one of the founders of Beer Brothers in Regina. He’s well known in Regina — and now we in Saskatoon have the privilege of eating his beautiful food. Beer Brothers is one of my favourite places to eat in Regina — now imagine applying that winning formula (beer-inspired food) to a place serving Paddock Wood beer!

The results are delicious. Meatballs with ale cheese sauce, caramelized onions in Loki beer, 606 mustard, beer-braised pork on an Oktoberfest tasting board… yes, you read that right. Oh, and pizza! Pizza and beer is a natural pairing.

And while the house beers are really good in themselves (there are now 15 if you count the seasonal brews, of which the Belgian wit and dunkelweizen are my own favourites, although the dortmunder, a lighter German-style lager is also eminently drinkable. I’m not that keen on super hoppy beer, so I tend to avoid the Loki and 606 — but hey, if hops are your thing, go for it! I haven’t been there often enough to get tired of the Paddock Wood options, but the Woods is also bringing in an impressive list of imported beers, so there’s definitely something for everyone.

If you’re wondering what to try off the menu, I’d say go with whatever looks good — because if it looks good to you, it’s going to be good. If you want to narrow it down, pick your beer first and then pick something that’s made with that beer. There are some lovely meat-in-pastry options, as well as burgers and sandwiches — spicy salmon with IPA slaw anyone? Or something called a “King Kristo” which comes with beer batter — not sure whether it’s around the sandwich or in the sandwich, but I’m going to have to try it to find out. There are also soups and salads, that killer Oktoberfest tasting board (many kinds of smoked meat), and pizzas and calzones.

I sampled the butter chicken calzone and a veggie pizza on my last visit, as well as the meatballs. The meatballs (ale cheese sauce and carrot relish!) came out as the favourite, although the butter chicken calzone stopped me in my tracks. So savoury, and cheesy, with just the right char and thickness to the crust. The veggie pizza claimed to have smoked pumpkin on it, and we were excited to try that, but it fell down in the execution somehow. I think they were out of pumpkin and subbed in not-smoked sweet potato instead.

What I’ve been enjoying most about the food at The Woods is the food and beer combo. It all goes down so easily. It kind of makes going for a beer with a friend effortless, when you can talk freely (unless you go there on trivia night, which makes freeform talking more challenging), take a bite of something delicious and wash it down with something crisp and refreshing. And that something isn’t deep-fried food out of a package, like it is at so many pubs in the city.

If this all sounds good to you, I strongly recommend you watch for upcoming events at The Woods as well. Chef Mathieu is putting on some beer dinners, and the next one takes place on Oct. 24. For $50 per person, you get five courses, matched with beers. The menu looks absolutely stunning. Slightly smoked pickerel on charred bannock, or braised beef shank with pumpkin risotto (!!) and a layered chocolate gâteau for dessert, all matched with a different beer. It will be a memorable night.

We don’t have any Michelin-starred restaurants in Saskatoon, but for those of you who care about food, you may want to take this opportunity to sample something of Chef Mathieu’s vision. The beer has already won our hearts. Now the food can do the same.

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