If asked, I would never call myself a foodie, not really. I mean I eat and I like food, but my high level of pickiness has traditionally prevented me from getting too involved with the foodie world. Lately however I’ve found myself in a number of travel situations that were very food focused and indeed many would say are once-in-a-lifetime foodie experiences. I expect this in places like Barcelona, Napa and Paris, but the one place where I didn’t expect to find a food revolution was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Saskatoon was originally founded in 1883 by a small group of prairie settlers who wanted to establish an alcohol-free colony. Of course this failed, but a few years later the railroad came to Saskatoon and changed this town in the middle of Saskatchewan forever. The city boomed and though its had its ebbs and flows, the city is booming once again thanks in large part to the natural resources found in the province. With this new boom has come a boom in restaurants, from saloons to fine dining and everything in between. That was part of the surprise when I first wandered around Saskatoon.
I expected steak and potatoes my first evening in town, which would have been fine with me. But as soon as I walked through the threshold at Weczeria, I knew this was not a place for the mundane.
The word Weczeria is an homage to chef/owners Daniel and Nicole Walker’s roots. Daniel is of Ukrainian ancestry and Nicole is of Polish ancestry; together they chose Weczeria, the Ukrainian word for “evening meal.” Although the restaurant’s cuisine is not Ukrainian, the couple’s heritage influences their preference for local ingredients and their desire to feed people the way they were fed growing up, how good Ukrainians feed people: with heart and hospitality. This approach blends with Daniel’s exposure to Vancouver cuisine of the late 1990s, his foundation in the French style and his appreciation of the highest quality local ingredients. Daniel uses this as his basis to interact with different schools of cuisine and emerging ideas in the culinary world, which results in the unique expression of place and cuisine that is Weczeria.
I was impressed right away when I learned that the chef uses only local or Canadian ingredients and that the menu changes daily, depending on what the he was able to find at the market. Most chefs wouldn’t be able to put up with a constantly changing menu, and the fact that Chef Walker insists upon it was amazing. After much deliberation, I opted for the wild boar on arugula with new potatoes and sour cherry, which turned out to be a deceptively light but satisfying dish. Afterwards I had the chance to chat with Dan, who is just as interesting as his food. He’s committee to fresh, locally sourced food and given that Weczeria has been wildly popular for seven years, it looks like Saskatoon is just as committed.
Luck was on my side when I visited Saskatoon, I was in town for the annual Taste of Saskatchewan. The pinnacle of foodie fairs in the province, the annual event attracts restaurateurs from Saskatoon and around the province and gives the public the chance to sample some of their best dishes. My only complaint about the event was that the portions were too big and I couldn’t try enough, but that’s where the negativity ends. Taste of Saskatoon was a lot of fun, combining food, drink and music to create a lively community event. It was packed as well; clearly Saskatooners (that can’t be right) love their food. I tried a few things, but the star of the show was a regional favorite, Saskatoon berry pie from the Berry Barn.
Saskatoon berries are purplish-blue berries that grow on a bush and were a dietary staple for the First Nations people. Today the berry is still wildly popular and can be found in just about everything, from pemmican to syrup. The Berry Barn is an institution and their location on overlooking the South Saskatchewan River makes it a popular place for meals and even weddings. They’re a working farm too and harvest 28,000 pounds of Saskatoon berries every year on their 27-acre orchard.
The pie was just as good as everyone promised, and I walked away reminiscing about the flavors, the hallmark of any great culinary experience.
Just a few minutes outside of Saskatoon is the Wanuskewin Heritage Park. This park and interpretative center about the first residents of the region is a fascinating look into the history and culture of the First Nations peoples. It’s also a new culinary hotspot, thanks to their surprisingly great restaurants. Featuring a variety of regional favorites as well as dishes inspired by the aboriginal people, the menu is eclectic and as I learned, delicious. I started out with a sweet cinnamon bannock followed by a shaved buffalo meat pizza. Bannock is a traditional flat bread made by the tribes of the First Nations and can sometimes mimic the look of a scone, but certainly not the taste. I bite into the large bread roll and was surprised by a delicious pastry, not unlike something I’d try at home. It was nice though to try something representative of the area, instead of a generic meal at a nearby chain. The main course was the delicious buffalo meat pizza, although due to the fact that it was served on bannock and that it included buffalo, the pie tasted more like an open faced sandwich. That was fine though and I enjoyed it as much as I would have a traditional Italian pie.
My farewell to the city was also the scene of my favorite meal; brunch at the quietly unassuming Poached. Poached is a trendy breakfast restaurant, and the new daytime persona of Flint Saloon on 2nd Avenue in downtown Saskatoon. Flint Saloon set up shop a few years back as an upscale tavern, and they’ve grown in popularity through a slow but steady and smart cultivating of their clientele. Poached takes this to the next level, offering a whole new service that both expands their potential customer base and maximizes revenue.
The restaurant was light and modern, I couldn’t believe that in the evenings it’s actually a saloon. I expected a normal breakfast, but when I opened the menu I saw immediately that Poached doesn’t do normal. Mushroom pepper spinach brie cheese omelet, cornmeal crusted back bacon and London Fog tea are just a few of the unique flavor combinations at Poached. My favorite of the meal though were two, small bites that would instantly make my day something to remember.
The bites in question, potato croquettes served with goat cheese and pecan and maple syrup bacon roll ups weren’t just my personal favorites, the entire table sampled and immediately wanted more of these extraordinary taste sensations. They were delicious but not greasy, and the combination of flavors may have sounded a little unusual, but were the work of a true master. It’s funny, I posted a photo of these bites of heaven on Instagram where the world immediately professed their own virtual love of these delights but my favorite comment was: “That kind of makes me want to weep with happiness, that there’s something so wonderful in the world.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
That’s also how I felt about all of my Saskatoon culinary escapades and that feeling also chided me a bit. I should never have presumed that Saskatoon would lack for sophistication and elegance in its food just because it’s in a largely agricultural province. In fact, and don’t get angry at me Montreal and Vancouver, but I can say without hesitation that my brief stay in Saskatchewan was one of the richest foodie experiences I’ve ever enjoyed in Canada. Of course, I can’t wait to return for some more of those maple syrup bacon roll ups.
Have you ever been to Saskatoon? What did you think of the food?