There’s something about Saskatoon that seems to call its citizens back home. Take chef Dale MacKay, co-owner of the two hottest restaurants in town (and winner of the first season of Top Chef Canada). He spent years honing his craft in kitchens around the world before he returned in 2012 to open Ayden, which is hugely popular (in part for its much-loved sausage platter), and, later, Little Grouse on the Prairie, which serves handmade tortellini that rivals some I once had in rural Italy that was made by local grandmas. MacKay and co-owner and co-chef Nathan Guggenheimer set the bar high. “We make friends with the farmers at the markets,” says Guggenheimer. “We’ll try something new with, say, artichokes, and if it works, we’ll get a whole bunch.” The two restaurants may be a couple of the brighter stars on the scene, but they’re just part of the stylish – and delicious – evolution that’s under way in the city.
EXPLORE A proper tour of Saskatoon must include the vibrant neighbourhood of Riversdale. It’s home to many of the city’s “bests” – coffee (Collective Coffee), fresh-pressed juice (Thrive Juice Co.) and a farmers’ market – and it has that aura of cool that often hangs over a newly gentrified ’hood. “It’s the most culturally diverse neighbourhood in the city,” says Carrie Catherine, a local singer-song-writer and my tour guide for the morning. Grab a cup of your preferred fuel and stroll by the historic Roxy Theatre, check out some local artwork at AKA Gallery and pick up a printed T-shirt at Hardpressed.
SNACK & SHOP Little Bird Patîsserie, at the back of housewares store Anthology in Riversdale, is as delightful as it sounds. The lemon tart is legendary, and the kouign amann – layers of croissant pastry baked with butter and sugar until it caramelizes – is insanely good. Be sure to peruse Anthology’s rustic-wood furnishings, bright cushions and clever curios on your way out.
WALK For a hit of nature, join the joggers, dog walkers and daydreamers on the scenic trails along the South Saskatchewan river, which runs through the centre of the city. Then hop on the Prairie Lily, a one-hour river cruise, and enjoy the greenery of the Meewasin Valley and views of the castle-like Bessborough hotel and the Remai Modern Art Gallery, an impressive glass behemoth set to open in 2017.
DINE & DRINK For their restaurant The Hollows, chefs/owners Christie Peters and Kyle Michael opted to keep the decor – like the traditional Chinese light shades and the neon “Golden Dragon” sign outside – from the Chinese resto that previously occupied the space. But they’ve certainly changed the food, with a focus on ingredients that they forage, butcher, brine, cure and smoke themselves. Highlights of the tasting menu include tempura dandelions and beet salad, and their Haskap Gin Fizz cocktail (haskap is a local berry) is frothily good.
STAY At the edge of downtown, and within walking distance of pretty much everything, the James Hotel is all grey plushness and luxe comfort. In fact, the sheets at this boutique property are so soft that, after frequent inquiries from guests, they’re now sold at the front desk. Thankfully, there is a stunning view out over the river too – it will be your first reason to get out of bed in the morning.
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