31 JUL 2017: The question should not be why go to Saskatoon but when. This lively city which straddles a bend in the South Saskatchewan River is hopping with great restaurants, breweries, spirit makers, live music venues and artisans. On banks of the river which boasts 80 kilometres of urban parkland trails, sits the most compelling reason to visit this fall. What it is will surprise you.  

The Remai Modern Art Gallery which opens on October 21 of this year, I am sure, will grab world attention. It’s likely Canada’s most stunningly beautiful art gallery and also the largest for modern art. I had a preview tour and was blown away by the design and look of the place as well as by the gorgeous vistas of the river and city from floor to ceiling windows on cantilevered sections. Designed by Bruce Kuwabara of the renowned Canadian architectural firm KPMB, before construction even began, the museum won an Award of Excellence from Canadian Architect magazine.

Building on the legacy of the Mendel Art Gallery, Remai Modern is setting a new direction for art in the province. It will house the world’s largest Pablo Picasso linocut collection in its Picasso Gallery, thanks to a generous donation of 405 linocuts from the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation. The Mendel Art Gallery Collection at Remai Modern draws from more than 8,000 works by artists of local, national and international significance such as Georges Braque, Anthony Caro, General Idea, Jack Goldstein, Dan Graham, Robert Rauschenberg, Michael Snow and Nancy Spero.

The ground floor of the museum (free to the public), will feature large-scale art commissions, a changing gallery space, and an active learning studio. It will have a fireplace surrounded by lounge areas, a cutting-edge art and design store, and a yet to be named restaurant, run by Toronto’s Oliver & Bonacini company. The second and third floors contain the collection galleries, the Picasso gallery and sizeable spaces for internationally touring exhibitions. Films and performances will be hosted in the sound protected 150-seat theatre. The top floor has ultra modern board rooms and a large outdoor deck for rent, all with stunning vistas of the city and river.

That’s the big timely hook to draw people to Saskatoon and here are even more reasons.

Bread Basket Bounty

Saskatchewan has more than 40 percent of Canada’s farmland and Saskatoon’s culinary scene takes full advantage of it. Ayden Kitchen and Bar under Chef Dale Mackay shows off the bounty of the land with their own on-premise butchery putting out sausage platters, charcuterie boards and dry aged steaks. In the summer ninety per cent of what comes out of the kitchen is local and fresh such as cornmeal crusted Diefenbaker trout with corn and hen of the woods mushrooms.

Chef Mackay is The Food Network’s Top Chef Canada season one winner and he’s not resting on his laurels. His second restaurant with his Grassroots Restaurant Group team, Little Grouse (on the Prairie) headed by Executive Chef Jesse Zuber is an intimate spot serving up awesome house made pastas and other great Italian dishes such as veal scallopini and risotto al funghi. Chef Zuber loves his mushrooms and in the fall offers an all truffle (white and black varieties) dinner. Best bet here is to order alle famiglia sharing plates. Chef Zuber who has working in top restaurants in Italy, New York and Canada told me, “I have never in my life seen a more rapidly developing food culture as in Saskatoon. There’s a huge influx of your professionals looking to put down roots.”

Grassroot’s third and newest restaurant Sticks and Stones just opened in April 2017. It’s a Korean/Japanese one featuring house made kimchi, ramen, sushi rolls, steamed buns, gyoza and more as well as an extensive sake list and excellent cocktails created by mixologist Chad Coombs.

Equally exciting are Chefs Kyle Michael and Christie Peters two restaurants: Primal and The Hollows. Primal practices whole animal butchery, hand makes pastas using Saskatchewan heritage grains and has crazy fun dishes such as the bone marrow luge. After the marrow has been eaten out, you can order a sherry to pour down the bone into your mouth (yes it looks rude - your tablemates are likely to convulse in laughter). The amaro list which offers flights of any three for $13 is another unique, exciting idea.

The Hollows, housed in a former Chinese restaurant – complete with squat red banquettes still in place as well as the Golden Dragon signage outside – offers superb $75 tasting menus based on cultivated plants grown from heirloom seeds, wild-harvested leaves and mushrooms, flowers, sap and roots, local sustainable fish and pastured meat, poultry and eggs from small farmers. Cocktails created by mixologist Adrian Chappell using foraged ingredients, house made syrups and fresh squeezed juice are the best in town.

Heritage and Heirloom To Go

The Night Oven Bakery which uses local, organic and heirloom grains such as red fife, mills the flour in house and bakes in a wood fire brick oven puts out the best breads and pastries imaginable. A bite of their chocolate croissant or canelé de Bordeaux with have you begging for more. Owner/baker Bryn Rawlyk has won best bakery in Saskatoon several years in a row.

Baba’s Perogies which may be the only perogie drive-thru in the world, hand makes perogies, borscht and cabbage rolls daily on premises. They are so popular they go through up to 8,000 perogies per day (seven kinds available including potato and cheddar, sauerkraut and saskatoon berry).

At Wanuskewin Heritage Park, you can learn about the 6000 plus years of first nations history and the seven northern plains tribes that lived here and then feast on bison stew, rabbit pot pie, bannock and fresh pike.

Fine Spirits

Black Fox Distillery owned and operated by John and Barb Cote, has truly fabulous gins, vodkas and liqueurs for sale, made largely from local grains, fruits and botanicals. Their oaked gin won the world’s best casked gin at the 2017 World Gin Awards, beating out entries from Australia, Sweden, Iceland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Their products are so good, I bought one of everything and had them shipped home.

Lucky Bastard Distillery offers seven different styles of whisky made from local ingredients, liqueurs from local berries such as seabuckthorn and saskatoon and unusual flavoured vodkas such as Horilka, a Ukrainian honey pepper vodka and Birmingham's Dill Pickle Vodka.

Living Sky Winery, just 50 kilometres west of Saskatoon, makes wines and ciders from local fruits including an excellent dry, refreshing, rhubarb cider and a rhubarb wine that sells out quickly. You can find their cider at 9 Mile Legacy microbrewery in the heart of the city and while there sample the craft beers on tap such as Rafiki Moja IPA, coffee porter and Odd Couple, an Asian-inspired Belgian dark ale.

It’s no wonder Saskatoon was a top ten winner by popular vote in the category Best Destination in Canada in USA Today’s 2017 contest.

 

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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