Saskatoon’s Riversdale neighbourhood is a hub of thriving vitality, but it didn’t used to be this way.
Once known as the area where you didn’t want to get caught walking around at night, the past several years have brought on a gradual revitalization. Asian grocery stores are side by side yoga studios; bike shops and high-end home decor stores are neighbours. There are several spots for excellent coffee, and you can also go treasure hunting in the thrift shops. The Roxy Theatre is a great venue to catch a flick and there are a few art galleries to wander around in too.
On weekends, the farmer’s market is buzzing with activity, and its close proximity to the South Saskatchewan River makes it so easy to pick up a snack and go for a walk. Riversdale is the comeback kid for an area once known only for poverty and crime. Right now, everyone wants to set up shop, including restaurants. Luckily for me, it’s a great time to be a food lover in Saskatoon.
Whenever anyone suggests we should grab a burger, my first pick goes to the Park Café. It's been around for many, many years, but the current owners have had it for nine. It's the coolest old school retro diner, with a completely unpretentious feel to it. There is really great paraphernalia scattered throughout and the photos on the walls are of Saskatoon in its early days The tables are always packed, and sometimes a line up is out the door. The food is that good, it's worth the wait.
Everything is super fresh and made in-house, from the BBQ sauce to the burgers themselves, and you can tell. The Park Burger is by far my favourite, due to the thick cut smoked bacon and hand cut onion ring sitting on top. The big dilemma is whether to pull the ring off and eat it like that, or to leave it in and have that crunch in your burger. I always leave it in, then order extra onion rings on the side. I’m evil like that.
Also renowned for their Eggs Benedict, the Park Café kills it every time. Service is spectacular and the people watching always entertaining. It’s a must for anyone who visits Saskatoon.
The Park Cafe 515 20th St. West (306) 652-6781. Open 8-4 daily.
Little Bird Patisserie and Café
If French pastries are your thing, then you’ll be happy to know there is a little bit of Paris in the Paris of the Prairies. Little Bird Patisserie and Café has only been open for a few months, but already its mouth-watering pastries are becoming legendary. This is one of the prettiest spaces in the city, with its French café bistro vibe. The ceiling is high and the natural light is fantastic. Everything is just so darn tasteful - from the art to the glass objects placed here and there to the butcher paper that scrolls down with the day's lunch menu to the large black chalkboards with the beverage menu.
Do try the hot chocolate, it’s delightful. The light lunch offerings are fresh and tasty, but really, you go to Little Bird for the pastries. The croissants and pain au chocolat sitting on the counter will grab your attention, as they should. They are incredible. Inside the showcase are macarons, eclairs, cakes, tarts, slices, kouign amann (a favourite of the owner and pastry chef) and so much more.
The variety changes daily, and with the creative minds baking in the back, the selection is always impressive. I walk by this special place on my way to work, and I must muster my willpower to not frequent it on a daily basis. A girl can own only so many pairs of stretchy pants.
Little Bird is located at 258 Avenue B. South Phone (306) 384-4663. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m
Some dining experiences are more notable than others. Such is the case when visiting Jin Jin. Known for having some of the best Chinese dumplings in the city, it’s also worth noting that there may be a small communication barrier if you don’t speak Mandarin. The owner, God bless her, will do her best not to lead you astray, and there is lots of smiling and pointing at menu items and nodding. All of the most popular dishes on the menu are circled in ballpoint pen. Food that we didn’t even order was brought out, but it’s so good and she’s so nice, you just eat it.
Of these circled items, you’ll want to try the Fried Scallion Pancake- a steal for $2. Spicy Chicken with Chilli Peppers is quite delicious. Super juicy chicken pieces, with just the right hit of heat, are simmered in a sauce so good I want to lick the plate after it’s all gone. I’m also a huge fan of Stir Fried Sliced Pancake with Veggies and Egg. There’s a whole conglomeration of stuff happening here, but all I know is that the noodles, fried egg bits, and vegetables are stir fried and my tastebuds go insane for it.
And oh, the dumplings! Here is where communication could come in handy because frankly I never know what kind of dumplings I’m going to get. Usually there is an assortment of scallion, pork, cabbage, and other mysterious offerings. They are pan-fried or steamed, as you like it, but I always get them fried. If you are vegetarian, this may not be the safest place to eat as there is a lot of pork and if you cannot communicate clearly with the kind owner about your dietary preferences, then you could end up eating more than you bargained for.
Jin JIn 416 20th St. West. (306) 244-1891. Open Mon-Thurs 11:00 am - 10:30 pm; Fri-Sun 10:30 am - 11:00 pm.
Other Saskatoon Spots to Try
Other restaurants of note: The Hollows (334 Ave C. North; (306) 652-1505) offers up creative, locally sourced, in-season fare. I’m here for brunch at least once a month and a huge fan of the skilled chefs in the kitchen. They are weaving culinary magic. Leyda’s (112 20th St. West; (306) 244-0707) is the only 100% gluten free, nut free, whole foods restaurant in the city.
Renée Kohlman is a food writer and pastry chef living in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She blogs at sweetsugarbean.com; writes restaurant reviews for The Saskatoon StarPhoenix and whips up delicious gluten-free dessert creations at Leyda's Café. Her affection for bacon, butter and living room dance parties is legendary. Twitter: @sweetsugarbean_