Why Regina is a new foodie hot spot

Bison and Bacon Tourtière is a standout dish at the Willow in Regina. (Bobbie Hasselbring/Vacay.ca)

Story by Bobbie Hasselbring
Vacay.ca Senior Writer

REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN — When you think about culinary hot spots in Canada, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary probably come to mind. Most likely Regina isn’t on your list. But it should be because innovative chefs in this prairie capital are making some sweet culinary music.

In the past, Regina’s dining scene consisted of eateries like Red Lobster, A&W and Tim Horton’s. Not exactly gourmet fare. But new exciting chefs are changing all that. In a recent trip to this tidy little city, here are some culinary discoveries I made that are worth checking out.

Hotel Saskatchewan. This iconic hotel, opened in 1927 by the Canadian Pacific Railway at a cost of $2 million, is known as the finest hotel in Regina and the place where the Queen and the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger lay their heads when they come to town. Since chef Milton Robello took over the reins in the kitchen, the Hotel Saskatchewan should also be recognized as one of Canada’s finest dining establishments.

Robello, a veteran chef who has cooked in India, the Middle East, the US, on cruise ships and in Canadian hotels like Coast, Fairmont and the Westin, recently won Regina’s 2012 Gold Plates competition. He oversees the hotel’s regal Cortlandt Dining Room and churns out mouthwatering breakfast dishes like Eggs Benedict made with rich, organic duck eggs and locally smoked trout or soft, sweet pickerel cheeks ($13-$18). Everything is house made from the flaky croissants to the crunchy granola. Robello even makes a sinfully delicious “breakfast dessert” with finely textured banana bread French toast, candied pecans, buttery caramel, vanilla ice cream, and crispy, chocolate-covered bacon. The establishment also offers a weekday, all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet with many of the same items ($19) or an special Sunday buffet with even more goodies ($22).

The Cortlandt Dining Room’s dinner selections include such favourites as lobster ravioli, almond crusted steelhead, Chateaubriand, rack of lamb, and orange-glazed duck breast with duck confit risotto. Prices range from $7-$18 for lunch or $22 for the lunch buffet; $18-$34 for dinner entrees.

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The Willow on Wascana. Chef Tim Davies at The Willow overlooking beautiful Lake Wascana focuses on making regional “comfort foods” like bison and bacon tourtière on a pillow of herb-whipped potato with pickled red cabbage and sweet tomato jam. Davies, who’s been leading The Willow kitchen for the past six years, says 90% of the food on every plate is locally sourced, including pork, chicken and rabbit. “We serve comfort foods people recognize in a fine-dining environment,” he explains.

To take advantage of local ingredients, the menu changes seasonally. The recent fall dinner offerings included hearty dishes like fork-tender beef short ribs with celery root, parsnips and kale; pecan-crusted baked trout on roasted sugar beet and spinach; and maple-glazed pork chop with cranberry, apple and walnut pearl barley salad. Davies offers plenty of non-meat options too, such as an earthy wild mushroom risotto and squash and caramelized onion tamales.

The restaurant serves lunch ($9-$22) and dinner ($14-$34) and, during the summer months, diners can eat on the deck overlooking the lake.

Delicious Reasons to Dine Out in Regina

Fortuna Ristorante Italiano. The newest entry on the Regina food scene is Fortuna Ristorante Italiano, led by award-winning Chef Gianni Poggio, newly arrived from Italy. Many of Chef Poggio’s recipes come from his family and include fresh linguine with pink lobster sauce and chunks of sweet lobster; house made, light-as-air gnocchi al funghi, fluffy pillows of potato pasta served with a bright, fragrant fresh basil pesto; and succulent and moist butterfly Cornish game hen with a creamy green pea sauce and roasted potatoes. The restaurant makes its own breads, including slightly salty fococcia topped with sweet and thinly sliced and slightly crunchy onion. Desserts include five flavors of house made gelato served in tiny chocolate cups. They offer an extensive wine list with both Italian and regional wines. Entrees range in price from $18-$40.

Italian Star Deli. Not all of the culinary highlights in Regina are new. For big, fragrant Italian sub sandwiches, foodies-in-the-know head downtown to Italian Star Deli. For 30 years, the Giambattista family has been making flavorful sandwiches with the finest Italian meat and cheeses on specially-made soft rolls. You can buy one of their pre-made sandwiches or they’ll make one to order with your choice of cheeses like asiago (Italian Cow’s milk cheese), brie, cheddar, cambazola (a combination of French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola), provolone (a smooth, full-fat cow’s milk cheese), parmesan, and Greek and Italian feta, and sliced-to-order meats, such as pepperoni, prosciutto, calabrese (dry hot sausage), prosciuttini (dry cured ham), Genoa salami, capicollo (ham), and mortadella (large pork sausage). Be sure to ask them to add some of their fragrant basil pesto to your sandwich.

The deli shelves also brim with Mediterranean products like capers, pasta, Italian coffee and olive oil.

Henry’s Café. If you’re an art lover, Henry’s Café, which also houses an art gallery featuring the work of Regina artist Henry Ripplinger, is a good choice. Henry’s specializes in breakfast choices like their iconic quiche served with roasted potatoes and their egg and bacon jumbo croissant ($6.50-$12). Lunch, served from 11 am, includes choices like quiche, shepherd’s pie, and chicken quesadilla as well as a variety of salads and sandwiches. While you’re there, be sure to check out Henry’s hauntingly beautiful prairie paintings.

Brick House Bistro. Just a few miles from Regina, the Brick House Bistro is worth the drive for this cozy and casual eatery in the quaint village of Lumsden. Started by five women in 2002 under the Valley Girls Catering banner, Brick House Bistro offers an interesting variety of salads like strawberry goat cheese with sugared almonds and sandwiches such as honey Dijon chicken, honey garlic chicken club, and the peanut butter burger. They also offer plenty of coffee drinks like their signature cinnamon roll latte and seasonal treats such as huge caramel and chocolate covered apples, some of the best this writer has ever had.

Merv’s Pitch Fork Fondue. Maybe you’re looking for a regional favorite like “pitchfork fondue,” perfectly cooked rib eye steaks skewered on pitchfork tines and cooked over an open kettle of blazing hot oil. Since 1992, Regina native Merv Brandt has been offering his unique way of cooking steaks with Merv’s Pitch Fork Fondue. For $23.95 per person (plus mileage), Merv will haul his big oil cooker in a converted horse trailer to your site and cook thick, juicy, 12 ounce rib eye steaks to perfection. He serves the steaks with roast potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, dinner rolls, and watermelon and he even cleans up. It’s a fun and delicious way to have a party.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article said Regina was home to an Olive Garden, but that restaurant chain has never had a franchise in the city.


Award-winning travel and food writer Bobbie Hasselbring is the editor of www.realfoodtraveler.com that celebrates regional and artisan food and travel. She is the winner of Canada’s first Culinary Journalism Award 2012 presented by the Canadian Tourism Association and Food Day Canada.

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