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Saskatoon river view

Running Back to Saskatoon to Reconnect with Its Vibrant Culinary Scene

Saskatoon river view

Located on the South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon is a picturesque city that relies on its bounty of agriculture to create a thriving culinary scene. (Sabrina Pirillo photo for Vacay.ca)

It had been five years to the exact day since I first visited Saskatoon. My first trip was back in July 2018 and I had the pleasure of learning all about this vibrant urban oasis, which hugs the South Saskatchewan River (ideal for paddleboarding.) I experienced contemporary culture alongside the 11,000 years of Indigenous history; I indulged in a gastronomy scene that blended eclectic ingredients and local produce with the famous prairie grasslands playing a vital role in both the culinary and drink scene.

And now, I was excited to return after five years away. Saskatoon has grown — it has seen a resurgence of restaurants while others moved into new neighbourhoods; new accommodations have been added as well. The city had welcomed me back with open arms, like those friends you don’t see for a while and when you do, you pick up right where you left off. This is what makes Saskatoon (and all of Saskatchewan, for that matter) thrive — the sense of community and bonds that locals have, not only with each other, but with visitors, too.

Restaurant Resurgence in Saskatoon

The newest addition to Saskatoon’s culinary scene hails all the way from Italy. Bar Stella opened its doors in June 2023 in the eclectic Riversdale neighbourhood. This casual Italian-inspired restaurant whose slogan is “unfussy Italian”, offers traditional pomodoro and Bolognese pasta along with chicken and eggplant parmesan and a stacked deli sandwich made with house focaccia. Fantastico!

Shawn Moen CEO and Co Founder of 9 Mile

CEO Shawn Moen turned a childhood friendship into a thriving craft-beer business with 9 Mile Legacy Brewing, one of Saskatoon’s outstanding small breweries. (Sabrina Pirillo photo for Vacay.ca)

Saskatoon’s sense of community can be sipped and savoured at 9 Mile Legacy Brewing, which recently moved into its new location in Riversdale. The city’s first nano-brewery is the brainchild of CEO Shawn Shawn Moen and fellow co-founder Garrett Pederson, the head brewer. These two entrepreneurs grew up on farms nine miles apart. The legacy behind 9 Mile stems from their homesteads, where each generation of neighbours found ways to work together beginning in 1907. Then in 2007, Moen and Pederson started homebrewing.

“Everybody’s got good neighbours who celebrate the good times and weather the bad. You choose to associate with people who are likeminded and approach community in the same way and so that’s the 9 Mile Legacy — that’s a real part of who we are, the legacy part of  our name is as important as the nine mile, because we’re carrying on a common way of doing business, a common way of approaching community — it’s a story that a lot of Saskatchewan people share,” says Moen.

The new 9 Mile digs features a garage with a communal wooden bench to enjoy cold brews with good company. An old blue truck that belonged to Moen’s grandfather sits as the centrepiece while the big fermentation tanks line the back of the room. 9 Mile names its beer after people and things in Saskatoon. The Angus Stout is named for Grandpa Angus Pederson while the gold-medal recipient from the Canadian Brewing Awards and Conference (CBAC), Eagles & Bulldogs Hazy IPA honours a couple of White Mud Hockey League rivals — the Abbey Eagles and the Cabri Bulldogs.

What do a chef, sommelier, and farmer all have in common? They are co-owners of Odla Restaurant. Located in the historic Broadway neighbourhood, Odla (which means “to farm, to cultivate, to grow” in Swedish) opened in June 2019 and is farm-driven, serving locally sourced, Saskatchewan seasonal ingredients. Odla’s dishes highlight this culinary journey by pairing diners with cooking that is both traditional and simple. Sharing equals caring, and that’s what the starter dishes of Brussels sprouts with fennel honey, pecorino, and cashews or the sautéed smoked and pickled mushrooms made with garlic butter, onion, and breadcrumbs are meant for. For the mains, get your own pork crispy schnitzel with barley risotto, those smoked and pickled mushrooms, preserved lobster and morel mushrooms, arugula, jus, and horseradish or the gnocchi with pomodoro, basil, and housemade burrata.

The drink menu features custom cocktails like the Bitter Brew Old Grand-Dad Bourbon, made with coffee-infused Cynar, coffee liqueur, and bitters. The Intergalactic Tanqueray Gin is blended with sea-buckthorn honey, lime, and orgeat syrup. The atmosphere at Odla is warm and inviting, and the décor mimics an outdoor patio, with wood panels and green plants, and stunning photos of Saskatchewan that line the walls and remind you of the beauty of this province.

harissa marinated grilled trout from Hearth

Harissa-marinated grilled trout from Hearth shows the creativity and diversity of Saskatoon dining. (Sabrina Pirillo photo for Vacay.ca)

Hearth Restaurant opened in June 2018 and has been receiving accolades ever since. Owners and chefs Beth Rogers and Thayne Robstad feature local Saskatchewan ingredients and recipes that use prairie-forward cooking. Since my last visit, Hearth found its new home inside Saskatoon’s museum of modern and contemporary art at the globally acclaimed Remai Modern. The art installations are unique and eccentric, and the collection totals more than 8,000 works. After exploring this architectural beauty, grab a bite at Hearth, where dishes like the beet tartare, harissa-marinated grilled trout, liver and onions, and spicy pierogi pasta highlight the menu.

Where to Stay in Saskatchewan

South Saskatchewan River

The banks of the South Saskatchewan River offer beautiful views of Saskatoon and is a favourite meeting place for locals. (Sabrina Pirillo photo for Vacay.ca)

Twenty minutes outside of downtown Saskatoon, there is a peaceful place surrounded by natural rolling sand dunes and the South Saskatchewan River Valley Basin. In 2020, Dakota Dunes Resort became Saskatoon’s first full-service resort and in 2023 it won the Business Innovation Award for Indigenous Tourism from ITAC. Located on the traditional Whitecap Unceded Dakota Territory, Dakota Dunes offers a dramatic landscape seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows angled and designed to honour its Indigenous heritage reflecting a traditional tipi. The property houses an indoor rooftop pool and hot tub, award-winning golf course, casino and features local dining at Moose Woods Home Fire Grill boasting a farm-to-table menu. One of my favourite offerings that connects guests on a cultural and spiritual level was the Authentic Indigenous Experiences. These experiences blend traditional activities, like stargazing, storytelling, and games, with a growing spiritual connection to the land and its First Nations people.

ALT Hotel Saskatoon became the first Germain Hotel property in Saskatchewan in February 2019. Situated on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in the heart of downtown Saskatoon, and across the street from the Remai Modern, the ALT is close to the city’s main attractions and yet offered a haven to lay my head on a cozy bed after a day of exploration and adventures. The rooms offer the same modern and comfortable amenities as all ALT properties, but for an elevated experience, I’d recommend getting a river king bed, which features views over the Meewasin Trail and Saskatoon’s vibrant River Landing district.