The Dodger’s best might be Regina’s finest

by Aidan Morgan

Artful Dodger - photo by Darrol Hofmeister

Artful Dodger Cafe
1631 11th Avenue
4 out of 5

I like avocados. Don’t you? They may look a bit like Jolly Green Giant droppings, but avocado flesh is soft, beautiful, delicious without tasting like much of anything, and the pits, if planted, grow into towering lambent shrubs that will lurk in your living room and follow you from home to home until one of you finally dies. What’s not to like?

The folks at the Artful Dodger Cafe like them too — particularly on pizza. It was when I ordered a bacon & mushroom pizza ($17) one afternoon and found slices of avocado as a topping that I knew I’d found a restaurant with my tastes in mind.

The Dodger occupies a strange niche between a lunch spot and a performance space. The place stays open well into the evening, but the kitchen generally sticks with the lunch menu, adding a selection of tapas ($7-8) for customers more interested in a glass of wine than a meal. The crepes also disappear from the menu at night (at least on the evenings I visited).

The Dodger can feel a bit pricey (nine dollars for a small salad seems a bit excessive, frankly) and I imagine some people will balk at the relationship between the sizes of the portion and the bill, but it’s worth it. The food is usually delicious (though some of the tapas I’ve had there seem to be texture in search of a flavour), the ingredients come from Saskatchewan suppliers (where possible), and you won’t get anything like it elsewhere in Regina.

Case in point: the pizza.

Regina is famous — or maybe infamous — for its Greek-style pizza. The dish is deeper, the crust is heavier, and the toppings can pile up until the slices look like slides from your first-year Geology class. Under the culinary guidance of chef Ricardo Rodriguez, the Dodger makes Italian-style pizza baked in a wood oven, with a thin crust, not too much cheese, and a light hand with the toppings. While a few Regina restaurants offer Italian-style pizza, none of them even come close to that featherweight crust.

The Dodger offers seven or eight pizzas ranging in price from $12 (anchovy & olive) to $17 (Italian prosciutto). The prosciutto is probably my favourite of the bunch, with thin slices of prosciutto, roasted peppers and bitter arugula.

The other main features of the menu are the sandwiches and the crepes. The sandwiches are good, but never quite as good as the menu intimates. I ordered the Malbec braised beef sandwich ($12) several times before the phrase “Malbec braised” lost its power over me. The real draw is the crepes, which you can watch being made with great efficiency. The menu offers several choices, but I always end up going for one of the crepes of the day, which come in savoury and sweet. The sweet crepes are an ingenious way to slip dessert into the main course, but my preference is for the savoury. I had a roast duck, brie and arugula crepe ($14) one afternoon that I plan to marry one day, just as soon as my prospects improve.

Sunday brunch is an eggy take on the Dodger’s weekday fare. By all means, try the breakfast pizza ($14), which comes with the option of avocado or bacon. The bacon is maple glazed in their oven; it’s delicious at first, but it’s easy to have too much of it at once. The standard bacon and eggs is nice as well, with free-range eggs and a squiggle of pesto on the toast (note: my fellow Knight of Appetite wasn’t thrilled with the pesto and dry toast combination; apparently some things are better under heaps of butter). The breakfast crepe ($14) comes with crab, brie, arugula and scrambled egg, but it was surprisingly bland. We didn’t try any of the sweet crepes, but at some point I’m going back for the s’more crepe ($6.50).

Other case in point: the coffee.

The Artful Dodger prepares its coffee in about as painstaking a manner as possible, with small batches and a vanishingly small interval between roasting and brewing (they don’t roast their own; their espresso is roasted in Chicago, and some of their drip coffee is roasted locally). As a bonus, you can get a flat white there, which is essentially an Australian latte.

I get the feeling that they regard their coffee as curated. The coffee board provides tasting notes that will tell you about the “lingering sweetness” and “notes of cocoa vanilla” in your cup, if that’s information you require. You can even get pour-over coffee there, which takes a few minutes to prepare, but the results are startlingly good. As you wait you can debate the relative merits of Chemex vs. Aeropress vs. your mom’s crappy Oster filter drip machine on the kitchen counter next to those chicken-themed salt and pepper shakers.

I’ll just go ahead and call it: the Artful Dodger has the best coffee in town. Not 100 per cent of the time — I’ve had bitter stuff that clamped down on my tongue like a tiny, aggrieved pit bull — but it’s just about the only place in Regina where the brew lives up to the hyperbolic tasting notes. The one downside: coffee costs $2.75 per cup. Refills are also $2.75. Incredulity and tears are not acceptable currency.

There’s an informal, loose-limbed approach to the service at the Dodger that occasionally makes it difficult to know whether all of the people behind the counter are working there or just stopping by. Even after they take your order and bring you food, the confusion persists (once they had a hostess at the door and we walked past her, leaving her to follow after us with menus and seating suggestions).The staff has the look and feel of a young artist collective, which is perfectly in keeping with the Dodger’s atmosphere.

In part, this comes from the atmosphere of the place, which includes a gallery, performance space and gift shop. First-time visitors may find themselves taking a wrong turn on the way to the washroom and end up spending an extra 20 minutes looking at art. Speaking of first-time visitors: look out for the giant fan set just a few feet inside the door, which is undoubtedly meant to mitigate the effects of the wood-fired oven. The brand of the fan is Powerfist, so beware.


WHAT IS IT? The Artful Dodger Cafe and Music Emporium

WHEN IS IT? Open Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m.-close; Saturday-Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-close

WHAT’S IT FOR? Lunch, brunch, evening tapas, concerts

CAN I HAVE BEER AND SING? Yes! On Tuesday nights, you can sing karaoke and get four bottles of Original 16 for $16. If I do my math right, that’s $13 for one bottle and $1 each for the other three. Bear in mind that all math was performed after the beer was consumed.