Here is a guide to dining downtown during the RFF and beyond
Regina Folk Festival | by Aidan Morgan
Hey you! Folk Festival attendee! Come here and pick me up! Hahah just kidding, I know you can’t hear print and you’re already reading the article, but let’s hope you drew a mild chuckle from the well of this conceit. Anyway, I imagine you’re hungry or you’ll find yourself in that state soon enough, you’ve tried all of the excellent food vendors on the Festival grounds and now you’re looking for a bit of variety. Here, for your convenience, is your guide to indoor eating only steps away from the festival grounds. Check online to make sure that your restaurant of choice will be open when the mood strikes.
JUST ACROSS THE STREET
Victoria Park is bounded by Scarth Street, famous for its angled parking and bonanza of non-Bonanza restaurants and bars. Sakura Sushi is the newest, replacing the much-loved Michi. The owners of Sakura have kept the interiors pretty much identical, including the private booths, and the menu is fairly similar with its mix of sushi rolls, bento boxes and bowls of udon soup. Reports on the quality of the food have been mixed. On my one visit there, I tried the gyoza (good and porky), a bowl of udon noodles (very filling, with a distinct dashi flavour to the broth) and a few different kinds of sushi. The rolls are on par with what you’ll get elsewhere in the city. For a Japanese experience that leans heavily on ramen and karaage, trek a few blocks farther west and visit Wann Izakaya.
Next to Sakura is O’Hanlon’s Irish Pub. If you’re wandering around the Folk Festival grounds, there’s no way to miss the crowded patio. The taps selection is wide-ranging and features a number of Saskatchewan craft brewers, from Nokomis to Rebellion to Pile O’ Bones Brewery (and may I add that you won’t find any of these at the New Mosaic Stadium). I’ve spent so many Friday afternoons at O’Hanlon’s that I have relatively little to say about the food and drink, so I will give you a very brief anecdote: in the summer of 2000, after a night of drinking and listening to some spoken word poetry, I kissed my wife for the first time just outside the pub doors. It was called the Taverna back then, but the memory stands.
In case of critical O’Hanlon’s overflow or an urgent need for a #37 pizza (trust me on this one), go one door down to The Copper Kettle Restaurant. One of Regina’s oldest restaurants, the spot underwent thorough renovations a few years back; once a cramped, cave-like den where you could dine in bronze-tinted shadows, the space is now open and airy. The menu serves Greek-inspired food, but if you don’t try the #37 pizza with artichokes, you’ll have missed out on one of Regina’s greatest pizza secrets. That’s right: there’s a pizza secret greatness scale in this city.
Directly south of Victoria Park is the Hotel Saskatchewan (more formally, the Hotel Saskatchewan, Autograph Collection). The hotel contains a restaurant and bar, but the conspicuous consumption of dining at a place that charges four dollars for a small glass of breakfast orange juice seems at odds with the ethic of a folk music festival. On the other hand, we live in a freewheeling world of chaotic codes in which all our solid chains of taste have been denatured in a broth of late capitalism, so who am I to pass judgment on your actions? What I’m trying to say is that the chairs in the lounge are really comfortable.
ABOUT A BLOCK AWAY
As we spiral out from Victoria Park into the Downtown Galactic Arm, our dining options expand dramatically. One block north from the plaza is Western Pizza, which will acquaint you with Regina’s other pizza secret: incredibly greasy, overloaded slabs of cheese, meat and dough. Across the street is Malt City, probably one of the city’s most beautiful restaurants. The menu is fairly small but carefully laid out in the style of a French brasserie, with dishes ranging from a porchetta-based Choucroute to a brined half-roast chicken that you will want to marry in a highly, highly illegal ceremony. Recommended.
On the Scarth Street Pedestrian Mall, Beer Bros. Gastropub features one of the best beer selections in the city. I’ve tried beers so hoppy that they’re more endurance test than refreshment, beers so sweet and boozy that I skipped dessert for six months, and I’ve loved them all. The food is rich but well worth your time, and the ale and cheddar soup is a delicious stalwart.
If you find yourself a little unsteady after a few bottles of Delerium Tremens, you can stop at The Fat Badger down the block and, uh, get a little unsteadier. With its long, narrow shape the Badger recalls the kind of hole-in-the-wall places found in older cities where space is at a premium (the website calls it “cozy”). The dinner menu, reasonably priced and very tasty, is a nice surprise in a pub that looks more suited to draft beer than beef tataki. Order the taco platter with a pint of Blue Moon and drown it in Valentina hot sauce.
Directly across from the Fat Badger is Bay Leaves Indian Restaurant, which sports a well-rated buffet. Unfortunately I have no first-hand experience of Bay Leaves, so let me know about your experience if you go. Please send a 1,000-plus word review to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tucked into the corner of Scarth Street and 11th Avenue you’ll find Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria, where pop music pours out into the empty plaza all evening and the pizza oven looks like a giant superheated Roughriders helmet. Fortunately, the pizza doesn’t taste like something that came out of a Roughriders helmet (I assume). Famoso’s thin-crust pizzas are best eaten when the dough is still hot and crusty. I would say not to leave anything for leftovers, but you probably won’t run into that problem.
On the off-chance that you’re hosting a fancy business dinner or birthday meal for your mother while you’re attending the Folk Festival, you may want to try 20Ten City Eatery, half a block west from Famoso. 20Ten is upscale in a way that will remind you of restaurants from ’80s movies where men in double-breasted suits make deals and flip business cards at each other. The main attraction, aside from the food, is the rooftop dining. Even more attractive are the crab cakes, which my grandmother absolutely loves. I say this in all seriousness: if your crab cakes garner unqualified praise from my grandmother, you have done the impossible. And that, as Captain Malcolm Reynolds says, makes you mighty.
A LITTLE BIT FARTHER NOW
One block west of Scarth Street lies a strip of great bars and restaurants. Northernmost is The Capitol Restaurant and Cocktail Bar. There’s a full supper menu and a Sunday brunch but the cocktails are the real draw, from the classic Old-Fashioned and Sazerac to the Black Tea Whiskey Sour and the rosemary-garnished Bots & Bubs. On the next block down, Siam Authentic Thai has a weekday buffet that will make you weep (because it’s delicious, not because it tells you sad stories or anything).
Facing each other near the corner of Hamilton and Victoria, Flip Eatery and Victoria’s Tavern offer different dining experiences depending on your mood. Flip’s menu is sophisticated comfort food, with an emphasis on Saskatchewan ingredients. Victoria’s serves artery-annihilating pub food, with gigantic grilled cheese sandwiches and the “Total Tater Mess,” which is exactly what it sounds like. My advice: supper at Flip, second supper at Vic’s, drinks at Flip, afterparty drinks at Vic’s. Or try it the other way around.
Across Victoria there are two more options. Golf’s Steak House, which you’ll spot quickly because of the ever-burning torch by the entrance, and Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar. Golf’s is traditional steak house stuff. Do you want escargots before your prime rib? Gulf’s is a place for that. Crave takes a more modern approach to cuisine, with a documented food philosophy and the best charcuterie board in the city, but I’m mostly in it for the Duck Confit, which I’m not allowed to write about anymore because that’s another 2,000 words. Mostly adjectives and onomatopoeia. And we’re all too hungry to read that right now. ❧