25 Meals For 25 Years

“How about a list of stuff you ate?” he asked. “Sure,” I said

25 Dining | by Aidan Morgan

Faithful Prairie Dog readers know that I’ve been writing restaurant reviews and other odds and ends for the last eight years. But only a few people know I’ve been eating food for decades. Nearly three of those decades have been spent in Regina, where I have reliably eaten every day, several times a day, without fail. Here are 25 of the most memorable meals I’ve had in the city.

CAJUN SHRIMP AT MIEKA’S RESTAURANT This mandala of four to six whiskery king prawns in a pool of Cajun sauce was found at a long-gone restaurant on Smith, downtown. I have never tasted its like since, or forgotten the mournful expressions of those prawns.

TOASTED BACON AND EGG SANDWICH AT THE QUALITY TEA ROOM I don’t want to hear about Regina’s restaurant renaissance, its endless parade of local fermented etceteras and farm-to-fork whatsits. We will never get the Quality Tea Room back. With its smoke-hazed air, biblical quotations posted on every available surface, and annually updated sign that quietly let people know how many years it had been running (at least 80 by the time it closed), the QTR had the Cathedral neighbourhood’s best breakfast. The bacon and egg sandwich was perfect student hangover food.

BREAD WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR AND OLIVE OIL AT THE CATHEDRAL VILLAGE FREEHOUSE Back when the Freehouse first opened, they brought out free bread with balsamic vinegar and olive oil as soon as you were seated. We would order coffee (in a mini French press) and sit there all afternoon as the servers brought out more bread and silently wished death on the lot of us. Note to self: we were jerks.

CHEESEBURGER AT THE SKETCHY PLACE THE SCOTIABANK IS NOW Back when the Cathedral neighborhood sported a marina-style Safeway there was a diner next to the grocery store where you could sit in peace and listen to the dog barking in the kitchen. Wait, what? Why did I keep going there? Because they made a cheeseburger that was the platonic ideal of cheeseburgers, a Kraft Single drooping over an amazingly tasty patty. Eventually the place was closed for health code violations.

COMBAT NACHOS AT EARLS Everyone put down your nachos and go home, because there was never a plate of tortillas and cheese as good as the combo nachos (“combat nachos” to the kitchen crew) at Earl’s back in the early ’90s, when the décor was heavily parrot-themed. The salsa sparked with cilantro, the guacamole was smooth but not too smooth, the tortillas crunched like skim ice on fall’s first cold morning. I ate the nachos there so often that I once heard someone there say of me, “Look at the fool slobbering over his nachos.” I don’t know why I’m proud of that.

CREAM OF WINTER VEGETABLE SOUP AT SAJE CAFÉ Now occupied by Leo’s Tavern, Saje was once one of the few bistro-style restaurants in the city. I went there by myself one afternoon, somehow in possession of enough money for a meal. I have no recollection of the main course, but the cream of winter vegetable soup felt like a quiet, fire-lit room at the end of a long hike through snowy weather.

WONTON SOUP AT THE KOWLOON CAFÉ The Kowloon Café’s menu was 95 per cent terrible but its wor wonton soup was a cheap meal for a guy in his early 20s. After the Café closed and the Creek in Cathedral Bistro opened in the same spot, they kept the wontons as part of the tapas menu.

PAD THAI AT THE HELIOTROPE I don’t know what else to say. The pad thai was amazing. I hope they start selling it again at the Farmer’s Market.

FISH AND CHIPS AT THE NOVIA CAFÉ Another lost classic. The Novia Café was a place to drink cheap watery coffee and eat fries — but for a time it had the best fish and chips I’d ever had outside of the Maritimes. Very lightly battered, pan-fried and herbed, the fish and chips felt like a stealth invasion from a fine dining establishment. Unfortunately they were always out. Then the owners were out. Then the street was out, and so too went the Novia.

THE PIZZA WITH THE ARTICHOKES AT COPPER KETTLE The only proof I can offer for the absence of God is the disappearance of the pizza with artichokes, hot Italian sausage and banana peppers from the Copper Kettle menu. In its place is The Bixby, a cruel aping of the original with spinach and feta added.

LINGUINE ALLE VONGOLE AT CASA RICCI Casa Ricci was the upscale sibling to Casa Italia on Broad Street. The dish that sticks with me is the pasta alle vongole, which I ordered on a whim without knowing what “vongole” meant. It means clams. Now you know what to say in Italy when you’re buried under a pile of clams (it happens).

CHICKEN ANYTHING AT BEAKS CHICKEN Of all the food trucks that ever parked on the downtown plaza and opened their windows to inhale cash and exhale food, Beaks Chicken was always appointment dining for me. They marinated, sous-vided and quickly fried their chicken for a result that was superb.

SOLYANKA AT THE RUSSIAN DELI It’s come and gone, but the Russian Deli/European Deli on Albert Street will be missed. Their solyanka — a soup with black olives and bits of sausage — was my favourite thing on the menu. It was all salt and all deliciousness.

PAELLA AT LA BODEGA Most restaurant paellas are heaps of pricy disappointment, but La Bodega’s version was so rich and overloaded with flavour that it seemed to emerge from your pores for the next 24 hours. So, so good.

SHOYU RAMEN AT MICHI JAPANESE RESTAURANT Most people remember Michi for the sushi, but for me it was the place that introduced me to the complexity of ramen. Not to mention the oshibori, those hot towels they handed out at the beginning of your meal. Admittedly those didn’t taste very good.

CURRY RICE BOWL AT EDO JAPAN The following is a transmission from the future. In the Food Court Wars of 2027, only one victor may emerge. That one is Edo Japan, which won with their filling and incredibly satisfying curry rice bowl — basically a big stewy glop of potatoes and carrots over rice smothered in Glyco-style yellow curry. Keep your sukiyakis with your extra spoonful of sauce. The curry rice bowl is where it’s at.

BORSCHT AT SHYNOK There is no other borscht. There is only Shynok.

THOSE PUFFY DESSERTS FILLED WITH CHOCOLATE AND CINNAMON WITH CARAMEL DIPPING SAUCE AT SWISS CHALET Forget about the chicken. Those puffy desserts are what you want. They were so good that the kitchen staff actually ate our order, forcing us to order them again.

CHICKEN LIVER PARFAIT AT CRAVE KITCHEN AND WINE BAR One of the great pleasures of being a food writer is getting to introduce people (friends, readers, whomever) to something great. The chicken liver parfait comes with Crave’s charcuterie platter. Imagine a chicken paste with the consistency of meringue and you’ll be close. But no description matches the experience of spreading the stuff on a sliver of bread and tasting it.

#93 AT LANG’S CAFÉ My first real introduction to Vietnamese food. I spent most of the ’90s at Lang’s with my face in a bowl of noodles, spring rolls and barbecue pork.

GRILLED ZA’ATAR SANDWICH AT ABSTRACTIONS CAFÉ Za’atar is a paste of sumac, sesame seeds and other good stuff. Abstractions will slather the stuff on grilled focaccia with olive oil and tomatoes. Because they love you and want you to be happy.

THE NOT $9 PRETZELS AT LANCASTER TAPHOUSE/CAPITOL JAZZ BAR One of the dippiest errors I ever made was not only getting the price of the pretzels wrong at the Lancaster, but then complaining about the price of said pretzels (they were six dollars). In my defense I said they were “deep fried in angel fat,” which is accurate.

SHORT RIB BENEDICT AT SKYE CAFÉ AND BISTRO I think this dish has been replaced with a Crab Cakes Benedict, which is why we will all gather at noon to protest outside Skye Café, waving short ribs in the air until they put it back on the menu.

GENERAL TSO’S CHICKEN AT SHANGHAI LILY Lots of places make a real mess of General Tso’s Chicken. Not Shanghai Lily. Plenty on their menu is great, but this dish demonstrates just how good Shanghai Lily is.

RACK OF LAMB AT CARAWAY GRILL They didn’t have the regular lamb dishes on the menu that night. But, the waiter continued, we have a French-style rack of lamb right now. Would you like to try it? Reader, I did. And that’s the story of the greatest rack of lamb I ever ate.