Pick Your Porch
Winter is finally over so it’s time to hit the decks
by Dave Margoshes
Oh, OK, maybe it has been a cold, snowy, windy spring. But it’s May now, man, and summer is practically here.
And summer in Regina, as you may have noticed, is unreasonably short.
So put on your shorts, your shades and your tanktops and get on out there to enjoy lunch, dinner, or snacks and drinks at some of the city’s finest restaurant patios.
Here’s a brief survey, in no particular order, of some of my favourite places to commune with city-cum-nature while dealing with hunger pangs and/or thirst.
THE WILLOW ON WASCANA 3000 Wascana Dr. (open daily) — OK, I said no particular order, but I am going to start with the Willow because it just happens to have the best patio in town. Not that it can take much credit — that goes to Wascana Lake, which this classy restaurant happens to be located beside.
Sitting on its large patio, gazing across the sun-dappled water at the Leg, the seagulls, the sculls, the sunset, it’s easy to get the feeling that this Saskatchewan thing just might work out after all. And, oh yeah, the food’s pretty damn good too. Menus change often here but I can tell you that soups — especially the signature “land chowder” with potato, leeks and pork belly — are always exceptional. The duck tacos and lamb terrine are excellent and the fish (usually steelhead trout from Lake Dief) is always good. Save the five-course “tasting menu” ($67) for a special occasion.
CATHEDRAL VILLAGE FREE HOUSE 2062 Albert St. (open daily) — Here’s another one that deservers a place at the head of the line — after all, the ever-popular Free House’s patio was rated prairie dog readers’ favourite in the recent Best Of Food survey.
The Free House’s patio is tucked away in the back and sheltered by a high fence that lets in the sunshine but keeps out the ugly view and dust of the parking lot. There’s a wide range of brews, with fresh stuff from Bushwakker (which doesn’t have a patio, alas) on tap, and a good assortment of finger foods — including good burgers and other sandwiches, excellent pizzas — and more substantial grub as well, entrees with an international flavour, like Kashmiri chicken, curried chickpeas and Moroccan braised short ribs. And some mini desserts that are a sweet idea.
THE FAINTING GOAT 2330 Albert St. (open Tuesday-Saturday) — Speaking of the prairie dog Best Of Food survey… nine first-place finishes, including best overall restaurant. And now they’ve got a nifty little fenced-in patio out back. Good food, sunshine — what more can I say?
THE COPPER KETTLE and O’HANLON’S PUB 1953 Scarth St. (open daily) — One of the surest signs of spring around these parts, aside from the return of robins and geese, is when the wooden sidewalk extenders return to these side-by-side establishments across from Vic Park, one specializing in food, the other in drink but with a common kitchen.
There’s a wide range of beer by the pint and a variety of finger foods, including items from the CK’s extensive menu, which has many Greek and Italian dishes, including 40 varieties of pizza, the best of which are the Greek-flavoured and, with a tip of the hat to O’Hanlon’s, the Irish, with potatoes and pesto.
CRAVE KITCHEN AND WINE BAR 1925 Victoria Ave. (closed Sundays) — The view from the patio onto busy Victoria Avenue and the empty lot across the street is hardly inspiring, but the tree-shaded patio, a bit removed from the busy street, is a relaxing oasis nonetheless. Menus change from time to time but the seafood cakes, almond-coated goat cheese, and pepper steak frites remain faves. A shame that they’ve discontinued wine flights, but there’s still a pretty good selection by the glass.
CRUSHED GRAPE 2118 Robinson St. — Fine meals, the best weekend brunch in town and a large wine selection — and a tiny patio out front to enjoy it in. It’s a great combination.
FIRESIDE BISTRO 2305 Smith St., at 15th Ave. (open daily) — Nestled beneath the trees beside this Transition Area restaurant, the patio is an ideal placed to have Saturday or Sunday brunch, which the Fireside does exceptionally well. Other times, enjoy grilled Romaine salad, blackened Creole New York steak, pistachio-crusted salmon, Cuban mojito chicken, among other a-bit-off-the-beaten-trail dishes. There’s also an always-changing four-course tasting menu (at $50). I hear a couple of prairie doggers hit the deck during this issue’s production run and were dazzled by the coconut shrimp martini.
THE ABBEY 2124 Albert St. (open daily) — Mondays are a good time to enjoy the patio of this newish restaurant —$5 pints, $10 pizzas. But any day’s good, as long as the sun’s shining, including weekend mornings when a fine brunch is served. Soups, salads, pastas, an excellent burger, steaks, some dandy appetizers… just about everything.
BEER BROTHERS 1801 Scarth St. (closed Sunday) — This purveyor of fine brews
and brew-infused foods spills out of its doors onto the downtown mall, making it a perfect place for people-watching as well as nibbling and sipping, all this to the tune of the mall’s ever-present buskers. Tankhouse ale and smoked cheddar soup is a great way of keeping the nip from the air on cool days, and the menu follows up on the promise of beer in everything, from “beerogies” and sausage, various burgers and other sandwiches (sometimes the beer’s only in the mayo), pastas, pizzas and dinner entrees like steak frites, pork osso bucco, bison meatloaf and drunken lamb shanks.
LA BODEGA 2228 Albert St. (open daily) — You can keep your feet on the ground or have your head in the clouds on the multi-level patio at this fine bistro. The upper storey has you on the roof amidst the branches of the big old elm tree that shades the lower ones — a definite way of getting away from it all. The food is always terrific, whether it’s the appetizer-sized tapas, like the duo of oysters on the half shell, tuna nachos with pickled ginger salsa, fois gras and truffles, crabcakes, cheesy-rich mushroom strudels, snails in garlic and tomato, chili-spiked salmon or various tortillas and other Mexican style yummies, or steaks from the à la carte menu. And a fine brunch on weekends. Open daily for lunch through dinner and late evening sipping.
A few other patios worth a try:
THE CREEK BISTRO 3414 13th Ave. (closed Sundays) — This top-ranked bistro’s pocket-sized patio is a great place to enjoy the menu, or just one of the specialty coffees and a fabulous dessert.
ABSTRACTIONS CAFE 2161 Rose St. (closed Sunday) — The tree-shaded deck on the old house, just south of downtown, now inhabited by this Internet café is a nice quiet refuge to retreat to for a cup of excellent coffee, hot or cold, plain or fancy. The munchies, many with a Mideastern flavour, are also pretty good.
HENRY’S CAFE, 2320 14th Ave., (open daily) — A tiny, tree-shaded brick patio holds just a handful of small tables, some of them topped by umbrellas. A good spot to enjoy breakfast or the usual tasty lunch fare of soups, salads, sandwiches, quiches and pastas or rich desserts.
THE ROOFTOP BAR AND GRILL 1845 Victoria Ave. (open daily) — I wasn’t a big fan of the food at this downtown spot when I reviewed it, but the rooftop patio is a fine place to enjoy a drink. Word is the cocktails are superior, too.
Like I said above, summer is short. Enjoy it while you can.