Thursday, January 6, 2011

Caffe Sola, Saskatoon

“a sense of love in all the food”

Past the bus terminal and behind a plain exterior, Caffe Sola is one of Saskatoon’s best-kept secrets.

The smell of fresh-baked cakes and rich soups greets you as you open the door. Take your time reading the daily specials on the blackboard and investigating the savoury tarts, cakes and cookies in the display case. It will be a tough decision, but you can always take some home with you. And the staff will happily recommend their favourites.

Dinner for friends
“The café is small enough that I can cook as if friends were coming to the house for dinner,” says Sarah Robbins. Sarah shops every other day, and the daily menu changes based on what is seasonal and what catches her attention.

Eighty percent of the dishes are vegetarian, and Sarah is trying to include more vegan dishes. There are some gluten-free dishes. Sarah uses as many local, organic ingredients as possible, and everything is made from scratch.

Start your day with a muffin or pastry fresh from the oven. Or stop in at lunch time for a bowl of soup and a savoury tart. Caffe Sola was offering three soups the day I talked to Sarah – chanterelle mushroom and organic barley; Greek red lentil, lemon and fresh rosemary; and roasted apple and butternut squash. And I know from experience that the torta rustica is rich and flavourful with layers of tortilla, roast vegetables and artisan cheese.

Or just treat yourself to dessert. My absolute favourite is the oat square with its thick layer of peanut butter icing. Other people rave about the double chocolate espresso brownies, the vanilla bean cheesecake and the oat spice cake.

Sarah says that her biggest challenge is maintaining the quality – every day and every dish. “I want to ensure there’s a sense of love in all the food, that it doesn’t turn into a chore,” she says. So she works with small amounts, avoids mass production, and tries to be present when she is cooking.

Organic tea and coffee
Caffe Sola uses Bean North’s organic, fair trade coffee. “It’s a northern Italian espresso – smaller volumes and a little lighter roast,” Sarah explains. “We tried a few different coffees. We really liked Bean North’s philosophy.”

There is a wide assortment of organic teas from Silk Road Teas in Victoria. Earl Green is one of my favourites.

Choose a seat
Caffe Sola expanded last year, so you now have a choice of a quiet seat on the west side or a chance to sit by the fire and greet friends arriving on the east side.

The west side can be booked for parties or meetings. I had a birthday party there last spring, and it was great. Everyone helped themselves to a latte or a piece of cake and then settled down to visit uninterrupted. There is no charge for daytime bookings, and you can either order individually or set a menu with Sarah in advance. There is a room rental fee for evening bookings.

Circle of friends
Caffe Sola has a comfortable, homey atmosphere. And that’s not surprising when you learn that Rob Assie, one of Sarah’s business partners, made the fireplace and hard furniture (more comfortable than it appears), the pottery is local and many of the vegetables come from a friend’s organic greenhouse in Clavet.

When Sarah isn’t working, you will find her outdoors – riding her bike, skiing, or doing yoga. Caffe Sola strongly supports bicycle commuting and an active lifestyle, and they sponsor a wide variety of community groups.

Music and poetry
Two or three times a week, Caffe Sola hosts a small concert on the second floor of the building. There is an All Ages Night every Thursday with a poetry slam once a month. Caffe Sola provides food, coffee and wine. Rich Taylor of Vive Music organizes the concerts. There is a $5-10 cover charge for the concerts, but you’re welcome to come in to the café for no charge.

If you just can’t get enough of the great food at Caffe Sola, ask Sarah to cater. She offers everything from dessert trays or appetizers for 50 to a dinner for 7 in their own home.

Location and Hours
Caffe Sola is located at the corner of 23rd Street East and Pacific Avenue. They are open Monday to Thursday from 7 am to 6 pm, Friday from 7 to 5, Saturday from 10 to 4, and Sundays from 10 to 3. For more information about catering or booking a room, call 244-5344.

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