Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Prairie Harvest Café

Prairie Harvest Café, Saskatoon’s newest restaurant, features comfort food, lovingly prepared from scratch using as many local ingredients as possible. And it tastes great!

Chef and co-owner Mike McKeown has been a part of Saskatchewan’s food and catering industry for over a decade. Working in remote fishing camps, Mike relied on an airplane to drop off supplies. “It really makes you think on your feet as you have to work with whatever is available,” Mike says.

More recently, Mike has been selling ready-made meals at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, so he is well acquainted with the local food producers.

Slow Food
Prairie Harvest Café will serve the kind of food that Mike and his co-chef, Joel Hassler, like to eat. “It’s food with a lot of time and love put into it, but entirely accessible to the customer,” Mike says. “In Saskatchewan, we are also very lucky to have access to so many local grains, legumes and root vegetables. It will be a lot of fun to explore the landscape with the menu and hopefully come up with some really neat dishes.”

Mike says he always has maple syrup, mustard powder, lentils, kosher salt, and cabbage (“a very versatile vegetable, especially useful in the winter months”) on hand. They’re all ingredients that are readily available when we cook at home, but they’re transformed into something special at Prairie Harvest Café.

Prairie Harvest Café is open for both lunch and dinner. The lunch menu includes various burgers, including a vegetable and lentil patty. Mike is excited to see the reaction to the turducken burger. “I think it is an entirely unique dish. We have taken the three meats (duck, turkey, chicken) off the bone and ground it ourselves,” he says.

Mike’s sister in law is vegan, which has motivated him to learn more about vegetarian/vegan cooking. As a result, Prairie Harvest Café is one of the best vegetarian options in Saskatoon.

At the slow opening this past weekend, we sampled three vegetarian appetizers, two mains (including a vegan stew), and two desserts, and the chefs promise to have a vegan dessert by opening night.

My personal favourites were the three appetizers. The perogies stuffed with chanterelle mushrooms, aged cheddar and squash served with house-made crème fraîche and caramelized onions would make an excellent main course. We also really enjoyed the fritters, hemp and flax crackers, beet and potato chips (all house-made) served with either warm goat cheese and veggie relish or eggplant and chickpea hummus.

The pumpkin and parmesan fettucini was delicious, and the coleslaw was one of the best I’ve tasted with lots of crunch and a tangy, apple flavour. The vegan stew with root vegetables cooked in Paddock Wood beer is a great idea and I loved the wild mushrooms, but I would have found it more enjoyable if it hadn’t been quite so strongly flavoured and had had a pastry or shepherd’s pie topping to provide balance.

The pumpkin and spiced rum cheesecake was delicious, and the Bailey’s and coffee crème brulée will be a particular treat for coffee lovers.

Local Ingredients
Look through the menu and you see lots and lots of local ingredients – from lentils, hemp hearts and flax to wild mushrooms, eggplant from Floating Gardens, and locally-grown meat.

Prairie Harvest will be featuring Paddock Wood beer exclusively, with several on tap in the near future. The emphasis will be on Canadian wines, and Mike plans to offer fruit wines from Living Sky Winery.

Prairie Harvest Café is built on long-term friendships. Aaron Wignes, Mike’s partner, has been a friend for almost 20 years. Aaron is a local contractor and took responsibility for the décor.

“Aaron had the vision and ability to get the restaurant to look like we envisioned it,” Mike explains. “I’ve seen a previously unknown interior decorating side of him. He found all the antique tables and chairs on Kijiji and planned the colour scheme.”

Mike’s co-chef is Joel Hassler, whom he has known since Grade 8. “Joel is a very calm and professional presence in the kitchen,” Mike says. “He keeps us organized and can slow it down and keep us focussed.”

They are joined by Scott Wyman as the day chef. “Scott is really in step with our vision and has the experience to fulfill it,” Mike says.

I admired the wait staff, which includes Jill Colby, Lee Jones, and Julia Quigley, who did a great job at the slow opening. The restaurant is full of narrow passageways and awkward corners. This is great for customers as each table has its own private space, but it does make it harder for the staff to move about.

Prairie Harvest Café is located at 2917 Early Drive in Brevoort Park. The official opening is Friday, January 13. Lunch is served from 11 am to 3 pm and dinner from 4 pm until the close. The restaurant will be closed on Sundays and Mondays during the winter months. Reservations can be made online or by calling 242-2928.


Shelley said...

"Tangy" You quoted me! That's so sweet! :-)

Penny McKinlay said...

Mike says that they add grated apple to the coleslaw and use a blueberry vinaigrette. It's certainly tasty - and tangy ;)

Keith Power said...

I have had the pleasure of having Mike work at my fishing lodge for the last 6 years. My lodge guests have travelled all over the world and I have received many comments that the meals prepared by Mike are some of the best they have had. If you read this, do yourself a favour and give Prairie Harvest a try....

Keith Power (Misaw Lake Lodge)

Penny McKinlay said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Keith. Prairie Harvest Cafe is a welcome addition to Saskatoon's food scene.