Renee Kohlman • Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Last year at this time I would walk by the building on the corner of Avenue A and 19th Street West wondering just what in the world was going on inside.
The owners were behind the scenes building something like nothing Saskatoon has seen before: Drift Sidewalk Café and Vista Lounge. The main level is the café. Bright and with a definite West-Coast feel, it’s got a relaxed vibe with varied levels of seating so you can either perch on high seats in front of the floor-to-ceiling garage-door windows or at one of the cozy tables.
A place for all seasons: Drift’s food and vibe incomparable
Plants are prominent, as are pops of colour. It’s fun just to take in the atmosphere while you wait for your crépe or sandwich to arrive. You pass through a second level of seating to get to the third floor Vista Lounge. This is where the hammocks are, if you feel like getting even comfier. Climb the stairs to the lounge and the same relaxed atmosphere is up here, with even more pops of colour and attention to detail. The art, lighting and furniture are incredibly tasteful. The same glass garage doors roll up in the summer, and if you sit outside, it’s almost like you are in a tree house, as the leaves from the trees on Avenue A are right beside the tables. It’s a breezy, laid-back situation on all levels, that transfers well even in winter.
A friend and I popped into Vista Lounge on a weeknight, and were seated at a small table for two. The menu is built for sharing, be it small plate tapas, or large platters ideally suited to share among two to four people. The small plates run between $8 and $11, and there’s everything here from antipasto, squid tacos and lamb skewers to bowls of mussels.
We loved the idea of made-from-scratch empanadas and stuffed peppers. The salad special that night was a Caesar, with duck confit. The server had us at “duck,” alas, that was our second course. We had to try one of the large platters, and while the smoked honey and herb steelhead trout ($41) seemed terribly appealing, I feared it may be too much for us. The sweet and sour chicken ($42) also sounded delicious, and I was intrigued by both the Hunters Greens ($23 duck breast, prosciutto, roasted mushrooms, greens) and the Gatherers Greens ($21 roasted pumpkin, radicchio, grilled haloumi, kale) but what won us over was the Saffron Vegetable Tagine ($29). I don’t know of anywhere else in the city with tagine on the menu, so this was what we looked forward to the most. There are also a few types of pizza, and we got our haloumi fix here on the Salty Balkan ($16). To drink, we both had Cave Springs Pinot Noir.
The empanadas came out first. Puff pastry was stuffed with potato, applewood cheddar, bits of chorizo and egg. Dipped in the robust bravas sauce, these were quite lovely and gone in about three seconds. Stuffed peppers always make for an impressive presentation. These were nestled on a bed of bravas sauce, and while the spiced bison and wild rice was quite good, we both preferred the pepper with the squash purée and goat cheese. Nicely seasoned, the creamy filling was enhanced even more by candied nuts. Next came the Caesar salad. A large serving, with pops of colour from the cherry tomatoes, a creamy dressing graced it all and had a nice bite of fresh garlic.
There was plenty of duck confit, so we didn’t have to fight over it. The pizza was enjoyable, and the addition of tzatziki a smart move. But the saffron vegetable tagine was the smash hit. Notes of cinnamon and saffron mingled with briny olives and the most luscious fried artichokes. There was sweetness from dried fruit but it was balanced with heat from chili. Chunks of vegetables and lentils swam in the highly flavourful sauce and we scooped the whole thing up with the tastiest crackers. Kudos to the kitchen for a dish that warmed us from head to toe. My only quibble is that small bowls would have served the tagine better, as it slid out from the sides of the small side plates.
The next day, I ventured to Drift Sidewalk café for a crépe and coffee. You place your order at the counter, choosing from a list of various crépes, fancy toast and sandwiches as well as beverages. I found a seat at the window and in just under five minutes, a crépe the size of a dinner plate found its way to me. Stuffed with stewed strawberries and rhubarb, with bright notes of candied ginger, this was just how I wanted my morning to begin. It was just lovely. I sat for awhile, sipping my coffee as the sun shone through, lighting up this corner of Riversdale. This is a gem of a spot, and once they open the rooftop patio in the summer, well glory be, that’ll just be the icing on the cake.
Drift Sidewalk Café and Vista Lounge is located at 339 Ave. A. South. 306-653-2256. Café is open Monday- Tuesday 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., Wednesday- Saturday 8 a.m.- 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Vista Lounge is open Wednesday- Thursday 4 p.m. 11 p.m., Friday- Saturday 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.