You may have heard the news. The buzz has been loud for sometime and the excitement generated for Regina’s newest restaurant, undeniable.
I had begged. I had pleaded. And apparently I was heard.
Well, that’s how I like to imagine this going down. But more probable is that The Grassroots Restaurant Group had their sights set on opening a Regina restaurant for some time now, regardless of my feelings.
But damn, I’m sure happy it finally happened. I know I’m not the only one.
Just who is behind the Grassroots Restaurant Group? Well, some of these names may be pretty familiar to you. The Group founded by Top Chef Canada Winner, Chef Dale Mackay (who recently appeared on Iron Chef); seasoned restaurateurs and mixologist and GM, Christopher Cho and Chef Nathan Guggenheimer, are behind the city’s newest offering, Avenue, which opened in early June!
Guggenheimer and Cho have both relocated to Regina as Avenue’s Executive Chef/Owner and General Manger/Owner, respectively.
The trio (along with Jesse Zuber, Executive Chef of Little Grouse on the Prairie) has often been attributed to transforming Saskatoon’s culinary scene with the established and well-loved Ayden Kitchen and Bar, Little Grouse on the Prairie, Sticks and Stones, and Saskatchewan’s largest culinary event Prairie Feast Festival.
And now they are here! It’s complete icing on the cake that they have taken over what I consider to be Saskatchewan’s most beautiful restaurant space, formerly home to Malt City.
When I stepped foot in the space last night, it had truly been transformed.
Modern twists of stainless steel, walnut, clean corners and pops of green mix in a classic space with heritage ceilings, arched windows and fanciful table legs to create an incredible atmosphere. Most impressively, they’ve found a way to assemble the space so as to mitigate the noise issue that plagued Malt City.
“It’s a gorgeous space!” Exclaims Chris Cho. “There isn’t a restaurant like it in Saskatchewan and It’s very inspiring to work in.”
Upon walking in, my eyes dart for a few seconds, and then focus in on a massive eating bar facing an open concept kitchen, with chefs working away. To the left of the lineup of chefs, Chefs Mackay and Guggenheim coordinate, shout orders and snip basil and radish shoots from a recently delivered container of freshly grown herbs. The room is bright with light flooding in and an ambience of comfort fills the air.
In case you didn’t know: Not only is The Grassroots Restaurant Group known for transforming Saskatoon’s restaurant scene, it’s said they have changed how people in the city think about food and dining out. My hopes for Regina are high.
My group settles in, peruses the menu and decides to share a few plates and sample some cocktails. I opt for Mint Condition, a refreshing gin cocktail complete with watermelon cubes and muddled mint.
Between starters and small plates, I chat with Cho who explains how Avenue promises not to replicate what the group, or anyone else for that matter is already doing in the province. “Instead,” he says, “it’s set to separate itself from the pack via unique offerings of elevated cuisine/cocktail tableside service experience with a modern twist.”
Tableside service isn’t on the soft opening menu tonight, but I’ve been assured it’s coming soon.
“Although Regina has a well-established food scene,” says Cho, “learning about the food they are eating, how their cocktail is being prepared, in addition to the interactive and intimate sharing of other knowledge will most definitely create a new dining experience.”
Bottom line. We have nothing like this here in Regina.
“We want diners to feel like they’re getting a big city feel and experience. Like they would be in New York, Las Vegas, or Toronto. From the design of the space to the high level standards of service and the high quality of food that are prepared by well traveled and experienced chefs,” says Cho.
Building on the group’s commitment to quality, sustainable, diverse, and best in class dining experiences, Avenue’s menu features a global cuisine using world flavours, with a big French influence in the menu.
So what can you expect to see on the menu? An incredible spread of local product is for sure. Notable dishes include: Beef Wellington, horseradish cream, and local grilled asparagus; Local Diefenbaker trout, grains and seeds risotto, and beurre rouge; and Pineview farms slow cooked pork belly press, gochujang glaze, cucumber kimchi, and sesame rice. The Group will also be offering “grassroots restaurants’ first rotisserie program that helps service a family style dining experience,” shares Cho.
My group’s experience is unanimously positive – sharing many plates, from steak tartare, asparagus and Diefenbaker trout, to wings, scallops and a unique take on a Caesar salad. We love every bit of the meal and cocktails, though one item definitely blows us all away: the caramel crème dessert. Saltiness meets creaminess in the perfectly textured and flavoured top-off to amazing dining experience. You must try it!
Along with providing a space and experience customers cannot get enough of, staying focused on local is what this Group does so very well. That was the aim when conceptualizing the menu, according to Cho. “We want to give diners a cohesive dining experience while staying true to our local and sustainable philosophy on food.”
Without question, this incredible collective has certainly upped the ante of what is being done, and has been done, here in the Queen City.
For a city that seems to have issues holding onto good restaurants (oh how we love our chains), the stakes are high. However, if anyone can deliver on teaching a city how to eat, it’s this group.