As we approached Over the Hills Orchard in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley area of Lumsden, it couldn’t have been more scenic. Fall leaves had started to turn and upon entering the valley, hues of gold, orange and green enveloped us. We made our way up a steep hill to the top where we were welcomed by the orchards – tended to by Dean and Sylvia Kreutzer.
Running their business for more than a decade, the orchards have been beating the weather odds, producing hearty fruits. The Kreutzers have built on the popularity of their ”prairie cherries” and now grow nearly a dozen or so kinds of fruit each year, including apples, apricots, grapes and special varieties of strawberries.
With over 3,000 cherry trees, the “prairie cherries” (botanically known as dwarf sour cherries) are a well-known provincial sensation and a match made in heaven when covered in milk and dark chocolate.
Though the orchards, the property and the Kreutzers are all very interesting, we weren’t there to visit them. Instead, we were there to try pop-up restaurant, the Backyard. Borrowing space from the Kreutzers to deliver delicious fixed four course meals, the Backyard’s meals are made from ALL locally sourced ingredients. The first restaurant of it’s kind in Saskatchewan to do so, it promised to showcase the best organic and seasonal ingredients found in the province.
As it does during the fall season, a chill had descended in the air and sadly this meant, moving the prairie style farm dinner that is usually hosted outside overlooking the valley, indoors.
Once inside the Quonset where a kitchen and retail space made room enough for four tables, we were handed a sage soda and told to relax until the dinner began.
Instead of mingling amongst the other 30 or so people, we wandered the property taking in the views of the evening sun and wind swept sky. We meandered through rows of cherry trees pausing to examine the remaining and mostly shriveled berries.
Then we moved on to marvel at the rows of strawberries blossoming in organic baskets in late September (!).
Sipping our sage sodas from mason jars, complete with stainless still bendy straws, we walked back just as Chef Mariana Brito stepped out to welcome us in.
Briefly introducing the concept behind the dinner at the backyard, Chef Brito, who hails from Tijuana, Mexico, has a passion for organic food that comes across quickly. Her recipe development she says considers both modern Mexican cuisine and the Canadian landscape she now calls home. Speaking to the Backyard’s farm-to-table elements, she ushers us onward for a tour of the property.
Our first stop is in a small greenhouse where Brito speaks to how fortunate she is to work alongside the Kreutzers, who grow vegetables and herbs for her – many of which are experimental, but equipped to meet many of her restaurants needs. She chats about how the orchard is in the preserving phase of the year with the exception of the herbs.
While in the greenhouse, she proudly introduces us to three Mexican herbs: pipicha, epazote and papalo quelite; sourced from Pay Dirt Farm in northern Saskatchewan.
We pretty much tour the same area that we had just finished doing on our own, this time with Mariana at the helm explaining more about the orchard.
Tables set with dried flowers and a hand written menu await as we head back inside. Deck lights hang overhead and four packed tables of folks are ready to experience the family style dinner.
There is a sense of rustic chic to the interior thanks to the table settings (and lighting), but admittedly, knowing the dinner is supposed to be set outside, the charm of being indoors is a bit lost on me. Maybe it’s because it was a tight space and we faced a window to the kitchen where fluorescent lights were pretty blinding. I couldn’t help but day dream about overlooking the incredible beauty of the valley instead of being surrounded by white tin walls. Ahh, but one cannot control the weather, especially in this province. This I decide, is reason enough to visit again next summer before the weather turns.
Taking place only on Fridays and Saturdays, the courses and menus change with each dinner. Usually this is done outdoors (weather permitting of course).
“We chase the producers all week, then make supper for you,” Brito would later add between courses.
We knew what to expect, for the main course that is. An email asking us to confirm our choice between a lamb or vegetarian option had been distributed earlier in the week. Me and my date would pick one of each, me siding with the vegetarian menu.
As we settle in waiting on the first course, we get to know our tablemates for the night. Three other couples have joined and a lively debate about what exactly Mexican cuisine is, starts the conversation flowing.
We are offered a glass of wine, not sourced locally, however. With this the only beverage offered during dinner at $12/glass (red or white), I order a glass of red.
Considering everything to do with the dinner was locally sourced, I feel a better fit here would have included wine that was made onsite at Over the Hills Orchard or even within the province. I am told upon asking that they do offer the orchard’s cherry wine when it’s available, and plans are in place to only serve the orchard’s wine in the future. The wines chosen however, (Merawine) are organic and biodynamic wines sourced through a company out of Regina. The chosen red is lovely, and I enjoy it alongside my meal.
What we are there for however, is the food. Word of mouth regarding Chef Brito’s talent in the kitchen and the quality of her meals have been overly positive in my circles, and I find myself super excited and ready to eat.
Digging into four courses at the Backyard
First Course – Carrot soup
Carrot pesto, charred carrot, sheep milk yogurt and microgreens. The different colored carrots (orange, yellow and purple) give it rich colour. The sheep’s milk adds to a creamy texture to the soup. Delish!
Second Course – Salad
Arugula, spring mix, pipicha, melon, pickled cucumber, hemp seeds, crowdie cheese and zucchini. A tasty mix, the pickled cucumbers gave it quite a good zing.
A surprise (not on the menu) palette cleanser
Everyone at the table really enjoyed the raspberry and very sage-y popsicle palette cleanser. The sage made me immediately think of home – Saskatchewan – and being on top of a grassy hill inhaling that grassy, earthy and lovely smell.
Third Course (main) – Stuffed Pepper with Risotto
Pepper, steel cut risotto, egg, tomato, tomatillo, beets, zucchini, corn and potato. I inhaled this dish – and think I could eat it everyday. It was rich but not heavy; flavourful and filling. There was no part of me that regretted going with the vegetarian option (though I am not a vegetarian).
Fourth Course – Buck Wheat Cake
Buck wheat, honey-sheep caramel sauce and seasonal fruit. Buckwheat is a thick cake base (and totally gluten free – in fact, everything served was gluten free). It was a bit gritty with super sweet prairie cherries toppings. I’m not a dessert person, so I only nibbled, but everyone else I noticed, cleaned their plates.
Overall, the portions were well-sized and the food absolutely a delight to eat. One of the best aspects was the energy and enthusiasm Chef Brito exudes when speaking about her processes and presented dishes. I am truly excited to watch how this unique operation grows, and know that once they overcome some of the growing pains, it will become an even more coveted destination restaurant.
I believe Chef Brito and her team most definitely has a bright future here in the province. Her dedication to supporting local growers and providing visitors with not only delicious courses but an uber-authentic experience not found anywhere in the province, is admirable. I can’t wait to watch her business sky rocket.
When you visit know the Backyard, know that:
- The last day of this year’s season is October 17.
- A tour of the orchard is available with dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Reservation is required and the meal is a fixed price of $60 per person, and does not include beverages (or gratuity).
- Bring cash, a cheque or be prepared to pay via e-transfer.