While most of you likely went to the Prairie Roots Revue show in Saskatoon, I reluctantly decided to stay at home in Prince Albert so I could get up at 4 a.m. for work. I made this decision because I knew the last show on this tour was happening about 25 minutes away in Birch Hills.
Thinking it was going to be a simple concert like the one in Saskatoon, I figured it would be around $10 like the Saskatoon event. The host of the show told me it was actually a $40 show with a four-course meal.
This was it – this was what I was giving my parents for Christmas. For weeks I thought of what would be an acceptable gift for letting me live at home. A wonderful concert and meal experience was going to be a great present that I knew they would love, featuring Ryan Boldt, Zachary Lucky and Carly Maicher.
However my parents usually only listen to Top-40 country – I was leery about how they would take the folk/roots sounds coming from these solo artists. Luckily they were willing to take a chance and open up to something new.
On Dec. 17 we arrived at Birch Hills around 5:30, driving down the tiny main street. It took only a few minutes of looking to track down the New Grounds Café, the host of the show.
We entered the building to be greeted by the owner and chef of the New Grounds Café Jennifer Willems. Looking around the room I realized that I was the only young person in the crowd besides Jennifer’s daughter, who was helping to serve for the evening.
Jennifer got Zachary to do an introduction to the show. We find out that Northcote isn’t performing tonight, which bums me out a bit. The last time I saw Northcote perform he was still using his actual name of Matt Goode.
Soon Jennifer comes out and starts ringing a dinner bell. The first course is about to begin. She goes into detail describing what we are about to dine on.
The first meal is a pickerel & bacon cake served with a Saskatoon berry chutney and a herb cracker: the appetizer is served on a plate cut from a birch tree. The cake is full of flavour and is a tease of how good the food is to be expected. Mixed with contrasting flavour of the chutney and cracker, my mouth was on fire with pure ecstasy.
The next bell rang, which brought a vegetarian option – a squash split pea soup with smoked peppers topped with roasted hazelnuts and Saskatchewan-made maple syrup. Did you know we made our own maple syrup? Served in a teacup, this soup had the smoky flavour of hazelnuts, which went well with the taste of the squash and the sweetness of the syrup.
The main course was comprised of a pork schnitzel with a bannock crust covered in a mushroom sauce, along with a beet and cabbage slaw, wild caraway and cheddar perogies and a slice of Red River bread. Being Polish the perogies were the first thing that I went for. I may not know what caraway is but it added a lot to the taste of the Polish treat. The schnitzel was a well-picked main course. The slaw wasn’t something I really enjoyed but I have never been a fan of coleslaw. The slice of bread was incredible, thick and real hearty – a definition of soul food for sure.
With the show about to begin, Carly, Zach and Ryan all sat together. The idea was that they would all switch between performing songs. Ryan played first with a traditional roots styling, with Carly up next with her distinct voice. Zachary followed with his prairie charm. Occasionally Carly would do backup vocals to accompany Zachary’s songs, while Zach would play back-up guitar for everyone’s songs.
After the first set dessert was served, which was a carrot pudding with potatoes, wild rice, caramel and cherries. Topped with Skor ice cream and fresh berries, this was a dessert that I have since been craving for the past few days.
Zach, along with Carly and Ryan, produced an amazing performance, but the real winner of the night was Jennifer’s food and hospitality. Sadly, the New Grounds Café is closing its doors in March so Jennifer can tour around the province while introducing people to her incredible cooking. I highly recommend driving into Birch Hills before it closes to experience one of Saskatchewan’s best kept secrets.