629B 1st Ave. North
As the foodie world increasingly shifts towards “back to the land” movements, I’m loving the resurgence of artisan food trades — especially when the results are breads as beautiful as this.
The Night Oven bakery has been quietly expanding its repertoire of organic grain and naturally leavened (made in the sourdough method with wild yeasts) loaves, all baked in a wood-fired oven.
Bryn Rawlyk is a serious baker — I don’t know anyone else who’s incorporated his own substantial millstones into a new bakery. The big one (like, five feet in diameter and visible from the counter) is still under construction, but he has a smaller millstone in the back, and all the grains he uses are stone-ground.
One reason to stop at the Night Oven (which is off the beaten path at the corner of 1st Avenue North and King Street) is that it smells so damn good. What could be more enticing and comforting than the combined smells of wood smoke and baking bread?
Another reason is the pastry and coffee. The pastry’s made with organic, seasonal and local ingredients, like chanterelle mushrooms or Saskatoon berries, which make their way into savoury and sweet tarts. The coffee is fair trade and organic, and the lattes are perfect with a pain au chocolat (also fair trade and organic).
If you’ve never tried a canelé de Bordeaux, you should go to Night Oven as soon as possible. These delightful little numbers — haute couture in the food world right now — are traditional French pastries, requiring specialized baking molds and preparation methods. The results are gorgeous, glossy brown cakes, with beautiful, evenly distributed caramelized sugar on the outside and a centre of creamy, eggy, custardy cake. The contrast between the crust and the centre can’t really be described, only experienced. Canelés give me tingles.
If you can handle the gluten and the caffeine, this is a great place to bask in a sense of wellbeing as you enjoy a croissant (or canelé, or tart) and sip a coffee.
They’ve also recently begun serving sandwiches, with both meat and vegetarian versions available. Currently on offer is Pine View Farms’ ham with gruyere and local greens, or a walnut, cranberry and chevre sandwich. And once the weather warms up, you can also have the fairly rare experience of enjoying your coffee and pastry or sandwich in the fresh air — Night Oven has a garage door in its seating area, and they’ll roll it up to let in the sunshine once the weather allows.
You have to show up almost daily to sample all the great products that Night Oven has to offer. Baguettes, country white, Red Fife whole wheat, rye and sandwich bread are available daily, but then there are the daily specials.
Wednesdays are honey walnut raisin bread, and a new offering of Montréal-style bagels. (Bryn used to live near St.-Viateur Bagel in Montréal, so he’s taken it upon himself to recreate them in Saskatoon.) I’m not a bagel expert, but I enjoyed their seemingly paradoxical tenderness, density and chewiness — big thumbs up.
As for the honey walnut raisin bread, it feels like a precious commodity. I recently got distracted by life and allowed a partial loaf to get a little stale. I couldn’t bear to throw it out, so I took a page from Bon Appetit magazine — toasted it and ground it up to make toasty, nutty bread crumbs. They will make a great garnish to a salad or pasta dish, and I’m glad I managed not to waste a single crumb of that beautiful, sweet, dark and nutty bread.
The Night Oven starts to ramp up for the weekends on Thursdays. Fresh buns are available the last three days of the week, and while Rawlyk won’t call them brioche because they aren’t made exactly the way brioche is, he allows that they’re definitely brioche-like soft buns.
You can pick up a sunflower flax rye bread on Thursdays, olive bread or challah on Fridays, and brioche, 100 per cent sprouted rye or buckwheat poppyseed bread on Saturdays. Rawlyk often prepares a large brioche loaf in the traditional manner, which is shaped like a giant cupcake with a cherry on top. He says it doesn’t always sell well, because people don’t know what to do with it. It’s brioche, people — the most heavenly sweet, eggy, fantastic bread ever! I don’t care how you eat it, just eat it!
Some suggestions for you, if you’re not sure what to do with it: slice it and eat it fresh with butter and jam. Make a sweet and savoury sandwich with fig jam, cheese and prosciutto. Use it to make a grilled cheese sandwich — my favourite is grated smoked gouda, a little mayonnaise, some sunflower seeds and finely chopped broccoli. My kids love it. Make French toast with it, or cube it and make the best freakin’ bread pudding you’ll ever eat. Just buy it and eat it, and you’ll become addicted, like me.
(Full disclosure: I wrote that from an entirely selfish point of view. If they’re not baking brioche because people don’t buy it, it’s my mission to make sure the demand is there so that when I go to the Night Oven I can get it. But seriously, you’re gonna love it.)
Wood-fired ovens, to many of us, equal pizza rather than bread, and while a pizza oven and a bread oven are two very different things, Night Oven is planning to do a Friday after-work pizza service, starting in the spring. (Keep an eye on late April/early May for announcements.)
If you haven’t been to Night Oven, come soon — and come often. I’ll see you there.