I may be traveling on a budget but I also subscribe to the old adage, “You only live once.” So to celebrate my final night in Saskatoon and my four-week anniversary on the road I decided to splurge on a nice steak dinner.
A quick search on Yelp indicated that Saskatoon’s #1 steakhouse was Carver’s, which just happened to be located in my hotel, The Sheraton Cavalier. I’ve generally found hotel restaurants to be overpriced and underwhelming so I wrote that one off and scrolled down the list.
The Keg and Montana’s were rated in the top five but I ruled out both as they just didn’t strike me as being uniquely “Saskatoon”. Ditto for Moxie’s and Tony Roma’s.
Brown’s Socialhouse held down #5 on the Yelp rankings and while it is unique to Western Canada, I had been to one in Moose Jaw and it struck me as a much better bar than steakhouse. I could be wrong, as I have not dined at Brown’s, but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. This had to be perfect!
I briefly considered Saboroso Brazilian Steakhouse until I read a review that said, “Leave your belt at home and bring your stretchy pants.” That didn’t sound like the kind of place one should visit just hours before boarding a train to Vancouver.
‘Cut Casual Steak & Tap’ checked in at #7 on the Yelp list, but I had been there for lunch on Friday and it was too soon to go back. Besides, I don’t think a great steakhouse should have the word ‘tap’ in its name and 14 screens tuned to CFL football.
And then it hit me; one of my favourite restaurants in the 1980s had been in Saskatoon and it specialized in steak. I wondered if it was still in business? I did a Google search and sure enough, the one place that I visited about three times a week during my three-month stints in Saskatoon in the summers of ’82 and ’83 was still serving up char-broiled steaks after all these years. My search was over! I had the doorman at the Sheraton summon a cab.
“Where to, bud?” asked the driver.
I replied, “Bonanza Steakhouse, please.”
This apparently took the cabbie by surprise.
“Bonaaaaaaanza?,” he replied, with condescension dripping from every drawn out letter. “You wanna go to Bonanza?”
“Yes, Bonanza. The one on 8th Street East near Circle Drive,” I said.
“Oh, I know the place, bud. I just wouldn’t let my mother-in-law’s daaaawg eat there.”
Thankfully there were no more snide comments as we crossed the Broadway Bridge and headed east on 8th Street. As we approached the restaurant the driver turned to me one final time and said, “Twenty-seven years driving cab and I ain’t never had a $16 fare to a place that sells $7 steaks.”
He may have had a point.
The Saturday night lineup was about 50 deep, consisting mostly of thrifty seniors, blue collar workers whose vans and pickups were parked out front, a father-son duo wearing “Rider Pride” and “Pilsner” sweatshirts, and a white-shirt wearing Mormon family who had just picked up their four kids at Summer Bible Camp. The line moved quickly so unfortunately there was no time for small talk.
As I approached the cashier I perused the sign that listed the various cuts and all the optional items. It was just as I remembered. And while the prices are obviously higher these days, you can still sit down to a steak dinner with all-you-can-eat salad bar and hot food station, a trip to the decadent dessert bar, and bottomless beverages for under $13.
I went for the most expensive item on the menu – the 1 lb. T-bone at 18 bucks. Hey, you only live once, remember?
The hostess carried my tray to the table (classy, don’t you think?) and then left a small plastic #70 on the table. The Mormons had been given #69. I wanted to take a photo in the worst way but dad was eyeing me suspiciously.
As I perused the salad bar I marveled at the ingenuity of the chef who had created 32 different salads using only macaroni, Jell-O, canned fruit cocktail, and mini marshmallows. Now that takes skill!
I was only halfway through my salad when the T-bone arrived at the table. With one bite I pronounced it just as tender and juicy as the Bonanza steaks I remembered from the 80s. Of course I have since learned that Canada Grade “B” beef isn’t this moist and tender without marinating for 30 days in a pool of chemicals from Monsanto or 3M. My god, even the bone was tender and easily cut with a fork. Now that’s a steak!
No trip to Bonanza would be complete without a trip to the ice cream machine. Actually, it’s no longer billed as “ice cream” but rather “soft serve dessert”, which I understand to be “vegan friendly” as it doesn’t contain any real dairy product. Isn’t that accommodating of them?
I’m pleased to report that Bonanza Steakhouse is exactly as I remember it in 1982. True, it’s no Ponderosa but try finding one of them outside of Belleville.
And you just can’t buy memories like this. When I was 19 and living from paycheque to paycheque, as were most of the horsemen on the prairie circuit, we survived on three weekly visits to Bonanza for about $7 a meal or an average of $4 a day (not counting beer)
Yes, Bonanza is still every bit as disgusting as it was in 1982. And I loved it!
Another satisfied diner at Bonanza