NEWSLETTER FEATURE ARTICLES / FEBRUARY 2022 ISSUE
FEBRUARY 2022 ISSUE
REGINA’S UNION STATION
Have you been to Casino Regina lately? If not, on your next visit prepare to experience a lighter, brighter contemporary space recently renovated in a style that might be called ‘prairie elegance’. Reconfigured gaming floors, innovative lighting, new ceiling installations, columns and prairie colours reflect the substantial changes celebrated at an official opening in November 2021.
A highlight of the extensive renovations is the Union Station Restaurant + Bar, formerly known as “Last Spike Restaurant”, and now designed to suggest industrial rail yards. Wooden beams constructed on the ceiling mimic train tracks while reclaimed barn board provide natural accents throughout the restaurant. Accessible from the restaurant is an original rail car. Its function as a genuine passenger car is reflected in club car seating and large windows. Indeed, the overall ambiance conjures the romance of train travel.
Showcasing the new restaurant proved a primary motivation for Executive Chef, David Westerlund’s participation in Regina Restaurant Week. “I’m so excited to share all the changes that have happened to our food and beverage offerings at Casino Regina.” Several “stop-and-go” eateries are also scattered throughout the premises, including Crossroads, nestled near the banks of slot machines.
The menus offered at Casino Regina are diverse but share a common goal to use quality ingredients including certified Angus beef for burgers, prime rib, brisket, short ribs and steaks. It is no surprise that David’s selection for Regina Restaurant Week features a grilled 12 ounce rib eye steak topped with Creole butter that first melts over the steak and then in your mouth. Shrimp, seasonal vegetables and choice of a side dish complete the fixed price meal.
Chef David is a Saskatchewan boy, who after completing his culinary training in Vancouver, continued on to open over 30 restaurants in Canada before arriving at Union Station Restaurant + Bar three years ago. “My inspiration for the menu comes from my travels, my family and my passion for good food. I believe we deliver a global menu. There is definitely something for everyone.”
In addition to the food, one of the other attractions to visiting Union Station Restaurant + Bar is the beauty of the surrounding building and its historic value as a former railway station. “This beautiful building has seen a lot of changes since its original construction in 1911-12,” says Kira Novak, Manager of Community Relations. The Canadian Pacific Railway built Union Station in Regina as the divisional headquarters and rail service hub for several railways operating at the time of construction.
The magnificence of the building reflects the significance of rail travel to opening up the West and developing Canada as a nation. Regina’s Union Station soon became a major hub in western Canada’s railway system which sparked initial awe for its engineering feats.
Lured by promises of free land, waves of European immigrants traveled by train to settle the west, many of whom disembarked at Union Station in Regina then rode by wagon to carve out homesteads on prairie soil. An extensive renovation in 1931 of the three-story structure sparked a provincial heritage designation and placement on the Canadian Register of Historic Places. Thousands of soldiers also passed through the station en route to international theatres of war. Many more thousands of civilians considered trains their chief means of transportation.
As the 20th century progressed, the proliferation of automobiles proved a near end-of-the-line for passenger rail travel. It continues today but in a much diminished capacity. Officially shuttered in 1990, Union Station stood empty for several years while its future was debated. The Saskatchewan government ultimately purchased the property, spent some $37 million revamping it to officially launch Casino Regina as a crown corporation in 1996.
The jail cells in its basement remain well-maintained, though now the cells are for the entertainment of guest tours rather than for police transporting prisoners by train. It is even said that the ghost of a beautiful woman still wanders the upper concourse overlooking the gaming floor. Perhaps she is searching for a parcel lost in the throng of passengers hurrying to catch the train as its final “All Aboard!” is sounded. Or, perhaps the mysterious apparition is Lady Luck!
Recent updates include a new “touch bet pit” where guests can now play roulette, blackjack and baccarat at their own touch-screen terminals. Dealers remain available for those preferring the traditional approach but the individual screens can ease the intimidation of first-time players. Renovations continue on the gaming floor of the casino and further improvements to the Show Lounge are planned for later this year.
Casino Regina remains committed to meeting 21st century challenges while respecting the legacy of Union Station. Its grand concourse with vaulted plaster ceilings, marble columns, terrazzo tiles, magnificent chandeliers and a Roman archway still exemplify its early reputation as among western Canada’s most significant structures. While, its signature restaurant, Union Station Restaurant + Bar, complete with club car, continues to keep the spirit of the old railroad station alive.
the Rooftop Bar & Grill
The Rooftop Bar & Grill, located at 1845 Victoria Avenue, is one of eleven downtown popular eateries participating in Regina Restaurant Week (RRW). Charming chef and owner Marco Liu is hoping Restaurant Week will kick-start the return to restaurant dining as patrons recall the pleasure of sharing a meal with friends and family: Marco says: “It’s all about great food, great drinks and great times.”
Speaking of great food, Marco’s specially selected RRW four-course meal is comprised of a starter soup, deep fried brie with a raspberry coulis, prime rib beef with garlic mashed potatoes and a sumptuous English trifle for dessert. Each dish is artistically presented with flourishes of edible greens, swirls of fruit puree or a fresh flower garnish. Marco’s meals are a feast for the eye as well as the stomach.
It was a wee Irish lass who gave the name “Marco” to Jian Liu from China when he worked as a foreign student in a Dublin restaurant some twenty years ago. Both the name and the job proved a game-changer for the then 22-year old, who like many students, was drawn to restaurant work mostly for the free food it provided. He hadn’t considered “chef” as a career choice, but an opportunity to apprentice with the renowned Irish chef, Noel Daly, instilled in Marco a life-long passion for quality food served with artistic flair.
For the next two decades, Marco sharpened his culinary skills in restaurants throughout the world including Ireland, Japan, Australia and on-board a Caribbean cruise ship. Navigating the choppy waters of immigration and visas ultimately landed Marco in Canada, though he could scarcely believe his good luck in doing so. “Canada has such a good reputation throughout the world, their actions in the war and for helping others. I didn’t dare dream I’d be able to live there.”
Settling first in Edmonton, Marco later made his way to Saskatchewan where he was chef in several rural communities before purchasing the famed Corner Gas restaurant in Rouleau. Here he was introduced to the celebrated prairie neighbourliness. ”Such good people!” Marco says and endeavours to return the kindness with donations of food and expertise to community fundraisers.
A chance opportunity enabled Marco to buy The Rooftop Bar & Grill in downtown Regina in 2018. Touted as a place for “laid back Canadian grill fare”, the restaurant also contains a lounge, private dining room and roof top patio for the sky-dining pleasure of summer guests. Creative cocktails and varied cuisine please patrons of most tastes and Marco is always happy to provide individualized menus for those celebrating special occasions.
Hopes are also fueled by the current easing of COVID-19 restrictions that may allow him to offer a noon buffet for customers wanting good food served within their hour-long lunch. “Otherwise there’s not enough time to properly prepare and serve quality meals to a large lunchtime crowd.” Until then, Marco, which is now the name on his Canadian passport, remains committed to do what he’s made a career of doing. “I love to cook for people who love to eat.” Fortunately for those of us that love to eat, Regina Restaurant Week provides us an excellent opportunity to savour Marco’s cooking and enjoy all that The Rooftop Bar & Grill has to offer.
“Canada has such a good reputation throughout the world, their actions in the war and for helping others. I didn’t dare dream I’d be able to live there.”
Owner and Chef Marco Liu
The Rooftop Bar & Grill features a deep fried brie with a raspberry coulis as part of its four-course Regina Restaurant Week meal.