YXE Dining: Shelter Brewing Company / Dylan & Cam’s Tacos

The craft beer trend took hold in North America in the last few years and tons of craft beer joints have popped up in Saskatoon. While several local spots are pretty good, in my mind there’s one spot that’s above the rest — both in terms of life-affirming beer and soul-satisfying eats.

Shelter Brewing Company. Even the name makes me thirsty. And hungry.

Situated in a central spot, downtown on 2nd Avenue, Shelter has been open for a couple of years now. It’s a come as you are place, which I’m told, is why it’s called Shelter — because it’s for everyone, no judgments.

The service is incredibly friendly, yet still laid-back. You mostly order at the front counter, but when they have time, they’ll come around and check on you. And when a line does form, it usually moves pretty quickly. The room itself isn’t huge, but it’s a comforting atmosphere, quite minimal, with neutral beige and pops of neon or colourful art. It’s a great vibe that reminds me of little spots I’ve stumbled upon in bigger cities.

Their main product, not shockingly for a place with Brewing in its name, is beer. They have some regular brews and some rotating taps with new and reoccurring seasonal favourites. You can order by the pint or you can try a tasting flight.

In my experience, craft beer can be hit and miss, but I’ve dug everything I’ve sipped (um…or guzzled) from Shelter. Some beers might appeal to my personal taste more than others, but Shelter’s are always quality.

They don’t do wine and they don’t have a full bar, but this is a differentiator not a drawback. They don’t try to be the expert in mixology or wine tasting — they simply have beer (as well as usually sours, cider, and a feature cocktail or two). Limitations breed creativity; this smaller menu frees them up to do great things with the products they focus on. You really just go there wanting what they have (or experiencing new things you haven’t tried). Not like the dude bro I saw at Amigos last week, trying to order a bunch of chain sports bar appies. He seemed genuinely shocked that a bar might have fresh options instead of a wide array of frozen Sysco snacks.

If I was to single out my favourite Shelter beer, it’s the New England IPA, or Neipa (some people pronounce it, “Neepa.”). I was never a fan of hoppy beers and IPAs, but this one won me over. It’s a hazy-style IPA, brewed with El Dorado, mosaic, and citrus hops. It has refreshing citrus notes; you can taste the hops, but it’s not overwhelmingly bitter. You can also find Neipa in other places, like my home away from home, The Yard & Flagon. And you can buy some Shelter beers for take-out.

So, yeah, the drinks are top shelf. But what doubles down and sends Shelter into the stratosphere of Saskatoon hang outs is the food, which is branded separately as Dylan & Cam’s Tacos. And let me tell you, Dylan and Cam aren’t fucking around. These taco slinging mofos have their game on lock. Like the drink offerings, Dylan & Cam’s has a modest menu, but it’s surprisingly powerful. Too many restaurants offer giant menus that their kitchen staff can’t execute. In step with the minimal vibe at Shelter, Dylan & Cam do less — so they can do it better. 

Of course, there are tacos (duh), with fillings like carnitas (confit pork shoulder), birra (beef, braised in chilis), chicken asado (grilled chicken), the vegan Papas (potato, soy chorizo), and vegan and gluten-free sweet potato.

There are also offerings like quesabirra (lightly fried corn tortillas with beef and cheese), pozole (soup), ensalada (salad), and even a kids’ quesadilla. Plus, tortilla chips that you can also order with their amazing homemade guacamole. They have a couple of desserts, though I admittedly haven’t tried them. I always just order another barley sandwich for dessert.

My go-to dish on the chip front is their famous pool nachos. Imagine those shitty nachos and pump cheese you got from the pool concession as a kid (or from 7-11 as a drunken 20-year-old). Now, re-imagine them — with fresh tortilla chips, a creamy homemade cheese sauce, pickled jalapenos and salsa fresca. (You can add meat or papas as well, but I usually just grab a side of guac with them). Even if I’m just there for a beer, I can’t walk into Shelter without ordering the pool nachos. It’s a problem. A delicious, cheese-smothered problem. And if there’s a solution, keep it to yourself and let me drown in creamy cheese.

I’ve had the tacos many a time, but at some point I discovered the burritos and never looked back. They’re stuffed with rice, beans, salsa fresca, sour cream, and lettuce and your protein of choice (the same fillings as the tacos).

Hot damn, these things are good. Tightly rolled, tasting fresh and flavourful, a delicious karate kick to the mouth that’ll knock your tastebuds into next week. After demolishing a few beers and some pool nachos, I usually just eat half the burrito and save the rest for a hungover lunch the next day.

If the secret to the good life is to enjoy the laughter of friends and family with a cold beer and some hot eats in front of you, then my friends, Shelter Brewing Company is everywhere you wanna be. Let it beckon you down 2nd Avenue with its chill vibes, killer brews, and tacos from outer space.

The Stones said it best — “Gimme Shelter.”

(The photo was from St. Patrick’s Day, hence the green beer/gin concoction).

Craig Silliphant

Craig Silliphant is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, editor, critic, creative director, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He has written two books; a non-fiction book about Saskatoon's music scene, Exile Off Main St, and a book of short stories called Nothing You Do Matters. He's a husband and father who loves living in Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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