Walk into The Den, but bring blankets Owners behind world’s largest snow maze launch sub-zero fine dining experience

A business known for seasonal family fun is adding frosty fine dining — or, more accurately, “adventure dining” — to the menu.

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A business known for seasonal family fun is adding frosty fine dining — or, more accurately, “adventure dining” — to the menu.

Beginning Saturday, intrepid foodies will be able to reserve a table made from frozen river ice for a sub-zero meal at The Den Restaurant, a temporary eatery made entirely of snow at A Maze in Corn.

“If you want to make something marketable, you’ve got to make it remarkable,” says Clint Masse, who co-owns the maze and zip line park near St. Adolphe, with his wife.

The Masse family got a taste of remarkable in 2019, when their annual snow maze was named largest in the world by the Guinness World Records association — a title that has attracted visitors from across Canada and the United States.

The international interest prompted Masse to start brainstorming other snow-based attractions.

“I figured (a restaurant) is less elaborate than a hotel,” Masse says, referring to the icy Hôtel de Glace in Quebec. “Now, I’m not so sure.”

Crews have been working on the roughly 2,000 square-foot restaurant in fluctuating temperatures for the last month. The structure is formed by piling approximately 500,000 pounds of snow on top of arched metal frames, which, when removed, leave hard-packed interior walls and high vaulted ceilings.

The Den — so named for the restaurant’s cave-like atmosphere — has a private ice bar, three dining rooms and seating for about 100 diners. The tables are made from cubes of snow and slabs of ice harvested from the Red River and seats have been fashioned from logs topped with furry cushions. Fittingly, the entrance is guarded by a family of carved snow bears.

Stepping inside the restaurant is an experience unto itself. It’s dark and near silent thanks to a lack of windows and thick well-insulated walls. While sunlight seeps into the doorways during the day, candles and twinkle lights fill the space at night.

The dining room is shielded from the elements, but the ambient temperature remains below zero degrees celsius at all times (heating a building made of snow isn’t an option for obvious reasons).

Prior to The Den’s inaugural dinner service, event co-ordinators Dave and Jenn Neufeld have been working through a laundry list of cold-weather considerations.

Wine and water will be stored in ice-free coolers to keep from freezing, the dishware will be warmed prior to plating to keep food hot and the fresh cutlery will be brought out with each course so diners aren’t eating with ice-cold knives and forks.

“All those fine details, you have to think about,” Jenn says.

“Honestly, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare,” Dave adds. “But we’ve got a plan in place to pull it all off.”

The husband-and-wife co-owners of Whitetail Meadow — an event venue in nearby Niverville — have facilitated many special occasions, but never outdoors in the dead of winter. They jumped at the opportunity when approached by Masse and had surprisingly little trouble convincing others to come aboard.

“I thought this was going to be a harder sell,” Dave says. “We called (WOW Catering) and left them a message and within maybe 10 minutes, chef Luc called me back and was like, ‘We’re in, what can we do?’”

Chef Luc Jean is a managing partner of the catering arm of WOW Hospitality Concepts. He was wrapping up a trip to Thailand this week (and thus unavailable for an interview), but will be returning from the tropics to helm The Den kitchen over the next month. Chef de cuisine Reuben Mathew was on site Tuesday with a clipboard in hand.

“Honestly, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare… But we’ve got a plan in place to pull it all off.”–Dave Neufeld

“This is something different,” he says, surveying the still-under-construction restaurant. “We always like challenges.”

The kitchen will be operating out of a heated mobile trailer outside the restaurant. Serving staff will be dressed in winter attire and matching toques while running food to and fro.

Mathew and Jean have created several menus of warm comfort food and locally sourced ingredients. The Den is open two nights per week until Mar. 11. Fridays will feature a lineup of 14 tapas for $130 per guest; bites include bison carpaccio, beetroot fritters, mushroom caps and pickerel cheek lollipops. Saturdays offer a rotating four-course menu of hot soups, earthy salads, bison-based entrées and warm desserts for $180 per person. Tickets include gratuity, a signature cocktail and live entertainment.

Guests should arrive prepared to spend several hours in sub-zero temperatures. Parkas, ski pants and winter boots are encouraged. Blankets aren’t a bad idea either.

“We think what we’re doing here is pretty special and pretty unique,” Dave Neufeld says. “And it’s not going to be for everybody, we do understand that.”

Visit The Den restaurant’s website for a full menu and to make a reservation.


Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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