Caribou Cafe at the Eskimo Inn
133 Mackenzie Rd, Inuvik
North West Territories
I have a confession. Im fascinated with lounges and restaurants in hotel lobbies. Typically, these paisley clad seating areas with uncomfortable seats are sparsely populated affairs, with a few lonely travelers sitting in silence, contemplating the free bar nuts, the 6th gin martini, or whether accounting will approve the 3rd order of chicken wings on expense account. Yet, somehow, they feel…real. Unpretentious. And sometimes, you even get some great food. Unless you’re on the 30 something floor of the Mandarin Oriental overlooking Columbus Circle in NYC. Then it’s pretentious :)
Lack of pretension is probably the most endearing trait to Inuvik. And across the street from the Mad Trapper, the infamous Inuvik bar, lies the Eskimo Inn. An unpretentious kind of place. When people talk about hotels and Inuvik, they invariably think of the Mackenzie hotel. Yet the Caribou Cafe draws a tremendous number of people for lunch from nearby government offices. Eating options are not plentiful in Inuvik. And prices are high, due to enormous fuel costs for shipping in nearly all perishable goods. Not usually a great combination.
Decor is pretty standard northern faux-thentic. The Eskimo Inn will never be confused with a Ritz Carlton. However, it’s clean. Service is perfunctory, yet extremely slow. They move at a different rhythm to life up here. There is no rush – there is always tomorrow.
Every day, the Caribou Cafe does a tidy lunch business. More often than not, people are ordering the daily soup and sandwich special. On this day, the soup is potato leek, and the sandwich is roast beef. The soup, which many locals swear by, is oily beyond belief. Im not sure if they substituted butter for cream, but it leaves my skin in serious need of an oxy clean. The sandwich, is distinctly average. Bad bread. Condiments. Unremarkable roast beef. At $10, it’s a hearty serve and a good price, especially for Inuvik. But the food is distinctly mediocre.
Continuing with day 3 of the grease parade – this time, a good sampling of their burger and fries. This will easily cure my Eskimo Inn malaise I hoped! However, there is nothing redeeming about this burger (firehouse burger pictured). For $14, what is essentially a Safeway frozen burger loaded with cheap toppings and some lousy fries, i’d rather go to the grocery store and get something else to eat. Even if a big bag of chips costs $5! Or the Inuvialuit Development Corporation next door. Sometimes they have Char Chowder or other local delicacies floating around their staff kitchen. Ask nicely and you may get to try some amazing local food.
I have been expecting this to happen. After all, there must be some let downs in a town covered near in perpetual dark
ness in winter. Sadly, there was nothing enjoyable about the Caribou Cafe. Some people told me their split pea soup is amazing. Something worth trying perhaps, though i am not a huge split pea soup fan. I was hoping that the lobby characteristics of the Caribou Cafe would bring with it some charm, yet it fails to do so. And more importantly, in a town with some history and culture of local food cultivation, the lack of any local ingredients in the food served on my plate makes it even more disappointing. Frozen food trucked up from Yellowknife is not my idea of great restaurant food. Lobby or no lobby.