Tonimoes and Shivers at the Mackenzie Hotel – Inuvik, NWT


Tonimoes Restaurant, Shivers Bar @ Mackenzie Hotel
185 Mackenzie Road, Inuvik
Northwest Territories
(867) 777-2861

Sunday Brunch. Nice in theory. Generally over-rated in my personal opinion. You typically pay more than you would pay for breakfast, to eat more than you would, or should, normally eat, with a wider selection of items of a lesser quality. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the “romantic” aspects of brunch. Socialization. A time of gathering. That wonderfully fuzzy time that’s not too early, but still acceptable to be eating breakfast. It’s nice. But the quality can really vary. And then there’s brunch, and there is BRUNCH. At Tonimoes at the MacKenzie Delta Hotel, we’re talking brunch.

The Mackenzie Delta Hotel is the most famous hotel in Inuvik. Which is kind of like saying the Eiffel Tower is the most famous tower in Paris. Not a lot of competition. However, well before venturing to Inuvik, I had heard a lot regarding the Mackenzie. Their “scotch” night. Sunday Brunch. Best meal in Inuvik. Only meal in Inuvik. Really, with a reputation like that, there was only one thing to do – try it myself.

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Sunday Brunch is a quiet family affair. The room was mostly empty, filled with a few families, and a few couples. It’s a nice room – clean, well appointed if a little spread apart. There is, afterall, spacious, and then there an uncomfortable amount of space between tables.

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My beef with buffets often comes down to the food. Many dishes  sit around for long periods of time, being gently warmed to well done by the red glow of the heat lamp. Most things lack freshness – or a la minute as many breakfast items (like poached eggs) should be cooked at. At Tonimoes, all my worst buffet nightmares come true. Chafing dishes filled with cooked foods, kept warm for hours. The bacon is crispy-soggy, the eggs, inedible. Most of the hot dishes are in fact barely edible. Hollandaise that has separated. Potatoes that do not taste like potatoes. I tried a little of everything, and ended up sticking to safe things that i would not get sick on. Like bacon and breakfast sausage. Eggs are a bit too adventerous for me.

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The best thing available? The carrot cake. One of the many previously frozen desserts available, but seemed to withstand freezing much better than some of the other choices. Nothing to write home about, but after biting and spitting out one of the chocolate tarts, this was welcome relief indeed.

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I didnt go into this experience loving brunch, and i have to admit, this one didnt convert me either. Food? Poor. Price? Average.  If you need a requisite 12,000 calories before heading into the bush, then maybe this is the meal for you. Otherwise? You’d be better off not eating at all. Not really, but pretty close.

Bonus Coverage: Shivers Bar at the Mackenzie Hotel.

So i was told that you’ve not had a true Mackenzie experience until you’ve eaten at Shivers. Im not sure what a Mackenzie experience is, but after my Brunch experience, i should’ve known better. One night, I went in to Shivers to order some food. They have a BBQ half chicken with mashed potatoes and veg as the daily special. Sounds great, so i give it an order. After all, how badly can they mess up roast chicken?

Well, my dining companions order as well. And their food comes. 40 minutes later, still no chicken. Finally, my chicken shows up. A little over zealous in the application of bulls eye (actually, after having looked at the local grocery store, it’s more likely Heinz) BBQ sauce, but looks good. I slice into the chicken. It’s a bit firm. But i manage. Take a bite…and then spit it out. It’s frozen on the inside, and still raw.

Now the service is excellent there. The manager came over and rectified it immediately. Brought me a new order of nachos, which were comped, and quite large and excellent to boot. I feel for the manager. He was not surprised my food was raw. He’s handled this situation before…numerous times i would guess.

So, let me sum it up for you. There is no dining experience like the Mackenzie Hotel. When people tell you this, it really means, it’s generally terrible, but, if you stick to safe elements, you’ll be ok.  Nachos, wings, burgers, beer. These were all quite reasonable, and the only things that should be ordered off the menu. The manager is nice, and a decent guy to talk to. If he isnt spending his evening running around trying to fix raw chicken orders. There really is no where like the Mackenzie Hotel!

Caribou Cafe at the Eskimo Inn – Inuvik, NWT


Caribou Cafe at the Eskimo Inn
133 Mackenzie Rd, Inuvik
North West Territories
(867) 777-3675

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Cloud 9 Cafeteria – Inuvik, NWT


Cloud 9 Cafeteria
Inuvik Airport
North West Territories
(867) 777-3541

Whenever I roll into a small town, the first thing I always do is ask the locals where they feel the best place to eat. With a large enough sample size, you can get some reasonable recommendations. Typically, I don’t stay that long, so i don’t like missing out on a potential great find. You can end up dining at some pretty mediocre places, and before you know it – poof! You’re gone, left with nothing but an upset stomach, some bad memories, and a few regrets of meals gone bad.

Now of course, you never know their actual reasons for why they like a place. Maybe their friend owns it. Maybe they serve free coffee. Maybe the person who owns the fancy restaurant in town is considered a “outsider” – one of the strange folk from the big city. So by no means do i suggest that this be your only method of intel gathering, but I have discovered it is a good start. So when i rolled into Inuvik, I asked. People who had grown up in the city, and moved to Inuvik all universally said one place – Cloud 9 at the Inuvik airport.

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Now airport food is almost universally disparaged. At most typical airports, food is poor quality and over priced. But Inuvik does not have your typical airport, and Cloud 9 is not your typical cafeteria. From what i could observe, it was set up to feed both travellers, and locals who didnt have the time nor the inclination to drive all the way back to town in order to get lunch. The steady stream of business that entered and left spoke well of the food – or, maybe because they were the only game in town.

I won’t spend much time discussing decor. There isnt much to discuss. It’s clean. Spartan. You order from one place, and pay in another. It’s a cafeteria.

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One of the benefits of the north is a local supply of protein out of the ordinary.  One of the more interesting items on the menu was musk ox chili. Muskox is an arctic animal, mostly known for their prized wool. Their meat, however, is high in protein and low in fat – much leaner than chicken breast even. There is a bit of a gamey flavour, but it is quite pleasant. Tender, flavourful, it is an excellent quality meat. The chili itself was a revelation. Mildly spiced, it had excellent tomato flavour. The beans were a touch soft, but the meat was fantastic- small explosions of flavour in each bite of meat made for a great chili.

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To continue on “greasy spoon” theme for this week,  the prime choice of the day was musk ox burger and fries, with the fries upgraded to poutine. I didnt think the leaness of the muskox would suit itself well to a burger, which ended up being the case mostly because it was cooked to well done. It was a bit dry, though the flavour was quite nice. Cooked to medium would’ve been perfect. However, finding a decent tomato, non limp lettuce, and a decent bun was a surprise, and upgraded the burger overall to good. The poutine was covered in shredded cheese, and the largest load of gravy i’d seen north of the 49th. There was literally more gravy than fries. The fries were a bit undercooked, as i generally prefer them to be a bit crispier if they are doused in gravy, but overall, decent.

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Though your typical airport serves less than stellar food, Cloud 9 Cafeteria bucks the trend. While the standard restaurant food quality in Inuvik is fairly low, i would be happy with this kind of food at any airport. Don’t get me wrong – this is not award winning stuff. But based on what i’ve eaten around town, this was really as good as it gets.

Eagle Plains Hotel – Eagle Plains, YT


Eagle Plains Hotel
Eagle Plains – Kilometer 371, Dempster Highway
Yukon Territory
(867) 993-2453

When travelling in remote areas, good food is more of a luxury. than an expectation. You really can’t count on what you’re going to get – sometimes, i’ve encountered some of the best, home-style, lovingly cooked food. Sometimes, barely edible mush. So when driving the Dempster Highway, and we came to the half way point between Inuvik and Dawson City, I had no idea what to expect.

Eagle Plains is what lies at roughly the half way point. The only hotel rooms, restaurant and bar for many many miles, it’s a natural stopping point for people travelling one of the most scenic highways i’ve ever seen. Comparable to the Icefields Parkway/Jasper-Banff highway. Very pretty and well worth a visit!

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With a a snowstorm threatening our visibility, we were happy to stop. Inside the hotel, there was a bar, complete with stuffed and mounted animal heads, and a cafeteria masquerading as a restaurant. Starving, we opted for some food before hitting the bar.

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Looking at the extensive menu, there is an incredible amount of selection. From sandwiches, to fish and chips, to steak, pasta, chops, salads and everything in between, the length of the menu told me one thing – most of the items had to be  frozen. The only “fresh” item on the menu was the fresh baked pie. A positive steal at $3.25.

Both extremely hungry, we figure that hamburgers are the best way to go. After all, it’s hard to mess up a burger. Having a rather large appetite, i opt for the Eagle Burger – two 5oz patties, cheese, turkey, and fried egg , served with your choice of side for $12.95. The arctic circle burger exludes the egg, and drops the price a dollar.

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The verdict on the burgers? Nice juicy patties – definitely chock full of fat. Handmade – not machine made, i still get the sense (based on the textur) that the patties were frozen, defrosted and cooked. It was actually really quite  tasty though. Nice balance of flavours. Lousy bun, but what do you expect 400 km from the nearest grocery store. It’s greasy, but that was neither a surprise, nor unwelcome. The pie (ala mode) was decent, but also greasy.

Breakfast the next morning was more of the same. Their breakfast sandwich (called the Klondike express) was $7.95, was egg, ham and cheese on an English muffin, served with hashbrowns. The hashbrowns were undercooked, and not very good. But the breakfast sandwich was an indulgence in grill grease, and definitely hit the spot before setting off.

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At the end of the day, there isnt much to say about Eagle Plains Hotel. First off, you don’t really have a choice – it’s the only place for miles. Secondly, it’s a greasy spoon, so you should go into it expecting this. However, the taste of the food is actually really good, and based on what i was expecting, they definitely exceeded expectations. In this case, we got lucky with the remote location, as they put some effort into getting some decent ingredients, and serving them. In remote areas, you won’t always get this lucky, but this is a good place to grab some solid grub. The highway is definitely worth the trip – and the burger is well worth stopping for as well.

Faux KFC – Inuvik, NWT


Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) @ The Northern
MacKenzie Road
Inuvik, NWT
(857) 777-2582

I love traditions. To me, they are like the signposts of life. They remind you of things from your past, and give you something to look forward to. Out of all the “traditions” that my friends and family have established, one of my favorites is the KFC meal.

I grew up eating KFC as a treat. There was no extra crispy, or other wacky options. It was original or original. I remember the days my father would come home from work with a bucket of KFC. If i could get to the first drumstick, those were good days indeed. KFC was a part of my childhood, and even as i grew older, still held a lot of nostalgia for me. Besides, KFC tasted really good as a kid.

Fast forward to University. It’s my best friend’s birthday, and slightly short on money, and definitely short on ideas, we decide it’s a good idea to split a 20 piece bucket of chicken. The folly of youth. We each eat 10 pieces, partly because it tasted good, and partly because of bravado, and we proceeded to throw up. The human body just wasnt designed to handle that much grease – without copious amounts of beer anyway.

We couldn’t eat KFC again. Until the following year, when, on his birthday, we decided “why not”, and ordered a 20 piece bucket again. I believe i was the only one purging that year. My best friend had somehow developed a better resistance to the grease.

We do it every year now, for his birthday. It’s the only time each year that we eat KFC. I look forward to these times, as it’s part nostalgic, part good story, and really, i do look forward to eating my KFC once a year. Until i got ripped off this year.

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My best friend’s birthday found us in Inuvik. Thankfully, there is a KFC in town, so we were able to continue our tradition. Inside a department store, i waited at the KFC/Taco Bell combo. 15 piece bucket (we’re a bit older now), gravy to go. They throw chicken into the oven and start baking it. This isnt right. What’s going on here? Maybe they’re trying to defrost it, then toss it in the fryer. Who knows.

30 minutes later, our bucket is given to us, with our large side of gravy. The gravy is definitely KFC gravy – thick, clumpy, congealed and fatty, it’s heaven in a bowl! The chicken, however, does not come in the requisite Colonel Sanders bucket. It’s some strange “chicken” bucket.

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I get the receipt. Apparently i ordered a KFC Large Gravy, and miscellaneous, proprietary, 15 piece baked chicken! This wasnt KFC – this was Faux KFC! They were selling their own chicken, not calling it KFC to avoid getting sued, and adding it to the bill, fooling unsuspecting people. This story was later confirmed – it was not real KFC – it was my very first fake KFC.

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Not really wanting to relive another fried chicken experience, we decided this one would count. We ate the bucket. Surprisingly enough, the chicken was decent. Ok really. Didnt taste like KFC, but it wasnt terrible either. Especially in Inuvik, where the choices are extremely limited. A solid 5 out of 10.

While the pieces we order each year are decreasing, and the likelihood of vomitting these days is generally very slim, i’ve found the onset of age brings practicality and wisdom. I look forward and enjoy this tradition each year, fake KFC or not. It is a unique and interesting tradition that only my best friend and I share.

How about you – do you have any food traditions you can share with the rest of us? We’d love to hear about them!