Special to Drinkscoaster: guest post by Caddie T’Kenye
Let’s say you’re at about 68.3617° North 133.7306° West, and you’re feeling somewhat peckish… what to do, what to do…
Out of towners (business people, construction workers), tourists (last stop on the Dempster Highway, thus a Must.Do.Zone for RVers), and those very few random strangers who just happen to be passing through (for reasons not revealed) would probably just wander into one of the dining rooms attached to whichever one of Inuvik’s hotels they’re staying at. Those adventurous enough to go outside might order up a bit of this or that from the very eclectic fast-food menu at the takeout.
But not me. I don’t live there, but I think like a local. I’d head on over to Cloud 9, out at the airport, just like everybody else who has ever had the good luck to be clued into this little gem-o-the-North. It’s not a big surprise that out-of-towners might eat there — it is the airport café, after all — but that locals will drive out there for lunch *in groups* is a big of a gold star. I’ve had a taxi driver take me out there and go in and have lunch himself, and then refuse to let me pay for the trip because he was going to go anyway.
Trust me, they’re not headed out there for the décor. That’s totally High-School Cafeteria on the worst day ever. Too many tables and way too many chairs, crammed far too closely together. Be prepared to share. And when you share, be prepared to talk to whoever sits with you. That’s a North thing. People expect at least a greeting, and maybe some conversation, too, like “who are you and why are you here?”
And they’re not headed there for a quick turnaround, either. They’re busy, very busy during the flights in and the flights out, and they aren’t open much time on either side of the flights. Generally, check the airport hours. If the airport isn’t open, Cloud 9 isn’t open.
So it’s the food. Now, food in the North is subject to certain ground rules: It’s ‘cold’ even when it’s ‘warm’ out. This is a hectic climate that demands to be faced with Real Food. It’s not really a ‘food tower’ kind of atmosphere.
And the work people do here is heavy for the most part, and those workers like to chow down on something solid. The portions are generous.
And although they’ve converted the old skating rink into a huge greenhouse community garden, most commercial fruit and vegetables still arrive by plane. Nobody, but nobody, is ‘vegan’ around here — I’m not sure this is even feasible.
Beef, pork, chicken, cheese, fresh milk, and eggs are all flown in, too, of course, so the menu can be a bit shaky in bad weather conditions. Naturally, during a 10 day blizzard, fruit and vegetables revert to whatever is available in the frozen food section at the local shops.
On the other hand, meat is running around loose outside. Bison, musk ox, deer, and caribou and other country meats are included in the selections here, both on the menu and on the ‘special today’ board.
Cloud 9 features a solid, back-to-the-land cuisine—both in terms of what is prepared and how it’s prepared—and the results are superb. I have had a musk ox stew here that made me want to eat two plates full, back to back, just to keep that flavour happening in my mouth. I refrained, because I would have exploded, but if I’d had a tupperware container with me, I would have taken some home, and not for the dog.
I’m not a fries fan, and I can’t say I’m blown away by them, but slap some cheese curds and that dark, rich gravy Cloud 9 features on top of a stack of them and call it poutine, and you’ve got me. That’s an item that did make it into a tupperware container. I tried bringing that home with me but it only made it as far as Edmonton. Sorry, dog.
I love the stew, I love the Monte Cristo sandwich, I even love the quesadillas (yes, you heard me correctly), but I love.Love.LOVE the Cloud 9 Burger. Even the beef burger is fabulously tasty, for it’s type, but I can get *elk* or *bison* or even *musk ox*. I cannot resist that rich home-on-the-range taste. Yet even though the elk walked 600 km before they got here, somehow Cloud 9 manages to get the patties juicy and tender. Surprisingly enough, the lettuce and tomato in all my burgers has always been fresh and crisp, with enough of both to offset the richness of the meat. No matter which one of the burgers I have ordered, I have always embarrassed myself: as soon as the plate hit the table and I had my first bite, I’ve gone into a feeding frenzy and couldn’t leave it alone until it is was no more.
Seriously, while I’d advise anyone to eat there for the sake of adding to your store of valuable reminiscences for Christmas Eves with your family in your decrepitude (“Oh GAWD, the Up North Stories again!”), the actual experience of the food at Cloud 9 is an end in itself. That’s Damn.Fine.Food, no matter what latitude you find yourself in.