Reporter's Notebook from Fort McMurray

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

I'm not obsessed with food.

I swear.

Nonetheless, I must admit, one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip to Fort McMurray has been the amazing dining experiences.

After a full week here, I can think of only three meals that have been less than absolutely excellent. And even those three ranked a solid "good" rating.

So, for today's Reporter's Notebook, I'd like to highlight one of the delicious if slightly strange restaurants: the Kozy Korner.

Lacking in broad advertising and bright signage, the Kozy Korner probably is not the first stop for most tourists in this oil-boom town.

The Kozy Korner is exactly what it's name suggests: A cozy little diner frequented by locals in plaid flannel shirts and steel-toed work boots. Though situated next to a strip mall, the building bears a cottage-like design. Bright colored walls and doorways bring light to the small space, and pictures of local athletes give an at-home feeling.

Featuring its own homemade bread, the restaurant's signature meal probably is breakfast, which is served all day. But the menu also includes a full selection, from hot and cold sandwiches to burgers to dinner platters.

According to the hotel housekeeper, a Newfoundlander who recommended the diner as an opportunity to sample dishes from her native province, the meals are less western and mid-Canada than eastern seaboard.

That means the menu offers a whole new set of unfamiliar offerings perfect for another installment of the Reporter's Notebook.

I order a BLT and fries, playing it on the safe side, while photographer Scott Moon selects a dinner of cod and mashed potatoes. Both are superb. The sandwich comes on the restaurant's thick, homemade white bread, and the vegetables look and taste fresh. The fries come with a side of gravy, which actually is quite tasty atop the fried potato strips. Scott's mashed potatoes come from real potatoes, not a box, and he says the meal tastes like a home-cooked dinner from his Michigan youth.

Of course, if the dinner stopped there, this wouldn't be a very interesting story.

Also on the menu are a number of unfamiliar selections, which we obviously inquire about.

Poutine, a side dish, turns out to be fries with cheese and gravy. Unfamiliar, but probably harmless, though I probably would prefer one topping or the other, rather than a combination.

Bologna comes as a dinner platter, and when Scott asks how it's cooked, the waitress looks shocked.

"You've never had bologna?"

Scott explains that Americans traditionally eat the meat cold on sandwiches, rather than fried as a dinner.

Then there are the cod tongues.

Scott's first guess is that the title is a euphemism for thin slices of fried fish.

He's wrong.

No, the selection actually features the deep-fat fried tongues from the mouths of large, ocean-dwelling fish.

When Scott asks the waitress if they're good, she grimaces, looks only slightly nauseated and replies, "We sell a lot of them."

She offers to bring us a sample.

Scott ("I'll try anything once") takes the first bite. After about 45 seconds of chewing, he delivers a smirking grin, reaches for his iced tea and says, "It's an acquired taste."

So, after several minutes of hesitation, I rip open a packet of tartar sauce and give it a try.

Acquired? Not by me. Slimy, chewy, fishy. An accurate description eludes me and I'm a writer.

Still, the atmosphere, service and general cooking at the Kozy Korner is beyond reproach. If you ever have a chance to visit Fort McMurray, it should definitely be one of many meal stops.

But trust me on the cod tongues. Adventurism aside, you probably don't need to try them, even once.

Jenni Dillon

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