Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mango Stilton, Lunch Tweetups, and the Fox Den Lounge

My fondness for MacDonald Island Park isn't really a secret in this community. I have always been fond of it, even when it was truly just a recreation centre. Under the leadership of COO Tim Reid, though, and his MI Team, Mac Island has truly become the heart of this community. It's where I go to the gym. It's where I take the Intrepid Junior Bloggers to the library, and to swim. It's where I attend so many events, and it's where I eat the food that leads me right back to the gym (that's a vicious cycle, that one, sticky toffee pudding consumed and hitting the gym to atone the day after).

What I think is truly great about Mac Island, though, are all the people who work there. A couple of weeks ago the Director of Hospitality, Naved Noorani, invited me for lunch at the newly renovated Fox Den Lounge. Now, the Fox Den is the restaurant located right on the golf course, and as such you might think it's a typical golf course club house - but in reality it is much more.

I suppose I forget from time to time what a lovely spot it is at Mac Island. Surrounded by trees, the verdant forest right there beside you. I've often seen fox and deer, and even bear, around the island. And the best part is that the Fox Den is located right on that forested edge, and as a result has, hands down, the best patio in town. Instead of dust from Highway 63 (like some local patios) you get fresh air coming from the forest. And the wildlife you are likely to see is of the four-legged variety, not the two-legged kind, which is a bonus, too.

When Naved invited me for lunch, to check out the new decor and to try the new menu, I was delighted. I like many things, including lunch, and even better lunch with friends. The restaurant had just opened for the season so I was thrilled to get a chance to be in on the debut of the menu - and I was not disappointed.

There was a time, before Naved took over and before new chefs were hired, that the food at Mac Island was lacklustre. It just wasn't as good as it could be, and that was disappointing to me. With the arrival of the new executive chef Jaimeet Kathuria the food began to get better - much, much better, including that sticky toffee pudding that is both one of my greatest food joys and the bane of my waistline. So when Naved said the Fox Den had a new menu and a new chef I was delighted to give it a try.

Sous-chef Tanner Morgan, Jaimeet, and Naved put their heads together when planning the new menu for the Fox Den, keeping the original dishes that were popular but adding some new ones as well. On the day Naved and I had lunch we had the sweet potato fries, and regular fries, served in little metal baskets (and good beyond what simple fries should be!). Then we moved on, me to the Chinatown Lettuce Wraps. Now, these are a bit tricky to eat, as you must wrap them yourself, but they are worth every bit of the trouble. Tender seasoned beef or chicken, crisp noodles, and a wrapping of lettuce makes them into a crunchy, savoury treat. While they are on the appetizer menu an order is more than enough for lunch, or perfect for two to share as a snack.

While we ate and chatted both Tanner and Jaimeet came over to chat as well, talking about their vision for the food at the lounge. Jaimeet had me try the cheese they use on one of their salads - a mango Stilton that is pretty much one of the best cheeses I've ever tasted (and I am a cheese junkie, particularly of those flavourful varieties like blue cheeses). I only managed to eat about half my wraps when Naved insisted I try the dessert, a banana cheesecake Xango (apparently code word for deep fried deliciousness). By the time I finished that (and okay, while I didn't finish the wraps I pretty much licked my dessert plate clean, sigh) I knew I was going to spend a few hours in the gym repenting my wayward but delicious ways.

And it wasn't just the food that was great, either. It was the company of Naved and his staff, friendly and attentive, talking about the lounge and Mac Island but about our community, too. It was just a day after the provincial election and I was still reeling a bit from the month of campaigning so to just sit and eat with friends, to chat and relax, was beyond lovely. I mentioned to Naved that I was planning a lunch time "tweetup", which is just a gathering of people who use Twitter (you spread the word about it through Twitter, and it really is just an opportunity to meet new people). And then Naved made the most astounding offer. He asked if I would consider holding it at the Fox Den Lounge - and they would host it, providing free lunch for twenty people.

I was actually astonished. I've never had anyone make that kind of offer, so I accepted immediately, knowing it would likely be the most successful lunch tweetup ever - and it was. On May 3rd about 25 people gathered at the Fox Den Lounge for lunch, including two former Fort Mac residents who are now attending school in Edmonton. It was a chance to meet new people, spend time with friends, and enjoy some great food. Not only did Naved and his staff host us they treated the group royally, and in the end not a single person paid for their food. It was an amazing act of generosity, and while they got to introduce the food and new decor to new patrons I got to plan a terrific lunch event where I was delighted to see members of our community enjoy each other's company. It was, quite frankly, my favourite kind of event in this community.

So, the Fox Den Lounge, MacDonald Island Park, Naved, his staff, Tim Reid and the rest of the MI Team? Well, they've got my heart, no doubt. They have treated me with kindness and generosity at every turn, and have welcomed me into their little MI family. They also have my stomach, as just writing this I am finding it growling at the very thought of some mango stilton cheese and some cheesecake Xango. And in the end the fitness centre at Mac Island pretty much owns my body, a body pumped full of sticky toffee pudding and stilton cheese and cheesecake. In fact as I finish this post I realize it is lunch time, and I haven't made any lunch plans. And I went to the gym this morning, so I am feeling quite virtuous. That can only mean one thing, people....

Fox Den Lounge, here I come. Save me a table, would you?

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