Story by Miguel Strother
Vacay.ca Western Canada Sports Editor
CRAWFORD BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA — About this time last year I got an invitation to visit from Kokanee Springs golf course and resort, outside of Nelson, British Columbia. Kokanee Springs has been around since 1968. On the surface, the resort looked like just the right excuse for a great Canadian road trip. And, as is so often the case, the destination, beautiful as it was, paled in comparison to the journey to the Kootenay Region of the province.
Our road trip, went something like this: the Comox Valley of Vancouver Island to Victoria. Victoria to Vancouver. Vancouver to Kamloops. Kamloops to Revelstoke (the best!). Revelstoke to Crawford Bay (Kokanee Springs). Returning trip from Crawford Bay to Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley. Osoyoos to Vancouver. And it might just have been the best road trip I’ve ever taken, anywhere.
Kokanee Springs looked like a lovely little spot to spend a few days golfing and lapping up lake life. When we arrived, from the ferry rides and hot springs and incredible luxury that connected us to Revelstoke, the resort proved to be a bit of a work in progress. But like so many of the best places in Canada, rough-around-the-edges Kokanee Springs has moments of nearly unfathomable charm. These instances mostly come down the road from the golf course, in the nearby Village of Crawford Bay (population 350).
From all-ages Sunday afternoon soccer games (anybody welcome) to handmade brooms, blown glass and artisans of all sorts, Crawford Bay is absolute Canadiana; the type of thing just about any visitor to British Columbia needs to be directed to (enter the writer). And for me, Crawford Bay unexpectedly offered up just about the most perfect food I’ve ever eaten.
Black Salt Cafe may serve the best food on God’s green earth. Really. Yes, it’s easy to remember that I am a guy who tries to order cheeseburgers in five-diamond restaurants.
I am definitely more Surf Shack than I am The Chef’s Apprentice. But I have eaten some pretty exceptional meals. I put myself through university working in fine-dining restaurants, rubbing elbows with world-class chefs, and continue to eat in some high-falutin joints because I enjoy the experience. I do appreciate the artistry of it all; however, the best meal I had previously eaten was in an $8-per-night beachside bungalow run by a Thai-Italian Muslim family: Tom yum soup and baked grouper. It cost around $3.
For me, food is about soul, not doilies and salad forks and certainly not pretense. This food tasted of a family, born of completely different backgrounds in completely different countries, that built what they had from the ground up in quite literally the middle of nowhere. They paid absolute attention to and engaged with their guests. They put similar attentiveness and concern into their recipes, which resulted in food that tasted of joy, of revelations. I’ve often told my wife that when we can hire our own personal chef, the woman who ran that kitchen would be first in line. That is until, 10 years and many, many trips later, I wound up in Crawford Bay.
A Family-Run Restaurant You Will Never Forget
Black Salt is an odd-looking little family-run cafe along the Crawford Bay strip where dad busses the tables, kids take the orders and mom conjures magic through the window of a tiny kitchen. After playing golf at Kokanee Springs I joined my family on the eclectic garden patio. I ordered a nicoise salad ($10 for a large order) and waited for about 30 minutes for it to come. The wait was hardly a bother (although these are things I always notice) because of the wild cast of Canadian road trippers who were passing through. Bikers, fishermen, families, and a generally marvellous mix of well-informed folks who’d made their way to this seemingly very out-of-the-way place. As for the food, based on what I had eaten in the restaurant at the golf course, frankly, I did not expect much. What I got was perfectly seared tuna, fresh greens that tasted of the earthy smells of the town itself, free-range eggs that must have been boiled to within micro-seconds of perfection, just enough to drizzle across the rest of the ingredients, and all of the requisite flavours of a classic dish yet mixed with experience, devotion, lakeside thunderstorms, August sunshine and a clear sense of artistry.
When finished my salad I could hardly believe my satisfaction. In fact I didn’t believe it, so several hours later I found the phone number and called in to order off the rough-shod electronic menu I found online. Veggies steamed with sherry vinaigrette and chorizo ($9), along with peppered black angus beef with stilton ($13). Again, I waited, this time for nearly an hour. Again, what I got was a masterfully presented taste of place, fresh and seasoned, that will never let me forget Crawford Bay, its high grass, rich mountain soil, glacier-fed breezes, lakeside beaches. The rarest of soul food.
Kokanee Springs, which celebrated its one millionth round of golf last season, is in fact situated in Crawford Bay on Kootenay Lake and just five minutes by car from the Black Salt Cafe. It is an absolutely excellent golf course. Extremely well laid out, with views of Kootenay Lake and the Kokanee Glacier throughout, and any golfer worth their handicap would tell you that this is a brilliant course design. I was particularly fond of the pro I played with, an athletic local boy who had golfed in university and professionally in the United States. He had worked in inner city Los Angeles as a teacher, and was now settled back home in Nelson.
Kokanee Springs Resort itself is hardly a resort at all. The motel-style rooms that make up the bulk of Kokanee Springs’ inventory are clean, but have all the charm of a $40 highway stop. And while the golfing holiday packages offered are inexpensive, don’t expect much other than the course. The website for the resort displays well-designed condominiums, and those are on the site as part of an aggressive attempt to upgrade the resort, but there aren’t many of them and none were available during our stay. The views from the windows of the long band of older rooms we stayed in are lined with presumably broken-down golf carts and are not somewhere one would want to spend much time other than to shower off after golf or sleep.
That said, if you get out after your round of golf or practice at Kokanee Springs, and spend your time cruising Crawford Bay, you will find yourself in about as honest a small-town Canadian experience as you could possibly imagine, and your stomach will never forget it.
MORE ABOUT KOKANEE SPRINGS
Location: Woolgar Road, Crawford Bay, BC (see map below)
Telephone: 1-800-979-7999 (toll free)
Green Fees: $89 for 18 holes; $45 twilight rates. Stay-and-play packages begin at $150. Click here for details.
MORE ABOUT BLACK SALT CAFE
Location: 16072 Highway 3A, Crawford Bay, BC
Menu Price Range: Dinner items range from $7-$15. Lunch features soups, salads, muffins, falafels and wrap sandwiches; all lunch items are $10 or less.