Real live Space Dock provides dece eats, says local foodie
Rural prairie towns can be culturally strange places, with the unusual and weird taking root when you least expect them to. Even better, weirdness from decades ago can be preserved into the present like a museum of welcoming oddities that you park beside and buy milkshakes from instead of gaze at from behind a barricade.
Lac la Biche, found northeast of Edmonton, is unassuming at first. If you know what you’re doing and don’t mind a bit of hassle, though, you can get a great hotel room at a decent price with a king size-bed, enough space to do an impressive yoga routine, a beer fridge, a nifty chair, and some other less important things.
Nearby this hotel – “the tower” – is a small green building called the V & H Space Dock that I immediately became obsessed with. It’s got a great ’80s vibe, either because that’s when it was built or because the owners scavenged pieces from older buildings.
Wouldn’t a space dock just be a space station?
A retro font boldly explains that they sell burgers, shakes, fries, and chicken while also explaining that it is a Space Dock, which I’m not even certain is a thing that exists. Wouldn’t a space dock just be a space station? Where else are you going to go once you dock somewhere in space? Maybe they mean a loading dock, but in this metaphor we’re loading up on awesome burgers instead of minerals from a meteorite.
There’s a UFO perched haphazardly on the roof of the building, looking like it’s about to crash into it instead of docking at it. It’s an alarming sight for any dock, space or not. The alien pilot wears a goofy grin and is waving hello, though, so maybe that’s actually how you park UFOs. It doesn’t make for good access to the food service windows.
It’s important to note that I almost didn’t even get to eat at the Space Dock – it’s an outdoor venue, and everybody else thought it was too cold. Luckily, though, the last night of the shift was also the last night all of the crews would be together, which meant we got hilariously drunk and stayed up until 3 am. With a 16 hour day looming and a 6 am start someone forgot something important, so one truck had to loop back through Lac la Biche to pick it up and, obviously, stop at the Space Dock for some road burgers and space poutine.
Space Dock itself is a perplexing building. There are two drive-up windows, one on either side, so if you mess up and pull up to the wrong side – the side closest to the road – without a passenger, you’re in for an awkward ordering experience. There are also a couple of picnic tables with umbrellas out front.
The menu continues the mystery! Check this pricing: a mushroom burger is $4.95, a mushroom burger with cheese is $4.95, and a mushroom burger with bacon is $4.95. If you order something else (maybe a barrel of chicken pieces?) it’ll cost you a buck to add bacon to it.
It’s like ordering an affordable but sad family supper, unless two or three of your kids can’t eat gluten
Speaking of the chicken barrel, it can feed 8 to 10 people and costs $60, but only comes with 6 rolls. It’s like ordering an affordable but sad family supper, unless two or three of your kids can’t eat gluten.
A restaurant oddity that I noticed at every place we ate in Lac la Biche, and never anywhere else I’ve ever eaten, is an appetizer called pizza fingers. I was intensely curious about pizza fingers – are they just pizza-like garlic sticks? Do they have filling? But we were never hungry enough to get a full order. Space Dock came through for me by offering pizza fingers for sale individually. We ordered one each at two bucks a finger.
Since I was about to drive for four hours I tried to order some coffee to go with my mushroom bacon cheeseburger, mozza fries, and pizza finger but they only had coffee flavoured milkshakes. I didn’t go for it, but part of me will always wonder “What if?”
The food itself was expertly wrapped for road-trip eating. Peel back a couple of pieces and you’re ready to eat one-handed with little to no mess, which is astonishing when you notice how loaded with toppings the burgers are. Everything is made fresh to order, and you can tell when you bite into the food. You can also tell because I had so much time to thoroughly analyze the menu and take a couple of pictures.
It turns out pizza fingers are egg rolls with pizza filling. It’s not an especially good combination so I’m confused by how they have become a staple in one Albertan town.
The rest of the food was less confusing but still unique. My coworker Kris got the mozza burger, which came with the piece of mozza cheese straight off of the grill, another thing I’d never seen before. He said it tasted pretty good. The mozza fries turned out to be a baked poutine with delicious chicken gravy, but it was also difficult to eat while driving so I had to trade it for regular fries. These are the sacrifices you make when you are the less hungover one.
Overall I think the V & H Space Dock could do the kessel run in 15 parsecs.