No visit to Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, would be complete without a side trip to the renowned Bullocks Bistro restaurant. Located in a historic building, site of the original Weaver and Devore Trading Post built in 1936, Bullocks is famous — some would say legendary — for its fish and chips.
But if you’re expecting seafood imported from some distant ocean, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Given that Yellowknife sits on the shore of Great Slave Lake, all the fish served at Bullocks are local fare. And since Great Slave is the deepest lake in North America at 614 metres, and the tenth-largest lake in the world, that means variety as well as quality.
“They’re all coldwater fish, and some of the best fish in the world,” explains Jo-Ann Martin, the bistro’s co-owner. “It’s real cool to serve a local product. We do trout, whitefish, inconnu, pickerel, and burbot … which the local fishers call ‘mariah’. And there’s a Catch of the Day, so the menu is always changing.” Those who don’t like fish can always enjoy a bison rib eye steak. All ingredients are prepared from scratch, and the bread is also baked fresh daily on the premises.
While a traditional fish-and-chip recipe means battering and deep frying, Bullocks delivers its own stamp there as well. “Our fish is pan fried, grilled, and broiled too.”
Jo-Ann and her husband Mark Elson bought the eatery 2½ years ago from the original founders, Sam and Renata Bullock, who started the operation back in the 1980s. The new owners were fortunate to have a transition period. Not only did they acquire Renata’s home recipes for staples like the teriyaki sauce, tartar sauce, feta dressing, and herb and garlic dressing, but they were taught Sam’s unique bone-out filleting technique — developed to process fish that would be suitable to be served in a restaurant — which is important, given the 150 to 250 lbs of fish the restaurant can go through daily.
One of the biggest challenges of running Bullocks is ensuring a continuing supply of fish for the patrons during the spring and fall, when commercial fishers are not able to get onto the Lake. This resulted in the technique of freezing fresh fish whole — between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds — to get Bullocks through the shoulder seasons.
And how is Jo-Ann enjoying the experience now that they have a few years under their belts? “I like it even more now. It’s part of living off the land and water.”