Cinnamon rolls on the Alcan
I don’t recall precisely where I heard the assertion, but I was under the impression that a sort of informal competition existed along the Alaska Highway with regard to cinnamon rolls. Since I really like cinnamon rolls, it seemed only natural that I try to sample as many of the rolls along the road as possible.
Well, it turns out that I had bad information. I found all of 3 spots along the nearly 1500 mile route selling cinnamon rolls, a disappointing 500-miles-per-roll ratio. I admit that I might have missed a few, but I made a point of stopping at all of the little holes in the wall advertising fresh baking, so I can’t imagine I’m off by much.
Fortunately, two of those spots had some of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve tasted.
I was feeling pretty glum about Sam’s sprained ankle when I ran across the first. About 50 miles north of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, I started seeing signs along the road advertising “amazing” cinnamon rolls. Clearly written by a Trekkie, they said things like “Reduce to impulse from warp” and “Prepare tractor beam” in relation to the cinnamon rolls. They had me at “cinnamon rolls.”
After half a dozen signs, I finally reached the home of the self-proclaimed best rolls on the Alaska Highway: Tetsa River Services. The little business was multiple things: cafe, gas station, campground, and cabins, all nestled between the Tetsa River and the Alaska Highway in the shade of some very large hills.
I pulled in past the 1970s-era gas pumps, one for regular unleaded and one for diesel, parked, and walked into the office/cafe/bakery. My mission was twofold: secure a campsite for the night, and procure one of the heavily advertised cinnamon rolls. They were near closing for the night, but fortunately one of the rolls remained.
The family that ran the business caught me a bit off-guard with their hospitality. The daughter manning the store register was polite and reserved, with a bit of a western drawl. She handled the cinnamon roll reverently as she gave it to me. Likewise, the mother and father were exceedingly polite. The father, a big man dressed in flannel and jeans and afflicted with strabismus, earnestly encouraged me to join them for their fishing derby’s steak dinner, an overture which I politely declined.
Really, everybody at the campground was great. I suppose that one could label them “redneck,” but I use the term only to facilitate description and certainly not in the pejorative.
I set up my tent and then dug into the cinnamon roll. Wow.
Maybe it was just the fatigue of driving several hundred miles that day burdened with the stress of the tire problem. Maybe it was the remote location. Maybe it was the hinting from the advertising. Regardless, the cinnamon roll from Tetsa River Services was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Maybe the best. Previously, I had considered Isles Bun in Minneapolis to have the best cinnamon rolls in the world, but I think the crown must be passed, especially since the Isles Bun offering relied so heavily on the quality and quantity of its cream cheese frosting.
If you’re ever in northern British Columbia about 50 miles outside of Fort Nelson, stop at Tetsa River Services and try a cinnamon roll. The $5 price is wholly justified.
Now, if you find yourself a bit further along the Alaska Highway, there’s another exceptional offering to try. I’m not sure of the name of the place — there was no sign, there was no mention of them on the internet, and the best description I could find was “where the old Pine Valley resort was.” I can, however, provide this outdated Google Streetview link to the location of the self-described “bakery and creperie” Roughly speaking, it was located about 10 miles south of Koidern, Yukon on the Alaska Highway.
Run by a nice francophone couple, the bakery seemed to be well maintained. In fact, it exuded pride. Most of the stores and restaurants along the Alaska Highway are run-down shells of their former selves, with dirty floors and everything done on the cheap. This place was different.
For example, the bathroom was spotless. So were the tables. And the details for the products were similarly attended to: the to-go coffee cups were thick paper like you’d find at Starbucks, with high-quality lids that fit tight — something worthy of acclaim after dealing with the Styrofoam cups and poorly fitting flat lids that one encounters at most stops along the Alaska Highway. Although there was a bit of a language barrier, I think I managed to convey how much I respected their high quality standards in the middle of the Yukon.
I purchased a cinnamon roll and coffee and dug in.
Amazing. The cinnamon roll was of the style similar to what’s widely sold at Panera, but the execution was far superior. The bread was flaky like a croissant. The levels of cinnamon, sugar, and frosting were all balanced nicely. The interior of the bread was neither too dry nor too moist.
It was an excellent cinnamon roll. I generally prefer more cake-like rolls, such as the one from Tetsa River Services, so I won’t declare this one the absolute winner, but I appreciate the skill involved in its creation. It certainly was a beautiful roll.
There you have it. There weren’t many cinnamon rolls to be had on the Alaska Highway, but a couple of the ones available were world-class.