COAL MINERS CAFE (Inverness): open year-round, with unique historical decor. The menu includes lobster quesadillas and lobster salad sandwiches (in season), boneless "wings", chili burgers, eggs benedict florentine before noon, milkshakes, and much more. The first time I visited for lunch, the service was excellent and attentive because of the special needs of my friend, but stopped after we actually received our food; after that, she didn't check on us and we had to figure out ourselves that we should pay at the bar. I tried the chicken wings, half with "honey hot" and half with "raspberry habanero" sauce, plus a side Greek salad. The wings were crispy deep-fried and a little dried out. The sauces were served cold in side bowls. I would much prefer wings tossed in the heated sauces before serving! The greek salad included canned sliced black olives, feta, tomato, romaine, 2 pepperoncinis, and a strong vinaigrette - not bad for the island, but not worth ordering. My friend's pan fried haddock came without the coleslaw. 6 out of 10. I visited again the next day for lunch, and this time the service was worse; again, the server didn't check on us after bringing the food, and after an excruciating wait, she finally brought the bill. The deep-fried Rhode Island calamari were nice and crispy, but the bowl in the middle containing a wierd mix of sauteed hot tomato, jalapeno and onion, and the ranch dressing in a plastic tub were very strange accompaniments. The spicy, tasty, crispy deep-fried black bean quesadilla roll-ups were served with plastic tubs of salsa and sour cream. 7 out of 10 this time. Pretty good for pub food on the island. They had a weekly karaoke contest on Thursday nights, which I didn't experience.
BANKHEAD PUB (Inverness): This good pub is located below a nicer restaurant that is closed in winter. The Bankhead is attempting to fill in the void left by the closing of the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou (which is re-opening in May, courtesy of 2 Rankin sisters). Live fiddle and piano ceili music every Sunday early evening. The service is friendly, and they even opened just for a group of 10 of us one cold weekday evening in November. I was disappointed by the jerk chicken quesadilla (not spicy at all, not even close to jerk flavour), but the seafood chowder was decent (quite rich) and the prices are somewhat reasonable for a nicer pub. 7 out of 10.
THE MULL (Mabou): My second visit to this popular establishment was at lunch on Jan. 26. The service was average to poor with pay-at-the-cash directions at the end. The seafood chowder was good, with large pieces of (frozen) lobster claw, fish, scallops, and carrots in a milky broth, served with garlic toast. My host had the fish and chips. Their french fries are crinkle-cut. Enough said. 8 out of 10 for soup. I had been there once before for supper last November, and enjoyed the halibut steak which I had told them to purposely undercook. The veggie side was a very fresh, very large portion of broccoli. The deep-fried veggie appetizer was similar to M&M Meats frozen products. They also sell feta cheese at the small deli counter, which is unavailable at the Freshmart across the road. Overall, this place is overrated by the locals, but there aren't too many moderately-priced choices in the region that are also open year-round. 6 out of 10.
VI'S (Whycocomagh): If you have to eat in Whycocomagh, call up L'Arche Cape Breton and invite yourself over for dinner at one of the houses instead of eating out! (Jim's bread at Point Grace in Orangedale and Amil's meals at Waycobah house in Iron Mines are fantastic - but sorry, they are not open to the public unless you are interested in joining the community to live with adults with disabilities.) The service at Vi's is friendly if a little slow, but the food is best avoided. The hot turkey sandwich was covered with canned peas, carrots and gravy and the fries are made from frozen. I don't think they actually cook anything from scratch, just warm it up. 3 out of 10.
HELEN'S BAKERY (in Co-op store, Whycocomagh): avoid the fruit pies as they totally lack flavour. I've never been so disappointed in a cherry pie. Their squares are decent if a bit too sweet, and their bannoch is okay, too. Their loaves of bread and buns are better than store-bought, and they make porridge bread. The best decision would be to bypass Whycocomagh completely, and stock up on picnic supplies like nice cheeses in Port Hawksbury at Sobey's or Superstore. The Co-op is too small to stock interesting foods. 6 out of 10.
I haven't tried the baking from Farmers Daughter across the highway, but it looks comparable to Helen's.
HOMETOWN KITCHEN (Cheticamp): We went there in early December because it was one of only two restaurants in town open for lunch in the winter. Unfortunately, their chowder was out of season. I tried the panfried fish and chips, and Monte had the traditional fish and chips. Definitely not as good as the panfried fish at the MidTrail in Pleasant Bay which I enjoyed last July (only MidTrail's "chips" are disappointing as they are slightly overcooked homemade potato chips, not french fries). HK is a cheaper alternative on the Cabot Trail. 7 out of 10. I'd still rather eat at the Acadien Restaurant (beside the rug-hooking co-op) but it closes for the winter every October.
AUCOIN BAKERY (Cheticamp): avoid the cinnamon buns (dry) but definitely try the Acadian meat pie with pork and beef. I want to try their "pork pies" (mini date tarts) next time. Their baking is shipped out to grocery stores around the island, including Freshmart in Mabou. 9 out of 10.