Larger than Life: The ‘King of Keno’

Pat McKenna takes a cook’s tour of famous, infamous and soon-to-be-famous Yukon chefs.

An unassuming hero amongst the locals, a font of Northern knowledge for the tourists and a source of food for mining-company drillers, Mike Mancini is a humble king, holding court with a pizza in one hand, a milkshake in the other and a broad smile plastered over his big, hairy face.

Raised in Elsa, Mancini is as local as they come. He knows everyone in the area, and that’s going back at least three generations.

In keeping with his rustic outlook on life, this Keno man sleeps in a van, ready to make a quick getaway when things in the kitchen get too heated up.

Mancini owns and operates the famous Keno Snack Bar, which proudly flies the Yukon, Italian and Canadian flags. In the restaurant, he has an eclectic display of Yukon antiques and old junk (“Mostly old junk,” he says).

It is very interesting stuff, ranging from a beautiful old piano, photographs, phonographs, juke boxes, Klondike books, rare Coca-Cola memorabilia and circa 1920s mining and prospecting tools.

The Keno Snack Bar is located right across the road from the Keno Mining Museum. Both buildings constitute the centre of town.

People love to congregate in the old snack bar and, better yet, outside in the sunshine under the colourful deck umbrellas. Mountains so close they are literally in your face, form the view where one can also watch Mrs. Moose and her progeny amble by.

An endless pot of dark coffee, rich and delicious milkshakes and a wicked hearty breakfast, to get you up the mountain, are all featured menu items.

While Mancini is a self-taught, sometimes “hanging by the rafters” short-order cook, it is his pizza that has put his business on the destination map of the Yukon.

His pizza crust is superb. His secret?

“Once you have the pizza dough rolled out onto the pan, partially pre-bake the crust in a 425F oven for five minutes. This sets the crust nicely and keeps it crispy,” (no soggy bottoms for the King of Keno). A secret Mama Mancini pizza sauce and a variety of interesting toppings are heaped onto the pre-baked crust.

Pepperoni, Hawaiian, Meat-Lovers, Vegetarian or Featured Flavour of the Week are all great choices. Lots of gooey mozzarella cheese and a dash of Italian Parmesan combine with the final Mancini flourish to bake the pizza to golden perfection.

Visit Mancini in Keno City on the Silver Trail (60 kilometres north of Mayo) any day of the week from May to September. While reservations are unnecessary, you can call ahead (995-2489) to put in a pizza order (sorry, no deliveries) or to see if, in fact, he is holding court, having a nap, out fishing or picking up additional supplies.

Don’t worry, he will return to make your pizza – and, it will be worth the wait.

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