Blues Central (Chefʼs Inn)
825 W. Northern Lights Blvd., Anchorage. 907-272-1341
Any Anchorage old-timer is going to know Blueʼs Central, but theyʼll likely call it Chefʼs Inn, a windowless concrete bar west of the corner of Northern Lights and Arctic boulevards.
In the ʻ60s and ʻ70s, politicos, labor leaders and other honchos struck deals as they chomped through French dips and threw back shots of rye. Others remember it for the now long-gone, cook-your-own-steak station.
Itʼs been serving up since 1964, another Anchorage restaurant survivor of the boom- and-bust economy. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights they crank up live blues. Blues Central has not been on my radar for a long time, but after a couple of visits, it is back on the screen.
The interior design doesnʼt look much different than what I saw 20 years ago. Itʼs shopworn and reminded me of the Long Branch Saloon and the Blue Fox. Flickering neon beer signs shine over promotional photos of blues artists like Buddy Guy and Big Bill Morganfield with the occasional oddball photo like the Oak Ridge Boys. A wooden bar stretches the length of one side, and the room has a mix of booths and tables.
My first visit, Iʼll be honest, I was worried the food wasnʼt going to be good. Iʼm glad I was wrong. I joined a railroader friend for lunch. Since they were famous for French dip, I asked the server if she liked them.
She jumped right in and said she liked to combine the mushroom, Swiss cheese and grilled onions -I said, Iʼll have that ($12.25). Itʼs more a Philly cheese steak, stacked high with beef, fresh sautéed mushrooms and a big serving of sautéed onions, so I wonʼt quibble on the name. The highlight was the mushrooms with the side of au jus bringing out that umami taste.
I had a choice of sides and asked for a cup of black bean and rice soup. Good decision. Rice and beans suffused with smoky bacon. They included fries with my sandwich and they were fresh, hand cut, hot, crisp outside, creamy inside, just like I like them.
My friend ordered the blackened halibut ($17.25) with steamed vegetables. The halibut was a big slab, blackened and spicy. The steamed vegetables were bright and fresh. All were stretched out on a bed of white rice, a healthy dish for a body wanting to cut some
calories. And while the menu is predominantly pub food you have other healthy options like their green salads with options for chicken ($12) or halibut ($17.25) plus they have half a sandwich and salads ($11) or soup and salad ($11).
On another visit, the grilled blackened halibut sandwich ($17.25) and onion rings ($4) made me feel like I was eating healthy – the halibut flakey and moist. I know the rings were frozen, but they are a great dish, chunky with fat whole onions coated in a crispy batter. The sandwich came with all the toppings – tomato, lettuce, pickles and onion, all fresh.
Iʼve been in higher-end restaurants that donʼt prepare their vegetables as well as the Blues Central chefs. My friend ordered a French dip but substituted turkey for the beef and added Swiss to it. Sheʼs a regular so I knew she was going to like it. Like my dip from my first visit, the turkey was stacked high. The dip isnʼt the only sandwich on the menu. Youʼll find a club for $12 and a BLT for $10, and even a grilled ham and cheese for $9.50. They serve all the classic hamburgers starting at $10.50 and ending with the Blues Cheeseburger for $13.
Blues Central features a special of the day including prime rib ($14.50), chicken fried steak ($14.50) or a London broil with mashed potatoes and gravy ($13).
The room was never crowded, but not spooky empty, always a low-level conversational hum. Weekend nights, it can get crowded. Iʼm glad I rediscovered Blues Central and if youʼve not eaten here and crave solid pub food and maybe some Blues, you should check it out.