Have a seat at the Red Chair Cafe
By Scott Banks
Planet Food Guy
Every now and then on my drive home on 4th Avenue, I pass a spot of bright light beneath a red awning tucked amid the drab surroundings of the McKinley Tower, or what old-timers call the McKay Building. I could see that it was a restaurant, a deli, perhaps an espresso bar, I wasn’t sure. I finally took a friend there and discovered the Red Chair Cafe. They serve breakfast and lunch and they have plans for a dinner service before the end of the year.
I wish them a long life. The interior is hip and spacious, graffiti murals cover the walls drawing out an urban feel, and recycled wood tabletops say a lot about the ownership mindset. Thank goodness, no more brushed stainless steel and distressed brick I’ve seen in so many new restaurants. Kick-butt speakers hang from the ceiling. First Friday is on their calendar and they host a monthly third Friday tango milonga. Yes, tango. How cool is that (all skill levels welcome)? You can catch live music on other dates. Check their website.
I’ve never seen anything like this menu—familiar ingredients put together in a different way, and it’s not weird. No one in Anchorage has a menu like The Red Chair. Salted caramel oatmeal, fire-roasted poblano pepper, oven-roasted kale bake, “Hair of the Dog” biscuits and gravy, and that’s just breakfast. Vegetarians and people watching their diet will find friendly food here.
I can vouch for the fire-roasted poblano pepper. It’s stuffed with sausage, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, red pepper, green onions, cilantro, white cheddar. I love mild chilies and breakfast with a spicy kick. They serve breakfast until 2:30 p.m. Steampunk potatoes, that is, roasted gold and sweet potatoes with onion, come on the side or you can choose grilled asparagus.
Sandwiches, salads and pita wraps fill out the lunch menu. The house-cured steak hoagie caught my eye when I read it was finished off with Gorgonzola ($13). It’s like a French dip and comes with house-made fries, sprouted bean and quinoa salad or a side salad. I like that their stack of fries doesn’t tower over the main entre. The hoagie bun was soft and the meat tender as advertised, but I was missing the au jus.
As eclectic as this menu is, I had to try the hamburger. It’s called the Tesla burger and they call it a beastly burger topped with aged white cheddar, bacon, roasted garlic aioli to finish. It lives up to the promise, although it’s a manageable half-pound burger with the promised goodies. The bacon tastes like bacon and the bun looked homemade and soft as a roll of Charmin’. But don’t go here for the burger, we have other blue ribbon joints for those (Tommy’s, Roadrunner, White Spot, Club Paris). I asked for the quinoa salad to feel righteous about skipping the fries. It was a small ice cream scoop size and it felt a little stingy, sitting on that plate next to the beastly burger, but maybe that’s the point. It’s a good alternative to the fries and if you haven’t tasted quinoa (let along tried to spell it) give theirs a try.
The Lizzy sandwich ($12) shows off prosciutto and salami and Brie and is finished with a macerated fig compound. I was hoping to taste the cured meats but ending up tasting the sweet fig compound. Sweet and salty, that’s a nice combination, but they should be balanced.
I want to try “Dude Boss’s famous chili” ($5.75 a bowl) which they serve on Wednesdays. And I am intrigued by the Hair of the Dog Biscuit, with whiskey country gravy and house-made beer biscuits ($12.25). On the trashy side, they serve Trailer Trendy, pan-fried thick-sliced bologna on a Kaiser roll ($9.75).
They have terrific chocolate chip cookies, big as a saucer, and thick as two chocolate chips stacked on top of each other ($2.50). Every day, they have dessert specials, Recently it was vintage-style pound cake dipped in ganache and smothered in a raspberry reduction sauce ($4). Every day, something different and delicious comes out of the bakery.
Last time I ate lunch there, it was full—there must be a reason for that. It’s a restaurant that fits right into the Anchorage dining scene and you should fit it into your schedule and try.
The Red Chair Cafe
337 E. 4th Ave. (South entrance)