Time to take it outside
By Scott Banks
Planet Food Guy
The gorgeous weather has made eating outside at restaurants a joy, but who knows how long the sunny weather will last. The good news is that El Niño might bring a spate of warm weather throughout the summer for Alaska – or not. The best advice to heed is to look outside. If it’s sunny, grab a friend and and try some of these restaurants that offer outdoor seating.
I was skeptical of eating lunch out on the Downtown Grill Patio. At first it looked like an extension into a dusty parking lot. I tried it out. I was right. But, they’ve made it into a pleasant oasis in that parking lot. A clever landscape designer included a narrow stream that runs alongside the tables, with plenty of flowers and a cute little bridge. The stream drowns out the obnoxious road noise from traffic on Gambell Street and 9th Avenue. Nice ambiance and good food, too. I had the French dip and, along with the fresh cut fries, it was delicious. My sister-in-law had the appetizer shrimp and grits and cleaned her plate.
The Snow Goose Restaurant has one of the best decks in Anchorage. It overlooks Knik Arm and the Alaska Range, including Mount McKinley on clear days. Chilly northern breezes can blow off the water, but the views are unmatched. In the same building is the Sleeping Lady Brewing Co., so you’re going to get a good choice of beers. They offer a “pub grub” menu that includes the obvious choices of burgers, fish tacos and fish and chips. Entrees have several Alaska seafood choices, salmon and king crab, and this is the best time of year to take advantage of their freshness. The deck can draw a crowd, so get there early.
The Peanut Farm has the most natural setting for their cool deck. Campbell Creek passes by, lending a cool, green vibe. I’m a fan of the Farm’s pizza. It’s not cheap, but they are generous with toppings. A 16-inch pie is $24. You might not think of it for breakfast, but they’ve got it with all iterations of pancakes, omelets and biscuits and gravy, too. The lunch and dinner menu is expansive with what you’d expect for a joint with a motto “We must be nuts.” Find them at the intersection of the Old Seward Highway and International Boulevard. It’s popular on sunny days, so you might have a wait.
Across the Old Seward Highway from the Peanut Farm is Arctic Roadrunner, a kid-friendly burger joint with outdoor seating on Campbell Creek. Eat your burger and let your kids cavort up and down the bank, where you can keep an eye on them. I’ve been ordering the Kodiak Islander burger for years. It’s a dog’s breakfast with bologna, ham, salami and a green chili. If you love onion rings, order the homemade onion pieces. They also cater to the less adventurous with standard burgers like the All American topped with ketchup, mustard and onions. You can add cheese and bacon too. This place is a locally owned institution worth a visit anytime, good weather or bad.
If you like big refrigerator trucks, storage containers and the rumble of an idling diesel engine, then the Midnight Sun Brewery is your outdoor haven. I make it sound bad – it’s not. Beyond the warehouse next door, there’s a lovely view of the Chugach Mountains and to the west, the Alaska Range rises behind Cook Inlet. The food and the beer are first class. The ancho beef dip is tasty as is the ham and cheezer with smoked ham mounded with cheddar, provolone and mozzarella cheeses. My wife likes the cashew chicken salad. On the beer side I’m a fan of the Kodiak Brown Ale. I never come here without my growler to fill. Try a beer flight if a single beer choice is overwhelming. Your server can lead you in the right direction.
Do not expect high-toned ambiance at Serrano’s Mexican Grill, where the fenced-in deck butts up against West Northern Lights Boulevard. If the sun is out, you can work on your tan, but come for the food. I’m having a hard time straying from my jones for enchiladas suiza, chicken enchiladas smothered in tomatillo cream sauce. No restaurant can match their rice and no one can match their beans imparted with a light smoke. Service is fast so if it’s a work lunch, you can get in and out fast.
From the outdoor seating at its Delaney Park Strip location, the Gumbo House is a prime lookout for views of dogs chasing Frisbees, athletes playing soccer or kids flying kites. You’ll get some traffic noise, but you’ll be walking on real grass and sitting under a real tree. The “kitchen sink” gumbo is my go-to lunch. The chicken wings come charred with a dose of fresh cilantro, for a wing like you’ve never tasted. My co-workers like the po boys.
A couple of places I haven’t visited for an outdoor meal, but come recommended include The Flying Machine restaurant with their deck that looks out over Lake Hood. Eat, sip a beer and watch the action at the most active float plane base in the world. For sidewalk seating try Crush, across from Nordstrom or Fire Island Bakery on 14th and G Streets. Nearby is the always-hip New Sagaya’s City Market, where they have tables outdoors. Bring out great food from their buffet or fresh-made sandwiches or pizza and have a seat. Their rice bowl is a great value. Expect at least one dog tied to the bike rack.
In the mood for a road trip, you should check out the incomparable deck at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. When it’s clear and Mount McKinley is out, it will blow your mind. Twister Creek Restaurant, home of the Denali Brewing Co. also got some Talkeetna love from a co-worker. The menu looks amazing. Not in the mood for a long drive, try the Palmer City Ale House. It’s drawback is that it can be windy. Heading south from Anchorage, the outdoor seating at the Turnagain Arm Pit on the Seward comes with amazing views of Turnagain Arm. Try the deep fried pickles.