Like many locals, I watched the transition of the Hogg Brothers' Cafe into the Spenard Roadhouse with hungry anticipation. The restaurant seemed poised to tap into the neighborhood's hip revival and the crowds of diners who funnel into the Bear Tooth for food and films.
The brainchild of owners of Snow City and Sacks cafes, the Roadhouse opened in mid-February, transforming the Hogg Brothers' interior with the addition of vintage furniture and tongue-in-cheek wood animal mounts. It hosts live music nights, infused vodka classes and has rotating specials with categories such as TV dinners, taco Tuesdays and Alaska grown. Servers dress in Ray Troll or wildlife T-shirts, and the bar boasts small-batch bourbons. It's all done with a slyness that says, "Yes we're cool, but we still know how to have fun."
While built on comfort food classics, the menu also has accents that embody the Roadhouse's playful spirit. Diners can swap out tater tots for fries with sandwiches and a pizza is topped with rib eye steak meat and bleu cheese ($12.95). Mac and cheese comes as a side ($4.95) and graham crackers s'mores ($2.95) are a dessert.
I stopped in for dinner around 7 p.m. on a recent weekday with my brother. The newly opened patio was popular and inside the restaurant was busy, but we still grabbed a booth without waiting.
We started off with the halibut ensalada ($13.95), a plate of tortilla chips with chunks of halibut marinated in lime ceviche-style, pico de gallo, avocado puree and strips of romaine. The pico sometimes overshadowed the milder citrus flavored fish, but the mix was tasty and we finished it.
My brother picked the Cubano ($11.95), a sandwich made with slow braised pork, Black Forest ham, onions, pickles, mayonnaise and Swiss cheese served on a ciabatta bun. Bar manager Darcy Kniefel said the sandwich is a big seller, but some diners insist it should be pressed like a Panini to be called a Cuban sandwich.
I mentioned it to my brother, but he was already several bites in and didn't seem to mind. The meats are stacked together and the mix of their flavors with the barbecue sauce and melted cheese is balanced by the pickles. It may not be traditional, but it's still an awesome sandwich. He opted for the tots and they were perfectly light and crunchy, not the greasy cafeteria variety.
I ordered the pork chop ($18.95) covered with a stone-ground mustard sauce. It comes with a pile of mashed potatoes topped with inch long strips of bacon and sour cream. The sauce complemented the thick and tender pork chop and the pickled red cabbage garnish added punch.
We also ordered a side of polenta ($3.95), a big scoop topped with grated Parmesan cheese and garlic oil that was nice but didn't add much to the meal.
I returned for a lunch trip with a friend. The restaurant was busy again, but we were seated without a wait.
House-made ice tea ($2.25) and lemonade ($3.50) are on the menu, but Arnold Palmers (a 50/50 mix of the two) aren't. I asked for one anyway, and it was delivered perfectly mixed ($3).
My friend ordered the fish and chips ($15.95), two halibut fillets breaded with panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and a pile of French fries. The panko gave the fish a crust with a crispness rarely matched by beer-batter and paired well with the halibut. The house-made tarter sauce was a nice touch and the fries were a hit.
Bummed I missed out on Monday's burger du jour special, I went with the Roadhouse burger ($9.95). It comes with onion, tomato, lettuce and Thousand Island dressing on a standard bun, with cheddar, bleu cheese and bacon available for an extra buck. The patty had a smoky, charbroiled taste that I liked and was still pinkish in the middle, not overcooked. I thought the dressing would make for more of a Big Mac experience, but it was thinly spread and contributed only subtly -- which was just fine.
While its decor takes its inspiration from eclectic sources, the Roadhouse knows better than to tweak its dishes too much. The offerings have just enough flair to make them novel and are executed with aplomb. It has the casual neighborhood atmosphere chains brag about in TV ads and isn't too far off from their prices. When faced with long waits, Bear Tooth diners may start walking around the corner to eat, and they'll like what they find.
• Got a restaurant tip, a new menu, a favorite dish or a chef change? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spenard Roadhouse ****½ $$$
Location: 1049 W. Northern Lights Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11p.m. every day
Phone: 770-7623 (ROAD)
Want to rave or pan? Write your own review of this restaurant or any other recently reviewed place at play.adn.com/dining.
Touch of slyness