The folks at the Crossbar are really into hockey. The restaurant logo is two crossed hockey sticks, but that's just the beginning. When you walk through the door, you pull a wooden handle shaped like the blade of an ice skate. Framed hockey jerseys and photographs line the walls. The bar is paneled in hockey sticks. There are vintage hockey-themed arcade games in one corner. Also -- and I couldn't make this up -- there are miniature hockey nets in the men's room urinals. Never having been in a "sports-themed restaurant" before, I didn't realize I was visiting the Hard Rock Cafe of ice hockey.
The sports decor is thorough, but probably more to the point for fans are the -- count 'em -- 15 big-screen TVs scattered throughout the restaurant. It's a huge room filled with booths, but there's nowhere you can sit without having a TV in your direct line of sight. For some diners this would be maddening. For the sports fans who are the Crossbar's target clientele, there isn't a bad seat in the house.
I was there for food, not sports. The Midtown restaurant is in the building that used to house Boston Pizza, all trace of which has been removed. I arrived feeling resigned to the nachos, artichoke dip and burgers that usually populate the menus of sports bars and eateries. That was my first big surprise; Crossbar's menu is far more varied and ambitious than I would have expected of a place that incorporates hockey puns into dessert names. There's some local flair thrown in (Alaska potatoes, locally made pasta) and a surprising number of vegetarian options.
Intrigued, my dining companion and I ordered candied pork belly ($12) and poutine ($10) as appetizers. Having spent some years in Canada, I appreciated the Crossbar's inclusion of this gut-busting dish from our nation's hockey-crazed neighbor. Poutine usually consists of french fries covered in brown gravy with cheese curd melted on top. Unlike other poutine I've had, the Crossbar's has gravy on the side, which after some consideration I decided I liked. It slowed down the process of poutine becoming a solid, soggy mass. Not by much, though -- you pretty much have to pour the gravy all over everything anyway, because fries dipped in gravy are just bland.
The candied pork belly was beautifully crunchy around the edges and tender in the center -- not too sweet, which is what I had feared. It was good, but I found myself wishing for something tart or fresh to offset the fatty richness of the pork -- salad greens or a relish, perhaps. That also would have helped dress the plate -- the presentation of meat hunks sitting in a puddle of their own grease didn't do the dish justice.
For dinner we ordered a pulled pork sandwich served on Hawaiian sweet bread ($12) and an organic beet and fennel salad ($7) to share. The sandwich was made with house-smoked pork shoulder that was layered on satisfyingly thick. The crown-shaped, house-made bun was beautifully tender. I didn't have a hard time finishing the sandwich, but I again found myself wishing for something to offset the meaty, uniformly soft sweetness of it. The sandwich came with a side of coleslaw, but while that added some crunch, it didn't add any tartness. The salad was a nice heap of greens, creamy goat cheese and roasted beets, but tasted rather oily and bland until we ordered an extra side of balsamic vinaigrette.
I'd be remiss not to mention the Crossbar has a healthy selection of local beers on draft: about a dozen from Kassik, Broken Tooth, King Street, Midnight Sun and other breweries. They also have a long list of "signature cocktails." My dinner date ordered a "Mountain Goat" ($10), which tasted precisely like a coconut Mai Tai. It had a creamy, tropical flavor and was just stiff enough to let you know you got your money's worth.
I went back the following Sunday, and happened to get there in the last 10 minutes of the Seahawks playing the 49ers. The restaurant was packed, but service didn't suffer.
We ordered both the cheeseburger and the kale salad and got spinach cheddar ale dip ($10) for good measure (because hey, the game was on). The cheeseburger was perfectly fine, though charging $2 for fries to go with a $14 burger seems kind of cheap on the part of the restaurant. According to the menu, the potatoes are from Mat-Su, so at least the two extra bucks support local agriculture. The spinach dip had a smooth consistency but was confusingly mild, its flavor overpowered by the flatbread.
Unexpectedly, the organic kale and quinoa salad with tahini vinaigrette ($9) was my favorite dish from either visit. The curly, bright green kale was chewy without being tough or bitter, the toasted quinoa tabouli added a nice bite and the whole thing was livened up by the sprightly vinaigrette. We finished the meal with a strawberry rhubarb shortcake topped with Jameson whipped cream ($7). The Alaska rhubarb made this dessert; its tartness balanced the strawberries and sweetened whipped cream.
I didn't intend to go to the Crossbar during a big game, but looking back I think it was that timing that showed what the place is really all about. Just after I'd walked in, there was a touchdown and the room erupted in celebration -- people jumped out of their seats, pumped their fists in the air and embraced each other. Children laughed excitedly. That's when it occurred to me -- I've been to plenty of sports bars, but I've never been anywhere in Anchorage you could take a whole family to hang out while the game is on, let alone one where you can order organic kale salad to go with your cheeseburger.