Only a downtown dining dynasty like Humpy's would dare to ask the question: Does Anchorage need another pizza joint named after a mountain? Well, dare they did. And because it would not come to me, I recently made the trip to Flattop Pizza and Pool to answer the question for myself.
I brought my family -- four pizza enthusiasts and two pool enthusiasts -- early in the evening on a recent weeknight. Although the restaurant was fairly empty, no one greeted us at the door when we arrived. A football game, with the volume cranked up, was playing on the bar's six big-screen TVs. We spent a few minutes trying to decide whether and where we should seat ourselves. We settled on a table by the door and waited for a server. And waited.
The look of the room did something to dispel our poor first impression. It's a fun, modern space -- stainless steel fixtures, exposed brick, concrete floors, and vintage photos of downtown Anchorage hanging on the wall. The space is "industrial chic" meets "rec room" and, at a busier time, I can imagine that the open layout would create a fun party atmosphere.
Our server finally arrived and took our drink order and a credit card for the use of a pool table. Again, considering the emptiness of the room, our drinks took too long to arrive. We had to request water. I'm not impatient in restaurants and very rarely find service to be lacking. But there was no denying that the general energy of the staff that evening was extremely low. If you're hungry and thirsty, you want to see your server moving like -- well, like it's his or her job.
As someone who only watches sports for the hot wings, I found the game to be distracting, even while playing pool. I have absolutely no problem with televised events in bars (I'm still waiting patiently for a "Downton Abbey" bar); I just hadn't been expecting the sports-bar atmosphere. Additionally, my kids were disappointed they didn't get a chance to try out the bar's flashy jukebox.
The menu is very straightforward -- pizzas, salads, and a few appetizers, including the buzz-worthy pepperoni rolls ($9). We ordered these and garlic knots ($7) to start. For the main dish, we ordered the Powerline Pass pizza ($19) with Canadian bacon, house-made sausage, hamburger, salami, pepperoni and bacon and the Anchortown pizza ($19), with garlic ranch sauce, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, grilled chicken, red onions, tomato and cilantro. The pepperoni rolls were irresistible and gone almost as soon as they hit the table. They were soft, doughy, slightly but pleasingly undercooked in the center and served with a tangy, rustic marinara sauce. This is not highbrow cooking -- just a pumped-up version of pigs in a blanket -- but that's not a complaint. This is junk food perfected. We practically licked the plate.
The downside of the pepperoni rolls was that when the pizzas arrived, we felt like we had already eaten pizza. It was hard to face more dough, pepperoni, and sauce. Obviously, this was a problem at the ordering stage and in future, I will mentally substitute the word "snacks" for appetizers. In other words, unless you have a crowd to help you, choose appetizers or pizza, but don't choose both.
We declared the pizza to be... fine. The Powerline pie came with a generous quantity of meat but the crust seemed inadequate to the job of supporting it. It was a bit thin, and since our toppings created a high level of rendered fat, there wasn't enough dough to soak it up. It ended up feeling soggy and greasy. The Anchortown was tasty, though the garlic cream sauce was spread with perhaps too generous a hand, making it feel a bit heavy, even while the chicken and vegetables were light and nicely cooked. I particularly appreciate the bit of bite still left in the veggies.
Service continued with a distinct lack of hustle. At one point, our server stepped out to the front of the restaurant for a smoke -- something I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't already been frustrated by the evening's pace.
The desserts were a bright ending to a so-so evening. My kids loved the root-beer floats (made with local draft root beer, $7) and the huge ice-cream sandwich ($7). I rarely order dessert but took a chance on the beer float ($8) -- a scoop of vanilla ice cream in an oatmeal stout. I'm now a convert. It was creamy and filling, but not too sweet -- more like an ice-cream soda than a milkshake. The drink is a nod to nostalgia, but for grown-up taste buds.
As a side note, the pool tables did not seem to be getting much use during either of my visits (admittedly both on weeknights) and I wondered if the room wouldn't benefit from one coin-operated table. The rental tables discourage casual playing. My husband played a game or two, then sat and ate dinner while the "meter" was still going. Also, if you're alone at the bar (and many patrons seemed to be there on their own), there's no way to have a convivial pick-up game. It just struck me as a missing social element in the room.
For my second visit, I met a friend for an early dinner. Again, the room was far from full, and a football game was playing at high volume. However, in distinct contrast to my first visit, we were greeted quickly and pleasantly. Our orders were taken and delivered promptly. Our server checked on us frequently and made us feel like welcome guests and not late arrivals to a party that was winding down.
We opted for a plain cheese pizza ($11) to see if, out from under the weight of too many toppings, the ingredients would shine a bit more. I also ordered the wedge salad ($9). I'm ashamed to say that, in direct opposition of my own advice, we also ordered the pepperoni rolls. Seriously, I actually delivered a stern lecture to myself in the car on the way there. What can I say? In the face of pepperoni and dough, I am weak.
The wedge salad is a mysteriously simple dish that, when well executed, is extremely satisfying. This one was on top of its game. A fat, crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce doused with a generous topping of buffalo blue cheese dressing and a cascade of crispy bacon and green onion. The dressing was unusual and is my new favorite. The funky bite of blue cheese and fiery undertones of hot buffalo sauce are perfectly balanced by the cool juiciness of iceberg lettuce. Also, I got to say I was eating a "salad." So, I gave myself some self-control points. Self-control is easy when it involves bacon.
The plain cheese pizza was, weirdly, my favorite. It's simple, but has the right ratio of cheese, sauce and crust. My husband scarfed up the leftovers later that night and declared it to be "better than fine." So, more like... decent?
Spotty service, an occasional sports-bar vibe (a turn-off for me but admittedly a draw for many), and pizza that is fine but forgettable are issues that Flattop will have to work out in order to earn its place in pizza-spoiled Anchorage. However, a hip, attractive room, addictive appetizers, fun salads and delightful beer and root-beer floats are a good start in the right direction.
A "Downtown Abbey" night wouldn't hurt either. Am I right, Anchorage? Anchorage? OK, I guess that's just me.
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By Mara Severin
Daily News correspondent