I was doing some preliminary research into the awkwardly named The Rock Wood-Fired Pizza & Spirits restaurant, and found myself perplexed.
The website proclaims the eatery to be "edgy, gritty and all about good ol' classic rock," but the main focus is on fancy wood-fired pizza -- which, while often delicious, isn't really edgy or gritty. Also, based on the photos, it looked like no dining destination I've seen in Anchorage.
With two hungry friends in tow, I went to check it out on a weekday evening. The Rock is in an odd spot, tucked away in the parking lot behind Northway Mall where Red Robin used to be. Fortunately, there are flames lit up around the entrance and classic rock piped through outdoor speakers, making it hard to miss. Inside, the first thing we noticed was an enormous chandelier made of electric guitars suspended over the hostess station. The bar and dining area are separated by artfully broken-down brick walls, and on top of one is a motorcycle draped in rust-colored chains and decorated with stuffed crows. There are gargoyles, jail-cell doors and a long table in the bar section with flames running down it. The whole decor gives off a vibe that could be described as either "post-apocalyptic chic" or "if Disney bought the franchise rights for 'Coyote Ugly.' "
We were seated and given a "tour" of the menu by our friendly, attentive server, who didn't bat an eye at our open gawking (the tables looked like instrument cases!). The menu emphasizes pizza and burgers, and for a rock 'n' roll experience, there is a surprisingly deep selection of gluten-free options.
Another point of interest on the menu was The Rock's line of novelty "Rocktails," including several that come in plastic toy buckets with a small shovel for serving ($9.99-$10.99; limit two per person, but you get to keep the bucket) and a Jello "booster shot" ($3.50), which we couldn't resist ordering. It tasted no better or worse than what I remember from freshman year of college. Still, I'll look back fondly on The Rock as the bar that made me contemplate whether an oversized toy hypodermic needle is really the optimal vehicle for a Jello shot. The more gelled the shot, the harder it is to squeeze from the needle. But who wants to wait for Jello to liquefy before consuming it?
For an appetizer, we ordered Skillet Shrooms ($10.99): white button mushrooms with sausage and caramelized onions, topped with a whole lot of Jack cheese and served in a cast-iron skillet. It was salty, fatty and as delicious as anything involving sausage smothered in melted cheese is likely to be.
For the main course, we ordered fish tacos ($11.99), the Stairway to Heaven pizza ($10.99-$23.29) and a custom gluten-free pizza.
The fish tacos were made with chipotle-seasoned, beer-battered Alaska cod (catfish is also an option) and served with lettuce, tomato salsa and chipotle sauce. I didn't notice the chipotle flavor, but the tacos had a nice ratio of crunchy freshness and fried fish -- a perfectly serviceable, if not very exciting, example of the dish.
The Stairway to Heaven pizza has garlic butter, mozzarella and Parmesan and is topped with prosciutto and fresh arugula. The crust was chewy and had a nice crunch on the outer edge. The pie was overall a little dry, but the rich saltiness of the prosciutto complemented the pungency of the arugula. In all, it was an adult pizza with quality ingredients that could hold its own in Anchorage's crowded high-end pizza marketplace.
We ordered the gluten-free pizza topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, caramelized onion, prosciutto and roasted garlic. Our topping choices weren't the wisest, it turned out, but the gluten-free crust was a star. It was neither mushy nor crumbly, as gluten-free crusts can sometimes be, and its flavor didn't clash with the toppings. My gluten-restricted companion declared it to be as good as any gluten-free pizza crust she's had in town.
I came back the next afternoon for lunch, and it was a little strange to see the rock-themed bar flooded with natural light, making it look even more like a theme park for Hell's Angels. I ordered the Burger Man Burger ($12.99), a chipotle-seasoned half-pound of Angus beef topped with Jack cheese, bacon and onion rings. The burger arrived on the rare side of medium rare, and the toppings made it tall enough that I had to squash it down to bite into it. The bun was substantial enough to hold all the greasy, fried components, and the shoestring fries were a sufficiently crisp accompaniment. My companion ordered the Bourbon Chicken Wrap ($11.29), which had chicken, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce and "Bayou sauce." His only complaint was that there was "too much chicken," which would probably be on the plus side of the ledger for many people.
The Rock drew me in with its crazy decor, but dining there was a pleasant surprise -- the food wasn't especially sophisticated or local, but it was better than I expected from a franchise restaurant where most menu items are named after classic rock songs. I could see it being a fantastic spot for a rowdy birthday party or as a first stop for bachelorettes on the town. We'll see if there's room for two rock-themed restaurants in Anchorage when Hard Rock Cafe opens downtown this spring.
By Victoria Barber