Recently, I began a mission to eat and drink my way through the restaurant decks of Anchorage, looking for the best combination of outdoor ambience, good service and tasty food. Last week, I reported my findings on Midtown and South Anchorage (hitting up Peanut Farm, Midnight Sun Brewery and Bradley House). This week, like some sort of thirsty, appetizer-craving Magellan, I conclude my journey with a roundup of the popular patios in the downtown and Spenard areas.
The Rustic Goat
It took us 45 minutes to score a table at the Rustic Goat's small, popular deck, even at the strange lunch hour of 3 p.m. The view -- mostly the parking lot and traffic-heavy Northern Lights Boulevard -- is not my favorite, but the sun was out, the air was fresh and there was an adorable little dog under our neighbor's chair.
We shared an order of not-too-exciting breadsticks ($7), which we pushed aside in favor of the incredible steamed clams ($16); fragrant, herby, and lemony, we could have easily eaten another two orders and wished for a spoon to drink up the broth (we used clam shells instead -- don't judge.) An order of french fries ($4) and another of house-made potato chips ($4) with curry powder were perfect, salty little treats to go along with a crisp, cool sauvignon blanc. Lastly, we shared the clam and bacon pizza ($14) which was tasty but sold the clams a little short. In a head-to-head flavor battle, bacon beats clams.
Service was gracious and well-paced. I will be back, but I'm unlikely to wait 45 minutes to sit on the patio. The dining room is lovely and the ample windows give the room a sunny, open feel.
I met a friend for midweek burgers and beers at the Millennium Hotel's popular bar overlooking Lake Hood. The menu is predictable for a hotel lounge -- burgers, salads, a few seafood specialties -- and, just as predictably, the food was not the star of the experience. Our burgers ($15) were tasty enough, but unoriginal and on the small side for the steep hotel-dining price.
For the me, the Fancy Moose is all about location. The serene lake view is enlivened by floatplanes taking off and landing -- it's a fun spot for out-of-towners and aviation enthusiasts.
A lake view (and not a distant mountain vista) is the perfect choice for a smoky, hazy day.
Bernie's Bungalow Lounge
Bernie's is hard to describe: a bar with a bit of a bad-boy reputation, it's part hipster hang-out, part Thai restaurant, part live music venue and part dance club. It was a frequent stop for me when I lived downtown, but I've since outgrown it (or, to put it another way, I'm old). Another sign that I'm old: I miss the lawn, bocce court and pool table that used to grace the patio.
I met a friend there on a recent Thursday evening. The security detail is an off-putting first impression for a relaxed evening among a seemingly peaceable crowd. The patio was busy but spacious, so we found a table quickly. There's no view to speak of, but the funky dragon fountain and the "found-art" auto parts sculpture make for a pleasantly quirky space.
The real attraction here is people-watching. It's a diverse crowd during the dinner hour: dusty, leather-clad bikers, people in business attire and sensible shoes, a handlebar mustache (or two) and a baby parked in her carrier under a table were all in attendance.
We ordered drinks and, because it was a hot day, stuck with cold foods: a cheese and salami plate ($12) and tuna poke ($15). The platter was what you'd expect but the poke was terrific: the tuna was fresh and buttery and the dressing gave it a nice, spicy kick.
Service was fine, if a little slow. We left just as a blues band was setting up, which, depending on your mood, would either make your night or ruin it. So maybe call ahead and see what they have in store before heading out.
A tour bus favorite, the Snow Goose seems to have a PR problem with the locals. My daughter and I arrived for dinner on a gorgeous Friday night and, unsurprisingly, the decks were packed. After staking out a table, we waited for a server. After 20 minutes, I bussed our table. After 25, I helped myself to water and a menu from a nearby wait station. After almost half an hour, a manager told us that the deck was opened erroneously and we'd have to fetch our own drinks and food from the bar. It was frustrating to learn this after waiting so long, and it's hard to understand how such a blunder could have been made, but, to be honest, the system worked fine. The bar staff was easily able to accommodate food and drink orders from the line that formed from the upper deck.
On the plus side, the deck is not a bad place to cool one's heels -- even without a glass of wine. The cityscape, the busy Port of Anchorage and the serenity of the Sleeping Lady all make for excellent middle-distance gazing.
The spud nachos ($12) are a hefty guilty pleasure that could feed a table of six. My burger ($15) was fine but cooked rarer than requested. My daughter's fish and chips ($15) were decent but the portion seemed small for the price.
Service: N/A (I was tempted to rate this a D+ but I feel I didn't see the service as it's meant to be performed. Also, some individual staff members seemed to be working hard to improve a bad situation, so I'll abstain).
The Slippery Salmon
The last stop on my journey, this quirky little joint was a complete wild card to me. Attached to the Third Avenue Ramada Inn, it seems to sit on the "wrong side of the tracks" or, in this case, the "wrong side of the Government Hill bridge." In other words, I considered it the underdog. But who doesn't love an underdog?
While the view of the port and inlet is somewhat obstructed, Mt. Iliamna is perfectly framed from the cozy little patio. It was a warm sunny day (if somewhat smoky) and only a few tables were occupied. Service was efficient and personable. A manager checked in with us mid-meal -- a detail I really appreciate.
The menu is straightforward and homey, with an emphasis on slow-cooking. We shared the Twisted Cowgirl queso ($8) with guacamole and shredded beef. Do I even have to say if it was good? It was. Because it's queso. My friend's beer-battered halibut ($20) was crispy outside and tender inside. My French dip ($14) was pleasingly over-stuffed with hand-carved, flavorful roast beef. The side of mashed potatoes in rosemary gravy was creamy and buttery with a few lumps of authenticity and flecks of red skin. It was clearly made with love.
The highlight was my husband's Georgia chopped pork sandwich ($9). This pork has done its time in the slow-cooker. Tender, tantalizing shreds of pork were steeped in a bright, tangy barbecue sauce. On the side was an order of jalapeno macaroni and cheese -- deliciously creamy, with a fun little kick at the finish.
The Slippery Salmon is a diamond in the rough and I hope they never polish it up. It shines just as it is.
This concludes my exploration of the city's best patios, and I'll take a welcome break. Because -- two weeks spent eating and drinking outside? Well, it was no picnic.
By Mara Severin
Daily News correspondent