There is plenty of good food on the stretch of Tudor between the Seward Highway and, say, Boniface Parkway. Thai, Japanese, Indian and Mexican restaurants are all amply represented. But these aren't the kinds of spots where you might drop in for a quick drink after work or meet friends before a night on the town. With apologies to The Blue Fox (one of my favorite old-school watering holes), if you're looking for contemporary American cuisine, or a relatively fashionable pub, Tudor Road is a desert.
So I was excited to try Bread and Brew, the modern, casual new eatery with an emphasis on creative beer and bar offerings. I'm always looking for grown-up dining rooms with family-friendly menus (that aren't sports bars or chain restaurants) so it seemed like the perfect spot to take some friends, including a few teenagers, for a low-key dinner celebration after a recent school performance. I checked the menu out in advance. Perfect, I thought: creative comfort food for the kids and comfort cocktails for the grown-ups. Something for everyone.
The experience was … uneven.
The dining room creates a nice first impression. Spare, clean-lined and contemporary, it feels casual but also rather chic. That said, the tile floors, cool color palate and high-topped tables make the room feel a bit cold (metaphorically), and the lack of an arctic entrance makes the room feel a bit cold (literally). Every time the door opened, our table was hit with a quick and sudden chill. I kept my coat on for my meal, which was both a practical problem and a psychological one. I never felt quite settled in. I imagine this problem isn't as bad closer to the bar and away from the door.
The menu is straightforward, not overly ambitious and pleasingly cheese-forward. Let's face it: I'm never not in the mood for cheese. There are a few decent vegetarian options and all of the sandwiches are available on gluten-free bread with no additional charge. I can think of quite a few people who will appreciate being able to order off the whole menu.
We ordered what I thought was a good cross-section of the kitchen's offerings. Two of my guests ordered grilled cheese sandwiches. One teenager opted for side dishes as a meal (a soft pretzel and an order of mac and cheese) and another chose a pepperoni pizza. My daughter chose the Philly Beer Cheese sandwich and I went classic, ordering a BLT.
Some things were good. The grilled cheese sandwiches – the "OG", a basic offering with white and sharp cheddar cheeses ($8) and the Jalapeno Popper, with cream cheese, bacon, cheddar and roasted jalapenos ($12) — were toasty, crisp and appropriately gooey. The Philly Beer Cheese sandwich ($13) was well seasoned with a nice balance of caramelized onions and peppers and a generous blanket of provolone. And the Beer Cheese dipping sauce that came with the pretzel was flat-out addictive.
Other things were merely … fine. The macaroni and cheese ($5) was a bit dry and mostly forgettable. The pretzel ($8) was aesthetically beautiful and came out piping hot but tasted more like a fluffy dinner roll, lacking the satisfying, chewy density of an authentic pretzel. The flatbread pepperoni pizza ($13) was playfully delivered in its own little baking sheet. And while the sauce was a bit sweet for me, the rest of the table was happy with this rectangular pie, generously studded with pepperoni.
My BLT ($12) looked good but it had a few problems. The B was fine (is bacon ever not fine?). The L, however, came in the form of a "spring mix" which wilted under the heat of the fried egg (automatically included on the sandwich). I was looking for the freshness and crunch of the usual, if lowly, iceberg lettuce. And the T, alas, was also a disappointment. Bright, juicy tomatoes are crucial to a good BLT and these were mealy and lacked flavor (a seasonal hazard, I'm guessing). Lastly, the chipotle mayonnaise somehow managed to deliver spice without heat. I could taste the chili but it lacked punch and I think that a bit more seasoning could coax out more flavor. The sandwich, ultimately, overpromised and under-delivered. I would have been better pleased with a humbler, more classic version.
Overall, the food was fine. However, I wasn't pleased by the overall value of the meal. Most Alaskans won't bat an eyelash at a $13 sandwich. But, if they're like me, they will expect it to be sizable and to come with something substantial on the side. The grilled cheese sandwiches are served with only a ramekin of tomato soup for dipping. It's a great flavor combination but doesn't exactly qualify as "soup and a sandwich." The Philly and the BLT came with a sad handful of chips. In a restaurant, I'm not interested in chips on a plate. I have chips at home. What I don't have is a perpetually preheated deep fryer. So, when I eat out I want fries (or tots or onion rings or a signature potato salad or … well, you get the idea).
To compensate, I added two orders of truffle fries ($8 each) and an order of regular fries ($4). The truffle fries were a hit but the portion of regular fries was rather meager. These three orders were just barely enough for our six diners, and I could have easily ordered more but I had already added $20 to my bill for something I normally expect to be built into the cost of the meal. I appreciate the importance of keeping costs low and preventing waste, but, to me, a handful of fries isn't the hill to die on.
That said, the beer, wine and cocktail menu is extensive, creative, and reasonably priced. I particularly enjoyed my Steigler Grapefruit Radler (16 ounces, $5), a light, aromatic, refreshing beer that tastes like sunshine in a can. And my daughter's root beer float ($4.50) was delicious, decadent and served, charmingly, in a handled glass Mason jar. I'm looking forward to trying some of the bar's signature cocktails, like the Bloody Mary (garnished with a grilled cheese sandwich!) and the Blackberry "Classy Trashy" that comes with both vodka and sparkling wine.
Bread and Brew is new on the dining scene and they're getting a lot of things right: Décor, menu concept and service are all on point. But, for the moment, the restaurant is more "brew" than "bread" and I'm likelier to drop by for a drink and a pretzel than I am to make it a go-to dining destination. I'd love to see some changes on the plates. But as for you, house-made Beer Cheese: never change. You're perfect.
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Contact: (907) 562-2739
Location: 1450 E. Tudor Road