It’s back-to-school time again! Depending, that is, on your definition of the word “back,” the word “to,” and the word, “school.” But whether you’re hustling your kids to ivy-clad halls of learning or just watching your pajama-clad kids sign onto Zoom, your family probably just got a lot busier. Regardless of how big or small your crew, the daily dinner dilemma remains the same. What do you put on the table when you’re out of time, energy, ideas or all three?
Anchorage chefs have the answer: Take and bake, a phrase which currently ties with “take-out” as my favorite in the English language. In an unpredictable dining landscape, our city’s best kitchens are devising ways to put their restaurant meals onto your humble kitchen table. And it’s the perfect culinary crime: top chefs do the cooking and you take the credit.
While I tried to avoid pizzas in this roundup — because on this topic, everyone in Anchorage is already an expert — my first two recommendations can be described as pizza-adjacent. The first is from Originale, the downtown Italian deli whose amazing sandwiches, soups, and pastas have long held my heart. But my latest obsession is their pinsas.
Pinsas are, I’ll admit it, a lot like pizza. The main difference is in the dough, which uses a unique flour mix and a higher water content, resulting in a lighter, fluffier, almost cloud-like crust. The recipe is also elevated by Originale’s impeccably sourced toppings, which are refined and authentic. Thick, buttery slices of fresh mozzarella, fresh, fragrant basil, and a variety of authentic salumi grace these rectangular pies. My favorite is the ham pinsa ($17) with imported Italian porcetta, while my husband and daughter prefer the simple, elegant margherita ($13). Best of all, these beautiful, artful pies are shrink-wrapped, can be kept for up to a week in your refrigerator and take just minutes to cook.
If Originale celebrates my inner Sophia Loren, then Sal’s New York Grill speaks to my inner Jersey girl. Particularly their family-sized — and I mean that in the Italian sense of the word — bake-at-home stromboli.
I had initially planned to opt for one of their creative weekly specials like the Reuben, the Philly, or the Bleue — as in Chicken Cordon, not as in cheese.. In fact, a brief perusal of the weekly specials makes the case that just about anything can be strombolified. But that week’s special was the “Star Junkie,” which comes with Canadian bacon and pineapple — a flavor combo which, in my household, is met with … opinions. So, we opted for the classic ($40) which is stuffed — and I mean stuffed — with ham, pepperoni, mozzarella, peppers, and olives, to name just a few. My family of three healthy eaters managed to get two and a half meals out of one order — fortified by the side order of addictive garlic knots included in the order.
Did I mention that anything can be strombolified? I have proof. It’s in the pudding. The pudding known as the Campfire Stromboli ($15) which is basically an Italian s’more. Inside the glossy dough, heated to a melty perfection, are graham crackers, marshmallow, and chocolate. An unholy alliance? Or a magnificent trifecta? Either way, ordering this on impulse has retroactively justified my World’s Greatest Mom coffee cup. Thanks, Sal.
It shouldn’t surprise me that Crush Bistro is, well, crushing it with their take-and-bake offerings. They have a creative and extensive menu of items that you can try to pass off as your own, from simple picnic platters of gyro and Reuben fixings to orders of Rockfish en papilotte and grilled octopus. Each dish comes perfectly packaged for the oven, with detailed and specific cooking instructions.
We opted for ricotta gnocchi for two ($16), Brussels sprouts ($15), short rib ragout for two ($29), and shrimp and grits for two ($29). The gnocchi were creamy and rich, with a silky, earthy, mushroom sauce that managed to avoid being overly heavy. And while the gnocchi themselves were light and pillowy, they held their structural integrity in the sauce. The sprouts were lightly cooked, so remained crisp and fragrant. They made a perfect foil for the gnocchi and, combined, the two dishes made an excellent starter.
The shrimp and grits were packed with flavor. Teeming with sweet corn and tender-crisp vegetables in an acidic and fiery sauce, this dish was fresher and more spring-like than some shrimp and grits iterations I’ve had in the past. Topped with fat, gently cooked, juicy shrimp, and perfectly balanced by a butter-bathed bed of grits, this was a dish where assertive flavors and comfort food combine.
But the dish of the day was the short rib ragout. The meat was melt-in-your mouth tender and the thick, velvety sauce was rich and savory. We ate this dish until we were stuffed but couldn’t keep away from it. We kept dipping bits of bread into it and stealing just one more mouthful.
Altura Bistro was my last dine-in experience before the lockdown and it’s a delicious, if bittersweet, memory. Unfortunately, COVID hit the country before my review could hit the paper. But I had my eye on this newcomer to see how they would cope with opening at such an inauspicious time. Happily, this young restaurant seems to have responded with vigor and flexibility. They not only made an agile pivot from fine dining to fine and casual take-out, but also launched into large-scale soup production. The soups ($30) are packaged in a five-quart sealed bag that is refrigeration stable for two months and easily freezable.
The soups are hearty, comforting, one-bowl meals with flavors like Mexican beef tortilla, cream of potato and leek, smoked salmon chowder, and three-bean chili. My family is partial to the gumbolaya and the smoked mushroom gorgonzola. If you feel like a little self-indulgent splurge, their inimitable sweet prawn bisque is available by the quart ($40). This is such an easy way to get a crowd-pleasing, nutritious meal on the table, that it’s like buying time by the bag.
Soup is available every day, but on Sunday, each bag of soup comes with a fresh loaf of house-made ciabatta bread with a side of whipped, herbed butter. Need another reason to feel good about ordering? For every five bags of soup purchased, Altura Bistro donates one bag to Bean’s Café — as of early August, they had donated nearly 600 gallons of soup to Bean’s. So, while you feed your family you can also help feed the community.
Rich, creamy soups, slow-braised meaty stews, and yeasty, long-rising breads require skill, patience, and above all, the thing we all have least of lately: time. And while you can’t buy time, these talented chefs are selling the next best thing.
400 D Street
(907) 868-7900; originaleak.com
Order in-person, online, or by phone. Or visit linfordofalaska.com for delivery options
Sal’s New York Grill
7001 Brayton Drive
Order online early in the week for Wednesday afternoon pick-up or delivery.
Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar
328 G Street
2-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 2 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Order online anytime for pick-up at the downtown location or by 4 p.m. for 6:30 pick-up at their Southside O’Malley bottle shop.
4240 Old Seward Highway
Order by phone. Check their Facebook page for updated menus.
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