This is an installment of quick bites — an occasional feature that collects small write-ups of surprising forkfuls, unsung eateries and hidden gems on ordinary menus. Believe me, I could happily write a thousand words about a perfect grilled cheese sandwich but when it comes to food writing, sometimes enough is as good as a feast.
I used to make grilled cheese sandwiches all the time. But not lately. Jason Anderson, the chef behind the roving restaurant Melt has ruined me for my own lunchtime cooking. His elevated interpretations of the classic childhood favorite are so delicious that I may have hung up my spatula for good.
After spending the winter operating as a once-weekly pop-up at The Gathering Café in South Anchorage (inside ReMade), the wheeled iteration of this cheesy operation will once again hit the road this summer, serving creative sandwiches and dreamy sides to dip them in.
Anderson’s creations range from the sophisticated sandwich, layered with ingredients like gruyere, arugula, and balsamic reduction, to the homey “Hogfather” ($17) stuffed with pulled pork and coleslaw, to takes on classics like the Reuben or Monte Cristo. Rotating specials highlight the season or local collaborations, like the thick-cut corned beef braised in Magnetic North Brewing Company’s Cali Pale Ale piled high into the Magnetic North special sandwich. Or the Tatu’ed chicken, featuring Tatu BBQ’s smoked pulled chicken tossed in their house-made Golden Bliss sauce.
Like a comfort-food sommelier, Anderson pairs his sandwiches with perfect house-made sides, like double cream alfredo sauce, spicy Russian dressing, and a black grape gastrique (for “The Count” Monte Cristo). But the standard bearer, available as a side with any sandwich is the tomato roasted red pepper soup. Creamy, rich and fragrant with garlic and basil, this is a cup of decadent comfort.
My favorite thing on the regular menu, the sandwich that really tickles my inner-child, is the charmingly named, “Lady and the Tramp.” ($14) Layers of Pecorino Romano, mozzarella, pesto cream cheese and, of course, spaghetti are lovingly melted together and served with a side of spicy marinara. Like the movie, the sandwich is delightful and nostalgic. Unlike in the movie, I will absolutely not be sharing.
Extended food truck summer hours coming soon
Gaetano’s Brick Oven
Driving a pizzeria on wheels sounds like something 8-year-old me might have answered when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. But Gaetano’s Brick Oven, the snazzy, tricked-out food truck, is serving up decidedly grown-up pies. And in a town with no shortage of excellent pizza, this truck is somehow managing to fill a wedge-shaped hole in my heart.
The menu is short and focused with a selection of 10-inch pizzas — basically personal-pan-sized — with a weekly special, a few calzones, and a handful of salads. You can call ahead or order at the window. Thanks to a mobile brick oven cranked to roughly 700 degrees, delivery to your car takes less time than you might think. Four pies worked out perfectly for a family of three hungry people, with a few leftover slices that we bickered over the next day.
The pies are thin, crisp, and light. Refined, even. My favorite was the Funguy pie ($13) which surprises me to say, since mushrooms are not my favorite topping. (I couldn’t bring myself to order a Funguy pizza and then ask them to hold the fungi). But these were not your canned button-mushroom offerings. These mushrooms were earthy and buttery, and even a little bit smoky. They shared crusty real estate with a white sauce, a three-cheese blend, charred brussels sprouts, and Italian sausage.
The smoked chicken pizza ($13) shares white sauce DNA with the Funguy pizza and it’s a perfect vehicle for the savory, aromatic chicken. White sauce can be thick and stodgy, but this interpretation is light and creamy and a perfect backdrop to balance the more assertive flavors of grill-smoke and red onion.
The pared down margarita pie ($12) tastes like spring on a crust. The tomato sauce is light, bright and acidic, and fresh mozzarella is, of course, the food of the gods. A drizzle of olive oil and some fresh basil is all this dish needs to achieve simple perfection. Too refined for every member of your family? The generously meat-studded pepperoni pie ($13) will satisfy that yen for a classic pizza-party pie.
Gaetano’s Brick Oven
11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
11460 Old Seward; Follow on Facebook for updates to hours and locations.
Altura Bistro burgers (takeout only)
Apparently, it’s impossible to eat an Altura Bistro burger without taking a mouth-watering picture of it and posting it on local foodie social media. Which is why I spent months desperately craving a dish that I hadn’t even tried. I fixed that recently when I bought home a few burgers for a dad’s-out-of-town mother-daughter movie night. Did I bring home three burgers for two people? I did. Did I regret it? Reader, I did not.
With indoor dining returning closer to normal, I had been thinking, longingly, of Altura Bistro as a fine-dining establishment, with its lobster bisque, foie gras crème brulee and Wagyu tomahawk steaks. And while, of course, I’m thrilled to see the dining scene coming back to life, I will miss a few things about the all-takeout-all-the-time lifestyle. (Goodbye delivery growlers of Double Shovel Cider.) One thing I thought might disappear was the takeout menu from Altura Bistro, where these burgers made their debut. A carefully curated list of comfort food items that are not available for dine-in but are available all day (even when the restaurant is closed), this menu looks like it’s here to stay.
We ordered the classic burger ($15), the signature Altura Burger ($18), and that week’s special, the “Pimento Please” ($17). I’ll start there. This playful construction comes with extra sharp pimento cheese, spicy pickled onion, bacon, arugula, and garlic aioli on a house-made challah bun. So, basically, the toppings are just a list of my favorite things. I would make the argument that pimento cheese, bacon, and aioli would make a piece of cardboard taste good.
I bring this up because, as good as those toppings are, the patty itself, the star of this ensemble, is the hands-down star. Fresh ground filet mignon and bacon make a patty that is tender, juicy, salty, and just a bit smoky. It’s patty perfection. So, while I would happily eat a bun stuffed with these toppings all by themselves, I would also happily eat this burger completely unadorned. Happily, no one will ask you to make this choice.
The Altura Burger features cambozola cheese, onion marmalade, garlic aioli, and arugula for a bougie take on a classic cheeseburger while the “Classic” cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle is pure canon. Of the three, I literally could not pick a favorite. And after a week of reflection, I still can’t.
Did I mention that the challah rolls are baked fresh daily? Or that the burgers come with house-made potato chips which, in my opinion hold up much better than fries in a takeout container?
Recent updates to the takeout menu include a panko-crusted halibut sandwich and a Nashville-style hot fried chicken sandwich called the Mother Clucker. It will be hard for me to venture off the burger list, but in case discipline prevails, watch this space.
Altura Bistro lunch menu
Takeout menu available 11 a.m. 9 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday
4240 Old Seward Highway, Suite 20
See Facebook for menus and updates