WASILLA -- Wing fans can now get their fix without having to drive to Anchorage. Even better this summer they'll be able to quench the fiery burn with Wasilla-brewed beer made next door.
Old Town Square, home to Gold Rush Jewelers and for years the only spot to get a Valley-made beer at Great Bear Brewing Co., is undergoing big changes. Wings 'n Things, the popular Anchorage eatery, opened there in late January in what was the Great Bear restaurant. Coming this summer is a new brewery, Last Frontier Brewing Co.
Owner Tracy Olson said business at his restaurant has been hopping. Keeping with wings tradition, he offered delivery service on Superbowl Sunday. That day, he said, the Anchorage and Wasilla restaurants went through 40 gallons of wing sauce and about 3,000 pounds of chicken wings.
"There's a lot of chickens running around with crutches," Olson said, laughing.
Wings 'n Things is an Anchorage institution that dates back to 1983. Former owner Joe Connelly closed the business in Aug. 2007, sending wing addicts spiraling into depression. But the wing spot was resurrected last year at 36th and Arctic Avenue in Anchorage, with Connelly still making the sauce, and owner Tracy Olson has been working for months to bring the Valley spot online. He employs about 20 people at the Wasilla location.
So far the reception in the Valley has been pretty great, he said.
"Even the people who have not tried the wings (before), they're excited there's another kind of food out here. There's nothing like us out here, and there's nothing like our sauce," Olson said.
Olson also put a new face on the former Great Bear. It has new paint, new floors, new light fixtures and a brighter feel, he said. The stage where many a crooner debuted during open mike night is still there, but Olson said he's not quite ready to jump into live music. But he does plan to hold a Wii tournament in March.
The pine horseshoe bar where patrons knocked back "Valley Trash" and other Great Bear brews is staying put, Olson said. He's working on getting a beer and wine license and hopes to be pouring local brews this summer.
That's where Randall Martin and Ray Hodge come in. Martin owns Gold Rush Jewelers and is the landlord of Old Town Square, the little shopping plaza he built in the early '90s. When Great Bear closed in November he bought the fermentation tanks and other equipment with plans to open a new brewery.
"It's something I've wanted to do before," he said.
Martin said his son, Robert Martin, is 21 and will help run the brewery, along with longtime Alaska brewer Ray Hodge. They hope to be pouring by June 1.
The brewery space is tiny -- 900 square feet, or about the size of a two-car garage, Hodge said. There they plan to brew five beers: two lagers, cold-fermented and aged on site; an India pale ale; a stout; and a rotating seasonal beer.
"We're picking styles of beer that people are either familiar with or have a history of enjoying," Hodge said. "We don't want to stretch the boundaries of creativity (as) much as to make something that is so good and exceedingly fresh."
They plan to add a tasting counter where patrons can buy up to 36 ounces of beer, or a little more than two pints. They also plan to bottle their wares in 20-ounce bottles to sell at the brewery and at a few local stores. They plan to sell their draft beer in restaurants, including Wings 'n Things.
Hodge said he believes the small space gives them an advantage in the craft-brew market. They don't have to worry about making enough beer to pay for a cavernous brewery.
"Because we're small and don't have to work on volume, we can concentrate on quality," Hodge said. "Everybody thinks bigger is so much better. But sometimes better is just better."
Farmer's market devotees might remember Hodge from his days as a farmer who sold potatoes, cucumbers and other veggies under the name Ray's Produce.
He's also a beer man who worked at Bird Creek Brewery (now closed), Midnight Sun Brewing Co., Railway Breweries (also defunct) and a few other spots.
He built the brewing room for Great Bear and has worked to get other breweries and brew pubs up and running -- a job he's now doing as a consultant.
Hodge is currently in North Carolina at The Weeping Radish Farm Brewery on the Outer Banks. It's an organic farm, butchery and brewery.
He said he's learned a lot about brewing in the last few years and is looking forward to sharing his knowledge with the people in Wasilla.
"This is the beginning of a new era for me," he said.
For Martin too. After 36 years of making jewelry, he said he's looking forward to helping start a completely different venture, one that will periodically get him away from the workbench and intricate jeweler's tools.
"It's something big you can get your hands in," he said.
Find Rindi White online at adn.com/contact/rwhite or call 352-6709.
Get your wings
• Wings 'n Things, at 376-WING (9464), is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and closed Sundays. They offer delivery to a large area around Wasilla.
By RINDI WHITE