Food and Drink

Lunch at Kobuk, the downtown shop known for tea, candy and gifts

People who think that Kobuk Coffee Co. is only about coffee, tea and beautiful gifts should walk to the back of the store. All the way back, where the diminutive Kobuk Café dispenses not just caffeine by the cup but also sandwiches, soups and all sorts of cakes, pastries and candies (many of them made in-house).

Like the store, the cafe is small and a bit tight on space even though only a few tables are set up. If possible, sit in the part called "The Attic," so you can look at all the things that are on sale. Even if you don't plan to buy remaindered holiday ornaments, they're pretty.

Sadly, the Kobuk isn't entirely successful as a lunch joint (more on that below). However, it's a delightful place to meet a friend for a treat and a chat.

The usual array of coffee drinks is available, but where the Kobuk really lets loose, so to speak, is with its teas. A rack on the cafe wall has 32 kinds of loose-leaf varieties ("Choose any one of our teas and we'll make you a cup"), including two "vegetable sipping broths" (Thai lemongrass, curry spice). A companion who already knows what she likes ordered a skinny chai that tasted like liquid pumpkin pie, rich and smooooth.

But you needn't limit yourself to the cafe rack. Out in the store are about three dozen other loose teas. Aficionados of the leaf could have a lot of fun working their way through the selection. Of course, you'd likely wind up ordering something from the bakery case each time, too. Isn't that the point, though?

The lemon cake ($3.95) was both sweet and slightly tangy, two moist layers separated by a delicious dollop of lemon curd. The buttercream frosting had a hint of citrus, but not enough to overpower the butter. Thank goodness.

Travel writers Larissa and Michael Milne singled out the Kobuk for The Huffington Post in an article titled "The Dozen Best Doughnuts In America." No arguments here. The old-fashioned variety ($1.50 each, $12 per dozen) are somehow both dense and light: They don't collapse into nothingness when you bite into them, yet they're not heavy and gummy.


Be sure to try the birch doughnut, as its birch-syrup glaze is both delicate and delicious. Order two, because it will save you from having to go back after you've inhaled the first one.

The young diners in our group loved the triple chocolate brownie ($2.50), which was very dark, very rich and crammed with chunks of chocolate. The icing is smooth and not at all cloying despite the intense sweetness of the brownie. The Kobuk also sells gluten-free brownies.

A cherry turnover ($3) featured a lovely, flaky pastry. Lavender sugar cookies ($1.50 for three) are little scalloped sweets with a delicate herbal finish. The lavender isn't overpowering at all and the cookies aren't overly sugary, which makes them a light and refreshing treat with tea or coffee.

Soups vary depending on the day (unless it's Friday, when its always clam chowder). The Hungarian mushroom soup was rich, creamy and thick enough to stand a spoon in. It was also vegetarian; no chicken stock was used or needed.

Tomato tortellini had a touch of cream, which took away any hint of acidity and gave the broth a luxurious mouthfeel. Little pockets of pasta would make it hearty enough for lunch, i.e., sandwiches optional. All soups are $4.95 per cup or $5.95 per bowl.

That's good, because the sandwiches at Kobuk are disappointing. We're talking little-kid-lunchbox sammies, e.g., one slice of ham and one slice of cheese between slices of white, wheat or multigrain. They are not made to order; customers pick them out of the fridge that holds soft drinks and juices (plus packets of mustard and mayo).

My group tried both the egg salad and chicken salad ($4.95 each) and while nothing was wrong with them, not much was right, either. Nothing particularly flavorful, just garden-variety fillings without niceties like lettuce, tomato, sprouts or herbs, or even premium breads. That's disappointing, given how much care is taken with the baked goods and soups.

With luck, the sandwiches will improve. In the meantime, if a cup of soup is enough for your meal, you could still stop in for lunch -- and definitely come here to get treats you love but don't have the time or ability to make. Where else are you going to get a birch doughnut?

Donna Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and reviewer, blogs at

Kobuk Café?

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday (open Sundays starting in June)

Location: 504 W. Fifth Ave.

Contact: 907-272-3626 or



Donna Freedman

Freelance writer Donna Freedman is a veteran Alaska journalist who has written for the Anchorage Daily News and many other publications. She blogs about money and midlife at