Lucky Wishbone has been in business since 1955 and its cozy corner of Fifth Avenue is like a little wrinkle in the Anchorage time-space continuum. I've been a fan since I moved here and I'm always looking for an opportunity to share my love for this iconic time capsule. So I grabbed Rizzo, Frenchy and Kenickie and headed over in the Bel Air for some cheeseburgers and Cherry Cokes.
I kid. A friend met me for lunch. She has a normal name. And I was driving a Suburban. And the restaurant's interior is less "Frosty Palace" and more "Sourdough." The kids at Rydell High would need to be bush pilots or gold-panners in order to fit the scene. (Are you listening, Hollywood? I smell a sequel.)
But I digress.
The restaurant was hopping, but our hostess greeted and seated us right away. More importantly, she called me "Hon" (or was it "Dear"?) and I'm a sucker for that kind of homey greeting when delivered with sincerity. I'm not sure the restaurant has ever had a makeover and I hope it never does. Low fluorescent lighting panels, a carpet of indeterminate age, faux-leather chairs on wheels and old photographs and ephemera on the walls create a decidedly vintage atmosphere. There's a patina on this place (though, I should add, it feels very, very clean).
The menu is straightforward -- their signature pan-fried chicken, burgers, sandwiches and shakes. Most of the offerings are timeless fare but I am charmed by the throwback quality of some of the menu items. Cold ham on white toast with mayonnaise and a pickle spear! Adorable. I wouldn't necessarily order this sandwich, but it makes for good reading.
We ordered a plate of chicken to share (the five-piece "Pop" -- breast, thigh, leg, wing and back, $12.50). Despite years of visits, I have never ordered anything but the chicken, though people I know rave about the burgers. My logic is that there are plenty of good burger joints in town, but few that specialize in fried chicken. This time, to branch out, we ordered the Jumbo Bacon Swiss Burger Deluxe ($6.50).
The chicken arrived hot and steaming. The breading is thin, clinging closely to the meat. This is not the thick, crackling coating that some places strive for. Here, the chicken is the star of the dish -- it's moist and tender and not overpowered by its casing. In other words, it's perfect. The platter comes with a reasonably good, though dry, corn muffin (which you can slather with butter and honey) and a bed of uninspired french fries.
My burger had the slightly loose consistency of a hand-formed burger -- no perfectly round hockey-puck here. And the serving style is decidedly retro. Shredded iceberg lettuce, Day-Glo yellow mustard, sliced tomatoes, onions, pickles and a generous portion of thick, crisp bacon. All served inside a smooth-topped sweet bun. This is a classic and satisfying burger.
For dessert, my friend and I split a chocolate milk shake ($4.95). Creamy, only mildly chocolaty and tasting of real ice cream, it was a decadent ending to the meal. The only more perfect possible ending would have been a nap.
Despite the crowded room, service was quick, efficient and friendly. You get the impression -- and please don't correct me if I'm wrong -- that the employees like working there. That is hard to fake.
The following week, I picked up a to-go order for a small get-together I was hosting. I got a "Family" order (15 pieces of chicken, 5 rolls and a pint of coleslaw, $35.95), an order of fried gizzards ($10.95) and a small order of chili just to try ($4.95).
The rolls aren't anything to speak of -- sweet, soft and doughy, they were crushed in the packaging and never regained their shape. Not, I would suggest, an added value. The coleslaw, on the other hand, is unique. Creamy and on the "wet" side, this slaw is studded with shreds of pineapple, which makes it a bit sweet for my taste. I was alone in this, however. My guests, including one self-professed coleslaw critic, ate it with gusto. There were no leftovers.
As for the gizzards, some people are turned off by these beautiful but unbeautifully named little morsels. Lucky Wishbone's gizzards might change their minds; they are deep and earthy, with a pleasantly musty, mushroomy taste. Even my (usually picky) daughter enjoyed these crispy, salty little bites.
We were too full to deal fairly with the chili, so I ate it the next day for lunch. It's mild but flavorful. I detected a generous hand with the chili powder, and the stew is thick with ground beef, fat beans and big chunks of tomato. A hit or two of hot sauce would elevate this dish. They offer it on an open-faced hamburger which is, I think, audacious. Carnivores rejoice!
Lucky Wishbone serves the best chicken in town and other simple, well-executed dishes. And, best of all, everything comes with a side order of nostalgia.
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., closed Sunday
Location: 1033 E. Fifth Ave.