I have passed K Street Convenience, the funky little general store across the street from the Hotel Captain Cook, scores of times without even noticing it. So when a friend, whose knowledge of downtown eateries is encyclopedic, recently told me that K Street is in her regular lunch rotation, my interest was piqued. "They make the best burritos," she said. So, on a recent sunny day, when a friend suggested an impromptu picnic, I decided to let K Street provide the provisions.
At first glance, the deli counter and adjoining kitchen -- crowded against the wall of an overstuffed shop -- don't look big enough to turn out serious food. But if being a professional eater in Anchorage has taught me anything, it's that looks can be deceiving.
The menu is straightforward. Burritos, sandwiches, salads and soups along with a daily special like shepherd's pie, chicken potpie and teriyaki chicken. Certain ready-to-go sandwiches, wraps and breakfast burritos are pre-made depending upon the day of the week if you're pressed for time, but any of their sandwiches can be made to order on any day of the week.
Monday's special is macaroni and cheese ($6.50), so I grabbed a container as well as the K Street version of a Cuban sandwich ($6.50) from the warmer near the cash register. Meanwhile, I placed an order for a steak burrito. To order, you fill out a slip and specify your preference of beans, meat, condiments and hot sauce ($6.50 for a basic burrito, add a dollar for steak, pork or chicken). It's about a 10-minute wait, but you can while away the time by browsing through the decidedly eclectic array of goods on offer. You can buy such tourist basics as a hearing-aid battery, a souvenir baseball hat or a can of Pringles. But it has other charms for locals. There's a wall of Alaska music CDs for sale in case you want a soundtrack for your sandwich. Melissa Mitchell, Jonathan Bower and the Whipsaws are among the names represented. You can also buy fishing flies, some distinctly vintage candy (when was the last time you saw a Whatchamacallit?) or a political T-shirt. How's that for convenient?
Even before I unwrapped the burrito, I was impressed by its heft. In terms of sheer bang for the buck, it was already winning. Happily, it's also delicious. Stuffed with brown rice, perfectly tender beans (in my case, black beans), fresh vegetables and nicely seared chunks of beef, this is an abundant and well-balanced wrap. I loved crisped-up tortillas -- pliant in parts, crunchy in others. The seasoning -- I opted for Tabasco and worried about putting hot-sauce application into someone else's hands -- was spot-on. Half of this burrito would have been more than adequate for lunch, so I was grateful that I had a friend to share it with.
The macaroni and cheese ($6.50) was good and generously studded with bits of chewy bacon, but it was a bit mild -- it was hard to tell what kind of cheese was used, and not as creamy as I would have liked. To be fair, I think it may have suffered from the drive time between picking it up and actually eating it.
If the mac and cheese was slightly nondescript, the Cuban ($6.50) more than made up for it. This is the perfect sandwich to withstand time spent under a heat lamp. In fact, you could argue that it is improved by "marinating" in its own ingredients while wrapped in its foil jacket. The smoky saltiness of the ham adds flavor to the milder turkey, and the tart dill pickles get warmed through and add a bright briny tang into every bite. And the honey mustard -- not usually my favorite condiment -- perfectly balanced the salt and the vinegar of the sandwich's other components.
I was excited to work my way through more of the menu and so returned the following week. This time, I opted for a gyro ($6.50) and soup ($3.25 cup/$4.50 bowl). Make that soups -- with an S -- because I couldn't decide between the loaded potato and the creamy mixed greens soup. Service here is laid back and friendly, and while I waffled on my soup decision, one chef gave me a sample while another described the ingredients. The sample didn't help. I had been leaning toward potato, but the mixed greens variety was so good that I ended up with both. Moderation is not among my strong suits.
The gyro ($6.50) was a straightforward execution of the classic. More modestly proportioned than the gargantuan burrito, it was a perfect handful of lunch. The meat was flavorful and the vegetables were, happily, so fresh. A juicy, whole leaf of romaine rested on top, giving each bite a nice crunch. Thick slices of tomato and diced red onion made it feel a little less sinful than other, more meat-heavy sandwiches.
The loaded potato soup was a bit of a misnomer -- at least, my portion was. When I opened the container, it looked more like a potato salad than a soup. Or like the potatoes you roast alongside a slow-cooked brisket. This is a soup that calls for a fork. But, spoon or no spoon, the thick, skin-on chunks of tender, creamy potatoes were packed with flavor: bacon-y, bacon-y flavor.
The mixed greens soup had a dominant flavor of broccoli, but grassy, earthy notes of other leafy greens shine through and add complexity. And it was beautiful, a deep, gem-like green. Don't ask me what makes the soup creamy. I don't care to know. This soup is full of vegetables and therefore very healthy. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.
K Street Convenience is a quirky little gem with small-town Alaska charm despite its downtown address. And the food is fresh, simple, delicious and affordable. There's no question I'll be in there again waiting for another overstuffed burrito. The only question is dessert: A Whatchamacallit? Or a box of Charleston Chews? Oh, well. I guess there's no wrong answer.
K Street Convenience
Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday (deli service ends at 5:30 p.m.), 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Location: 434 K St.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing