Travel Eats: An unforgettable Alaskan adventure

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Salmon, Glacier Brewhouse
Alaska alder grilled salmon with lemon garlic vermouth butter, alder grilled potatoes, asparagus, baby tomatoes, and avocado lime verde, Glacier Brewhouse

I’d always heard that Alaska was in a class of its own, but experiencing the vast landscape and beauty during a recent 10-day family vacation was far beyond what I had pictured. We explored the southern part of the state using nearly every form of transportation: bus, plane, boat, train, raft (and probably others I’m forgetting!) – and I loved sampling local fare along the way.

Of course, Alaskan salmon is famous the world over, so I sought it out at a few different restaurants. The best version was at Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage, grilled over alder wood and perfectly cooked to retain its deep pink color. The Brewhouse is also known for its calamari, which came in possibly the largest segments I’ve ever seen and had a double-jalapeño kick in the form of slices and spiked aioli. I’d go back and order both again.

Calamari, Glacier Brewhouse
“Simply the best” buttermilk battered calamari with jalapeño lime aïoli and jalapeño chips, Glacier Brewhouse
AK king crab roll, Karstens Public House
AK king crab roll, Karstens Public House

Seafood was available pretty much wherever we went, so I made sure to try other varieties as well. The king crab roll at Karstens Public House, near Denali National Park, let its local crab shine with just enough creaminess to hold it together. Fish tacos were also common, often with halibut; I enjoyed a rockfish version with avocado crema at Seasalt in the coastal town of Seward.

Rockfish tacos, Seasalt
Rockfish tacos, Seasalt
Bowl of smoked salmon chowder, Humpy's
Bowl of smoked salmon chowder with in-house smoked salmon crumbles and dill, Humpy’s

Humpy’s is a long-time institution in Anchorage, and I was pleasantly surprised that the quality of the food belied the dive-bar vibe. The just-thick-enough salmon chowder had a generous topping of house-smoked salmon and loads of dill. I also adored the crabby patty melt, which fused a garlicky crab-cake patty with lots of melty cheese and other burger toppings for a remarkable result.

Crabby patty melt, Humpy's
Crabby patty melt with Alaska king crab blended with fresh herbs and breadcrumbs, deep-fried and topped with cheddar & American cheese and garlic aioli, Humpy’s
Caribou meatloaf, Base Camp Bistro
House-made caribou meatloaf with mashed potatoes and roasted veggies, Base Camp Bistro

Another dining goal for our time in Alaska was trying the game meats that are much more commonly available there. The most successful dish was a mouthwatering caribou meatloaf with sticky glaze in Talkeetna (that my husband ordered and that I regret not stealing even more bites of).

Meatloaf and Golden Dall beer, 49th State Brewing Company
Bacon-wrapped buffalo meatloaf with Smōk lager demi-glace, onion strings, and smashed potatoes; and Golden Dall Belgian tripel

I also indulged in a bacon-wrapped buffalo meatloaf at 49th State Brewing, well-dressed with onion strings and an umami-rich demi-glace. I paired it with what ended up being a favorite beer of the trip: the Golden Dall Belgian tripel (with its own signature glass), named after the mythical sheep that’s said to reign over nearby Denali. Also, in the background, their draft cream soda packed with local blueberries was an excellent zero-proof option.

49th State’s most award-winning beer is the Smōk, which was sold out on draft but available to-go, and the delightfully smoky flavor was even more enjoyable while perched on our hotel balcony during one of the 20+ hours of sunlight this time of year.

49th State Smōk lager on the balcony
49th State Brewing Company Smōk lager, enjoyed on the balcony in view of the mountains
Aloha Escape pizza with reindeer sausage, Moose's Tooth
Aloha Escape pizza with added reindeer sausage, Moose’s Tooth

I also had the chance to get a little creative with pizza toppings and added reindeer sausage to a Hawaiian-style pizza at Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage, known to have the best pizza in Alaska. I also tried their apple ale, one of several beers brewed at their onsite brewery Broken Tooth, and I loved the punch of apple flavor without the typical sweetness of cider. Their namesake canned root beer was also worth seeking out whenever we saw it on other menus.

Arctic Apple Ale, Moose's Tooth
Broken Tooth Hard Apple Ale, Moose’s Tooth
Coffee stout, Girdwood Brewing
Hippy Speedball coffee stout, Girdwood Brewing

Our local brewery trend continued with the memorable Girdwood Brewing. Their proximity to the Alyeska resort informed the ski theme, complete with a chair lift on the wall and as part of the outdoor seating. Their coffee stout was bold yet easy-drinking, and since we visited at dinner time, we also made a stop at the on-site food truck for savory and sweet crepes. My basil pesto crepe with bacon really did transport me to France, to match the après-ski atmosphere.

Basil pesto crepe with bacon, Crepes de Paris food truck
Basil pesto crepe with bacon, Crepes de Paris food truck at Girdwood Brewing
Alaskan White beer at Sockeye Saloon
Alaskan White ale, Sockeye Saloon

While we didn’t visit them directly, Alaskan was the most common brewer we saw, and this can of white ale was particularly memorable. It marked our visit to the Sockeye Saloon, the only bar in the tiny town of King Salmon – so tiny that the airport called the bar directly to see if our party of 18 was there, and to tell us our plane back to Anchorage was departing early and that we needed to walk next door to the airport immediately!

That was actually the Fourth of July, when we spent the day at Katmai National Park and entered the habitat of more than 2,000 brown bears. We had a bit of a close encounter with a bear that was mere feet away on the trail (and famously known as 747 in the park for his enormous size), so the buffet lunch at Brooks Lodge was especially satisfying and well-deserved as we recovered from the rather frightening event.

4th of July buffet lunch at Brooks Lodge, Katmai National Park
4th of July buffet lunch (right after our bear encounter!) at Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park
Glacier margarita aboard the Spirit of Adventure
Glacier margarita (actually made with ice from the Holgate Glacier!) while aboard the Spirit of Adventure touring Kenai Fjords National Park

We also made memorable toasts in a few surprising locations. While on a boat ride through Kenai Fjords National Park, the crew harvested ice deposited by the Holgate Glacier (the main attraction on our all-day tour) and used chunks in festive margaritas. Another day, about 90 minutes into a float trip down the Placer River (also glacier-adjacent), our guide magically pulled out a thermos and cocoa mix, and we got to enjoy exceptionally scenic hot chocolate right then and there on the raft.

Hot chocolate while floating along the Placer River
A very scenic hot chocolate, provided by our rafting guide while floating along the Placer River
Raspberry fritter and dirty chai, Alpine Cafe and Bakery
Raspberry fritter and dirty chai (enjoyed during one of the many hours on our tour bus), Alpine Cafe and Bakery

Alaska isn’t without its baked goods, and the two best were at bakeries in the Girdwood ski area. At Alpine Cafe and Bakery, the raspberry fritter was airy and packed with fruit; meanwhile The Bake Shop’s famously large sweet roll had fluffy, citrusy inner layers with almonds and glaze on a crispy top.

Sweet roll, The Bake Shop
Sweet roll with lemon glaze and almonds at The Bake Shop
Fruits of the Forest pie and Alaskan birch sundae, Wilderness Express dome car on Denali Star train
Fruits of the Forest pie with apples, rhubarb, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, and Alaskan birch sundae with organic Alaskan birch syrup and birch almond brittle crumble, aboard the Wilderness Express train

One last pair of standout desserts came aboard the Alaska Railroad train to Denali. We were seated in the Wilderness Express dome car, with sweeping views of the scenery, and our trip included lunch in the lower-level dining area. We couldn’t choose between the two desserts, and I’m very glad we ended up with both. The pie, gooey with five different fruits, and the sundae with local birch syrup (which tasted like a mix of caramel and maple, and immediately made the list for souvenir purchases) and brittle crumble, both matched the extra-special atmosphere of the entire ride.

Finally, on the last day of the trip, I had the chance to stop at one of the ubiquitous drive-up coffee shacks I saw throughout the state (the drive-up part is especially useful during the colder months, I hear). My coconut mocha, with real milk chocolate stirred in, was a luscious morning treat.

Coconut milk chocolate mocha, Black Bear Coffee Company
Coconut milk chocolate mocha, Black Bear Coffee Company

The details: Moose’s Tooth, 3300 Old Seward Hwy., Anchorage; Brooks Lodge at Katmai National Park & Preserve, King Salmon; Sockeye Saloon, Mile 15 on Alaska Peninsula Hwy., King Salmon; Alpine Cafe and Bakery,  1 Alyeska Hwy., Girdwood; The Bake Shop, 194 Olympic Mountain Loop, Girdwood; Girdwood Brewing and Crepes de Paris food truck, 2700 Alyeska Hwy., Girdwood; Spirit of Adventure boat with Major Marine Tours, Seward; Seasalt, 133 Fourth Ave., Seward; Placer River Float with Chugach Adventures, Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop; Base Camp Bistro at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, 23601 S. Talkeetna Spur Rd., Talkeetna; Wilderness Express dining room on Alaska Railroad Denali Star train; 49th State Brewing Company, Mile 248.4 Parks Hwy., Healy; Karsten’s Public House at McKinley Chalet Resort, 238.9 Parks Hwy., Denali Park; Glacier Brewhouse, 737 W 5th Ave., Anchorage; Black Bear Coffee Company, 4300 Forrest Rd., Anchorage; Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, 610 W 6th Ave., Anchorage; all Alaska.

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