That Food Guy
Monday, July 26, 2010
  Prospector’s Pizzeria & Alehouse


Prospector’s Pizzeria & Alehouse
Milepost 238.9 Parks Highway
Denali, Alaska 99577 (907) 683-7437
PO Box 107, Denali, Alaska 99755



Probably no trip to Alaska is complete without a visit to Denali National Park and Preserve. The name for the park comes from the mountain, Denali, the highest peak in North America. One of America’s jewels, the park is renowned for its wildlife. The gigantic wilderness park is surrounded by even more wilderness. Just outside the park entrance and boundary is a small enclave of hotels, gift shops and food establishments that open seasonally to accommodate Denali’s thousands of visitors.

After a long day of touring the park, marveling at the scenery and capturing the wildlife on film, it was time for dinner. Dick and I used the inexact science of serendipity, walking around a bit and going to a place that struck our fancy. We went to Prospector’s Pizzeria and Alehouse. It turned out to be a good choice.

The hostess seated us in a booth in a large dining room, the walls covered with historic Alaska photographs. The other decorations follow the Alaska theme with snowshoes and bear skins. The building was once a multi-media theater showing aurora, northern lights presentations. There is a long bar with a long line of taps. The booths are bench seat, snug but comfortable enough for a dinner. When the dining room is full of patrons it can be a bit on the noisy side. Besides proclaiming they stock 49 different beers, the menu features appetizers, sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, and soups as well as the pizza.
Humus appetizer platterWe decided to start with an appetizer and ordered humus with crostini. It was an attractive presentation. A round bowl, with a good serving of humus, was in the center of an oval platter. Surrounding the humus were crostini, Kalamata olives, thinly sliced red onion, pepperoncini, diced tomatoes, diced cucumber, a wedge of lemon and a small container of feta cheese. It has been said if you like garlic then you’ll like humus. This version was milder in garlic than expected but still was a nice smooth consistency and good flavor. It was a treat trying all of the possible flavor combinations. The serving was adequate for two.


It was a pizzeria after all, so we ordered pizza. Prospector’s offers two sizes, the cub at 12-inches, and the grizzly measuring 17-inches. The menu has a long list of standard pizza topping combinations. As well, if you have particular favorites, you can “build your own,” choosing from a list of sauces, crusts, and extensive toppings. We went back and forth. Did we want to share a large pizza or get a smaller, individual pie. This topping, that combination was considered until we decided to each get an individual pizza, the cub.

Dick ordered the Grizzly Bear (cub-sized $13.95).The toppings included: pepperoni, Italian sausage, double smoked bacon, ground beef, mozzarella and aged provolone cheese. The pizza arrived hot. When I asked Dick how it was, he gave me a big thumbs-up.

The Prospector Pizza - Pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, hot peppers and mozzarella cheeseI ordered the Prospector (cub-sized $13.95). The toppings included: Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, hot peppers and mozzarella cheese. Also hot on arrival, the crust had a slightly raised edge, was lightly browned on the bottom, and as a good pizza crust should be, soft but tough. There was a good distribution of sauce and cheese, not too much nor too little. There were adequate topping on the pizza. Good flavor, good pizza. We were hungry and ate avidly. About half way through the pizzas, both Dick and I realized we should have really ordered a cub to split.

Prospector’s offers amenities such as a free shuttle service from lodging to the restaurant and back for its customers. All of the restaurant employees we met were courteous and efficient. The hostess greeted and seated us is short order. The server, in his Carhartt overalls, was always in motion and kept up with the needs at his tables. Work at the pizzeria is seasonal and workers come from all over for a summer’s work. They seem energetic and serious about their work.

Considering that the Prospector’s Pizzeria and Alehouse is in the middle of the wilderness, that resupply is a 4 to 6 hour truck drive away, the quality of the food product was excellent. Servings were well prepared and adequate, and the prices were reasonable considering where we were.
Denali is the highest mountain in North America and the backdrop for Denali National Park and Preserve
If you would like more information about Denali National Park and Preserve,
see http://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm .

If you would like more information about Prospector’s Pizzeria & Alehouse,
see http://denalipizza.com/ .

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Thursday, July 22, 2010
  Orso - Anchorage, Alaska
Orso - Anchorage Alaska from accross the street. Larry, Janis and Dick all with happysmiles after eating at Orso.
Orso Anchorage Alaska
737 W 5th Ave
(North side of street- 2 doors East of Glacier Brewhouse)
Anchorage, Alaska,99501 Phone: 907-222-3232
Hours:
Lunch: Mon - Fri 11:30 - 2:30
Brunch Sun - Sat 11:00 - 3:00
Dinner: Sun - Thurs 5:00 - 9:30
Fri & Sat 5:00 - 11:00
From their menu: “Like the great restaurants of Italy and France, where food is savored, and friends gather to enjoy the spontaneous moments of their lives…”
We had been hosting our good friend Dick from Florida. He wanted to say thank you by taking us to dinner. Included in the dinner guest list was another good friend from Anchorage, Larry, who had given Dick an four-wheeler tour of Lake Eklutna’s Lakeside Trail just a few days prior. After a few miscues we ended up at Orso, an up-scale bistro in same block as its sister restaurant in the same block, The Glacier Brewhouse.
Orso is a comfortable place, where subdue lighting, dark wood hues, framed art and lit candles set the mood. It is quite some time before you realize the ceiling is unfinished with beams, conduits and ducts, all in subdued colors as well. Tables and chairs predominate over booths, most of which seat a more intimate party of two. For the four of us the table was more than adequate.
The menu features appetizers, salads and soups, sides to share, steaks and roasts, fresh pasta and, as any good restaurant in Alaska, a selection of Alaska seafood. You may order drinks from the bar featuring margaritas, cosmos and buzzless Traditional Chicken Parmesancocktails. Tuscan Chicken FettuccineBrewhouse ales are also featured. A bit pricy, entrees ranged from the 10-ounce grilled filet mignon at $39.95 to a grilled chicken Parmesan at $18.95. The pasta dishes range from Seafood Gemelli at $26.95 to spaghetti and meatballs at $15.95. Seafood prices ranged from the king crab legs at $39.95 to Crab Louie at $25.95.
While we perused the menu we were given a basket of sliced French bread and saucer of hummus. It was a tasty diversion. My wife ordered the Tuscan Chicken Fettuccine ($18.50). The menu describes it as, “Pan seared chicken breast tossed in a rich garlic-cream, with roasted red onions and zucchini.” Orso serves fresh pasta from the Alaska Pasta Company. It was cooked just right. The chicken was cut in small pieces and tossed in the pasta and sauce with a sprinkling of the roasted onions and zucchini. It is served was a savory white sauce. The large serving bowl belies the adequate portion. She enjoyed her meal and said it was worthy of another order at some future date.
Larry ordered the Traditional Chicken Parmesan ($18.95). The menu describes it as, “Parmesan-crusted chicken breast finished with melted fresh mozzarella, hosemade marinara and capellini.” It was a nice stacked presentation with nicely browned chicken breast, melted cheese and a bright, fresh looking red marinara sauce. The chicken was tender and flavorful. The sauce and cheese complemented the chicken and flavored the capellini. He said it was very good and he was more than happy with his order.
Dick ordered the Seafood Gemelli ($26.95). The Seafood Gemellimenu Mushroom Stuffed Raviolidescribes it thus, “With red king crab claws, Alaska scallops, petite Manila clams, shrimp, and Alaska salmon, halibut and garlic cream.” Again, served in a large bowl, the dish is served along with the tools to remove the claw meat. He seafood and sauce are served with a macaroni-like solid pasta. Dick is sometimes predictable. I waited for his reaction when I asked him how he liked his food. First there is his trademark smile, then the arch of the eyebrows followed by the low, bass rumbling, “Great!” He certainly seemed happy with his selection and enjoyed his meal.
I ordered the Wild Mushroom Ravioli ($20.95). Described as, “Housemade mushroom stuffing, garlic herb broth, Copper River sockeye salmon, capers and fresh dill.” Served in a large bowl, there was a nice looking assortment of ravioli in a light clear, dark sauce. There was an accent of shredded carrot and scallion greens. A more than adequate portion, there was a mild flavor of salmon highlighting the earthy savor of the mushroom stuffing. The pasta was cooked just right, not chewy but still with a slight resistance to the bite. A thoroughly enjoyable meal, one that has me thinking of things I can do in the future in our own homChocolate Moussee kitchen.
Only three of us had room for dessert. Larry chose the chocolate mousse. It was a nice serving of rich chocolate. Dick selected the carrot cake. It was a good-sized wedge of fine-grained cake and cream cheese frosting. Both said their chosen desserts were very good. I opted for the crème brulee. It was a coffee mug-serving with a spiral of orange. The still cold cup and custard contrasted nicely to the crispy, just caramelized top. Sweet with a hint of the spiral of Creme Bruleeorange, I enjoyed to the very bottom of the cup.
The bare ceiling does contribute to the background noise level, a bit more than these old ears can accommodate, and I missed the waiter’s name. I am sorry that I didn’t ask for it later because I would like to place his name here to thank him for good attentive service without hovering. He gave us the time we needed to read and peruse the menu and he seemed to be there when a glass was empty or we needed something. All in all, we were all satisfied with our selections, found the entire dining experience to be pleasant and of the substance to make good memories.

You can check them out at www.orsoalaska.com.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010
  Fox Island Grilled Salmon Dinner
MV Tanaina docked at Fox IslandJuly 20, 2010
Fox Island Grilled Salmon Dinner - Kenai Fjords National Park Tour

The best way to see and enjoy the wonders of Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska, is to take a tour boat ride. Some of the tours are half day and give an opportunity to see the Resurrection Bay and wildlife, including whales, orcas, sea lions, otters, eagles and many other unique and exciting creatures. Some of the tours are all-day and offer views of glaciers emanating from the Harding Ice Field in the Kenai Mountains. It is all very exciting and in the brisk air of the Kenai Fjords appetites build. Some of the tour operators provide meals onboard the tour boats. One operator, Kenai Fjords Tours, offers a slightly different and unique service. They cater a meal at their wilderness lodge located on Fox Island located in Resurrection Bay.
Grilled salmon and prime rib dinner at Fox IslandThe dining room at Fox Island Lodge
The island, located about 12 miles from Seward, is named for the foxes that were raised there early in the last century. The islands made excellent habitat for the animals. The fur trade ended about 1930. Occasionally foxes are seen and I suspect they are descendants of the imported breeding stock. The imposing cliffs and pebbled beaches in protected coves made for a natural, wilderness fox farm.

The island is still in the wilderness. There are no power or telephone lines from the island to nearby Seward. Electrical power is supplied mainly by solar energy. Conservation is an important part of the island’s culture. Building materials for the large lodge and supplies for daily operation are brought by boat. Seasonal, the lodge provides limited accommodations for overnight stays for nature walks and kayaking. The main use of the lodge, however, is to feed the passengers on the Resurrection Bay tours. There are many boats, many tours, at staggered hours. The lodge is ready to feed the first tour for lunch and continue through the day and into the night (remember, in the summer it is daylight until almost midnight).

Considering the location, the limitations and that the majority of the workers are seasonal, they do an outstanding job. The facility is meticulously clean and neat, the people are neat, clean and courteous almost to a fault. As guests we see the table set for us. We troop through, eat our meal, enjoy the stint ashore and then leave. What we don’t see is the preparation before and the clean up afterwards. It all happens so seamlessly that we assume we were the only guests. I have to say, “Well done!”Humpback whale breaching and rolling
Humpback whale breaching
That is where we went and how we got there. Let us look at the meal Kenai Fjords Tours provided. I am the tour guide for the family visits. As a result, I have been to Fox Island several times over the years. I remember the first time, maybe fifteen years ago. The entrée was grilled salmon. The chef was grilling the salmon as you walked by the large grill near the doorway. It was all very good, good enough that over the years we have returned with each family member that has come to tour Alaska.

This time I was pleased that they have broadened the menu. Don’t tell my Alaska buddies, but I am not particularly fond of salmon. The addition of prime rib was welcome news. The grilling is now done out of sight and presented at the buffet table. The first time through you are served the entrees, grilled salmon and prime rib. After the first serving, you can serve yourself to second helpings of your favorites.
Three hole rock, a rugged piece of shorelineThe blue ice of Aialik Glacier
First on the table are the salad and the rolls and butter. A mixture of salad lettuces and some shredded carrot sprinkles, it was crisp and fresh. The salad dressing is served in large, individual foil packets, more than ample servings, in the popular flavors. Corn on the cob was offered, steaming hot, cooked just about right. A large container of a rice pilaf-style dish provided the starch. Next came the grilled salmon, nice filets with near perfect grill marks. The next was the prime rib. It was prime rib for mass service. It was all cooked the same, about medium. If you liked rare you were out of luck but the medium was just enough to take away the red color.
The salmon and prime rib dinner is included in the price of the tour. On board the boat you are offered the option of adding a pound of Alaska king crab legs to your dinner. There is a premium for this at $15. When you pay for the addition, you are given a wrist band. Showing your wrist band at the end of the serving table was all you had to do to get your additional plate full of crab legs.

The salad greens were crisp and fresh. The packages of salad dressing were of sufficient size and provided ample dressing. Croutons, also offered on the service table, added to what was otherwise a basic salad. The salmon was cooked through, moist and flaky. The prime rib, as I have noted, was cooked medium. The meat was tender and had that great prime rib taste. All it needed was perhaps a pinch of salt.

The rice pilaf was fine, not overly flavorful, but adequate as a filler and cleans the pallet between bites of the entrees. The corn on the cob, half cob servings, was cooked but still crisp and not mushy like corn on the cob that has lingered in a pot of hot water until served. On your first trip through the serving line you are served. On subsequent trips it is self serve, an all-you-eat buffet.
Complimentary beverages are coffee, tea and lemonade. I believe beer and wine are available for an additional charge. A self-serve display case features pastries for dessert. During the meal, a National Park Ranger gives a multi-media presentation highlighting the history, geology and wildlife of the Kenai Fjords National Park area.

A beautiful location, with close family and friends, it was a well enjoyed meal that I will remember for a long time. I still marvel at how well it is all put together by the seasonal workers considering the location and the logistics of maintaining the remote wilderness lodge.
For additional information go to:
Kenai Fjords National Park
http://www.nps.gov/kefj/
or Kenai Fjords Cruises and Tours
http://www.kenaifjords.com/
 

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