That Food Guy
Sunday, October 14, 2012
  33 Mile Roadhouse - Haines, Alaska
33 Mile Roadhouse
Mile 33 Haines Highway
Haines, Alaska
(907) 767-5756

Haines Alaska is famous for the winter gathering of bald eagles. Many if the eagles are resident year round but in winter there is a migration of eagle form far and wide to feast on the salmon in the Chilkat River. People come from even farther and wider to watch and photograph the eagles in the largest gathering of eagles on planet Earth. A portion of the Chilkat River has been set aside as a bald eagle preserve. The Haines Highway parallels the Chilkat River. Although the best eagle viewing is between miles 18 and 24 of the Haines Highway the eagles frequent much more of the highway frontage. That is where I was off to today, to see the eagles; a proud symbol of our country. I wanted to get some good pictures of eagles in their natural habitat. The fact that it was a blustery cold windy day with pounding rain didn’t promise a really successful day so some contingency plans were made. Since I would be about thirty miles up the Haines Highway I added a stop at the historic and locally famous 33 Mile Roadhouse for lunch.

Much of rural Alaska is historic, not plowed under in the name of progress. The 33 Mile Roadhouse is no exception. The log structure fits perfectly with the isolated wilderness setting. Chrome, glass walls, garish neon and red patent leather upholstery would be out of place in this setting. The original roadhouse was built in 1936 when the crude Haines trail was being built into the crude gravel Haines Road. Construction workers frequented the roadhouse for food and fuel. It really was a frontier then and the roadhouse has had its share of gun-toting patrons and irascible patrons that needed to be escorted out of the establishment at the end of a shotgun. That original building was lost to a fire caused during maintenance – thawing with a blowtorch – in 1984. A new building, the one here today, was quickly built and the roadhouse was back in business. The business has had several owners over the years. About five other people have owned and operated the roadhouse before The Lapp family purchased the business about 1970. They have operated for two generations until recently when it was sold by Jerry and Kathy Lapp to local restaurateur Robert Harris (2011). Over the years the Lapp family has earned a sterling reputation making the sixty-six mile round trip from Haines trivial when going for one of the 33 Mile Roadhouse hamburgers or a piece of Kathy Lapps apple pie. Mr. Harris has a high standard and reputation to uphold. It should be noted that the 33 Mile Roadhouse is the first goods and services visitors arriving in Alaska from Canada on the Haines Highway encounter. So, it wise to remember, that once you pass the roadhouse on your way north there will be no good or services available until the Haines Highway intersects the Alaska Highway some 160 miles later at Haines Junction.

The log cabin structure is almost thirty years old. However, it is immaculate. The Lapps have lavished much care and maintenance to the facility. It is clean and inviting to the hungry traveler. The décor, as would be expected, is Alaska kitsch, some antlers, whale bones, skis and maybe an old miner’s lantern. There are tables and chair as well as a counter with stools. I was quickly seated, given a menu and my drink order taken. Looking around I could see the clientele included some travelers, some indigenous people as well as some tradesmen taking a moment for lunch. They all stop in at the 33 Mile Roadhouse. I had been told by a friend way back in Chugiak about the roadhouse. They recommended the 33 Mile Hamburger. After looking over the menu, that is what I chose, the 33 Mile Burger (with cheese, mushrooms, ham or bacon, $10.25. All burgers served with our house dressing and French fries or potato salad. Substitute onion rings or green salad for $1.00). I chose bacon on the burger, the French fries and a Coca Cola®.

While waiting, I sipped my soda. It was a can of soda served with a glass and ice. Most of the time
I would prefer a can or bottle and not the sometimes watery fountain drinks. My food order was prepared in a reasonably short time. It was a large, almost intimidating plate of food; certainly no skimping on portions. The French fries were dark. On closer examination I could see they were the whole potato kind including the skin. Although I could be off the mark, that probably means they prepare the French fries from fresh potatoes and fry once; in order to cook through in the hot oil the outside overcooks a bit making the dark color. Cooked that way the texture is also a bit off, not the crispy outside we would expect. They tasted just fine with a dab of catsup and I didn’t leave any on my plate. We are conditioned, I suppose, to expect the golden brown, crispy French fries that have been parboiled, cooked once in low temperature oil to cook through and then later cooked in high temperature oil to crisp and brown. The 33 Mile Roadhouse may want to work a bit on the French fries.

The hamburger was already assembled. It was a tall assemblage. I carefully picked it up to keep it all
together, squeezed quite a bit to be able to get a bite. Everything was there in abundance. There were mushrooms, there was crispy bacon, some melted cheese, a bed of a crisp lettuce leaf and an extra not on the menu, a bit of diced onion. It was a juicy burger. It comes with the house dressing but I really couldn’t
tell what it was. All of the other flavors were right up front, all together. I did notice that the center of the fresh, hand-made patty was a bit pink. If it had been cooked to the 140° mark it just barely made it. If am cooking my own ground beef at home, rare is fine. But when I am eating out I would prefer to know for sure, for safety sake, that the beef has been cooked to the correct temperature. That is my personal preference but it wasn’t pink enough to keep me from finishing the burger and fries with some gusto. The burger was tasty, large and a real meal in itself.

Aside from the comments about the pink center and the dark fries, it was a really great meal. The young ladies serving the tables were charming, friendly and attentive. Not to mention that I was eating in a pace with a lot of history, a place in tune with its surroundings, it all went to making a great eating adventure. If you are traveling the Haines Highway I would recommend a short layover to partake of a good meal. If I am ever in the Haines Highway again, I will make it a point to stop by for another 33 Mile Roadhouse hamburger and see how the Lapp traditions are being carried on.

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Friday, October 12, 2012
  Lighthouse Restaurant - Haines, Alaska
Lighthouse Restaurant - Haines, Alaska
Front St - Near the Marina
(907) 766-2442

I had a few days to wait before catching the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Bellingham, Washington. Right next to the RV park where I was staying is the Harbor Bar and Lighthouse Restaurant. It is close enough that even with the frigid wind coming down the Lynn Canal off the glaciers and ice fields it wasn’t a bad walk. And, since I had been doing the frugal cooking bit in the RV for several days, it was time for a change of pace, for a bit of more extravagant food. Haines is a small, isolated town and although change takes place it happens at a more relaxed pace than in the hustle and bustle of the big city. Come to find out that the Harbor Bar and Lighthouse Restaurant has a bit of history associated with it. It is reported that the bar is located directly over the very first US Southeast Alaska survey marker, marker number 1, dating from 1890. The bar dating back to 1890 was originally located in Skagway, Alaska and was moved to Haines, a distance of 15 sea miles, in the early 1900s. Several businesses occupied the building over the years. In the early 1960s Charlie Barnett and Jack Martin opened the Harbor Bar. Charlie had an untimely death on the premises and his ghost has been reported many times over the years by the bar’s employees. Jack Martin’s wife, Ramona, opened the Lighthouse Restaurant back in 1976. It continues handily to this day. It is the end of the season. The cruise ships won’t be back until next year and the town is winding down for a long winter’s nap. I was late for a lunch and early for a dinner so it was no surprise that I was the only customer. I had my choice of seating, a booth that let me look out over the Haines small boat harbor.

First off we need to talk about food prices in Alaska, especially restaurant prices. The farther away you are from the supply hub, usually Anchorage, and closer to the end of the road you are, the higher the menu prices will be. That’s the awful truth; a fact of life we have to live with here in Alaska. I was in Haines and Haines is at the very end of the road. So when I opened the Lighthouse Restaurant menu I held my breath. It is an interesting menu unlike most I have seen elsewhere in Alaska. True, it features entrees with hefty prices such as seared halibut and stir-fry vegetables for $26.99 or the Captain’s Platter, a choice of seafood either deep fried or sautéed with a baked potato and steamed vegetables for $34.99. On the other hand it also features more reasonably priced items in the Local Favorites section such as a six-piece chicken strip dinner with French fries for $8.99. There are several children’s selections for $5.99. The page that most caught my eye was the Hamburger and Sandwich page.I ordered the Portage Cove Burger (A 1/3 of a pound beef with sautéed mushrooms and covered with melted Swiss cheese, served on a toasted sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, mayo and pickles. $9.49) To the order I added a side of French fries, $2.00, and a Coca Cola®, $2.00. My server, Erica, was courteous and patient abiding my questions. She apparently had visited here once before and became enchanted with Haines and has since moved here. She is girding for her first winter in Southeast Alaska. The soft drink was the first to arrive. It was a can of soda. I have no problem with that – it wasn’t a watered down fountain drink. It came with a brew pub glass and some ice. The glass was just the right size to hold the soda. Not long after came the burger. It was nicely arranged open-faced on a platter with a generous portion of French fries. The fries were piping hot out of the fryer but well drained and not at all greasy, crispy outside and tender inside. They were all good fries, not a lot of ends and pieces; an ideal batch of French fries. The lettuce leaf was fresh and crispy. The tomato was ripe and firm and it was a nice thick slice. The burger patty was cooked through but still juicy, not at all dried out. Although it doesn’t show well in the picture,
there were four dill hamburger slices served on the side. It was as simple as turning one bun onto the other and the burger was ready to eat. I wanted to try the first bite before deciding if I wanted any more dressing. With the juicy burger patty and the mayo already on the bun it was just right. The chef has the
assembly down pat. It was an excellent hamburger. The patty and cheese were hot and juicy, the lettuce and tomato cool and crisp all making for a satisfying mix of tastes, textures and temperatures in a single bite. I thoroughly enjoyed my leisurely meal while I watched the activity in the harbor. I wish I could have told the chef, “Ya done good.” I was a stranger in a small town but treated as one of the locals. My server, Erica, was most pleasant and the interlude in the Lighthouse Restaurant will add to the charm of Haines and made it a place that I will have to return to some day.

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