That Food Guy
Thursday, September 15, 2016
  Imperial Palace - Anchorage Alaska - A Birthday Revisit 2016

Imperial Palace - A Birthday Revisit  
September 2016
400 Sitka St
Anchorage, Alaska 99501

The first time I ever saw the Imperial Palace was back in 1988 or so. It was on my first trip to Alaska. I saw the restaurant across the highway and down a small street each time I went to the Flight service Station to get a weather briefing. Flight Service Stations are gone now but the Imperial Palace is still there. I didn’t visit the restaurant that time but marked it in my mind for a future time.

It was several more years before I moved to Alaska. I remembered the Imperial Palace and saw it each time I would drive by the airport. Somehow it just never came to pass that I would stop in and see what it was all about. It was not until 2012 during a visit by my sister and my nephew that we decided to see if the Imperial Palace was indeed worthy. We were all very favorably impressed and looked forward to visiting again. You can read that critique at .
Fast forward to 2016; in Alaska for the last part of the summer to do maintenance on our property, I was treated to dinner, the reason being it was my birthday, by some old and dear friends, Wasana and Larry Tower and Gloria and Jim Kocis. Given my choice, after all it was my birthday, the Imperial Palace came to mind. We all agreed to meet in town at 5 O’clock PM. It was a date that I eagerly awaited.
As a young child my first encounters with Chinese food were from Chinatown in Los Angeles.  Those savory dishes, the look, the smell, the taste – those delicious flavors, were the major part of larger experience. It was an alien world, the exotic dress, the incense, red and black lacquer décor accents, gilt trimming, paper lanterns; it was all heady stuff to an 8 or 9-year old but it emblazoned on my mind what eating Chinese was all about. The menu to a young person was almost impossible to comprehend. The entrees were a strange combination of alien sounds. As a family, we would usually order from the combination meals, you know, “…with four you get eggroll.” I have not been back to Chinatown for more than 50 years. It has changed I hear and sadly not like it once was. Today it is very hard to find a Chinese restaurant that compares to the old days of Chinatown. There are a lot of storefront take out emporium who all seem to serve carbon copies of each other, now served as Styrofoam plated combo meals. Even the long cherished Chinese food take out container is hard to find. It is sort-of Chinese at least in name, often fusion dishes you are a bit adverse to try. As well, the all-you-can-eat parlors are popular as well. If you want to get your Chinese food fix it is a place to go with lots of variety and in seemingly endless quantities. However, I am sure you will agree with me that it is only a semblance of what Chinese food for Americans could and should be.

The allure of the Imperial Palace for a revisit was that it is very reminiscent of the Chinatown of old. I was very favorably impressed on the first visit some years ago and I had hopes that it would be as good this time. The interior was as I remembered; not a lot of black and red lacquer to be sure. There were the paper lanterns adored with the Chinese characters, the moveable screen, very evocative of the General Lee, to set aside areas for large groups or those wishing a bit of privacy. There was no tall, beautiful oriental hostess, dressed in a floor length red silk dress with a slit up the side to greet us. But then, you can’t have everything.
The menu, in an elegant cover, is quite complete. There is a large selection of al la carte dishes including a choice of Korean dishes, a goodly selection of luncheon combinations at a reduced price, a list of single and double entrees dinners for one, and even family-style with combinations from $13.95 to $19.95 each (there are numerous combinations but the selections do not increase with the number of diners, i.e., “…with four you get eggroll.”) . For our group of five with eclectic tastes the combination dinner for one was the best way to because everyone would get just what they desired.

The meal was started with a bowl of egg drop soup. A clear flavorful broth, chicken flavored, with a good quantity of egg drop shards and some vegetables. A tasty soup to start the meal, it had many compliments.
The other Larry ordered the C1 Combination Dinner (13.95 Mongolian Beef and Sesame Chicken – Served with eggroll, pork fried rice and daily soup). An attractive presentation, stir-fried beef in a dark brown glaze, a cone of fried rice, an eggroll sliced in two, and a helping of breaded chicken fried golden brown and accented with sesame seeds. He said everything tasted good and he had no trouble at all completing his meal. He agreed with me and added that it was a place to come back to.

Jim ordered the C3 Combination Dinner ($13.95 Spicy Garlic Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork- Served with eggroll, pork fried rice and daily soup). Another appealing plate, a serving of stir-fried chicken in a spicy sauce with vegetables such as pea pods and broccoli, the standard cone of fried rice with an eggroll, stir-fried breaded pork morsels in a sweet and sour sauce and some onions and carrots.  Jim also completely finished his dinner saying that it was good, good appearance and presentation and good flavor.
Gloria and Wasana both ordered the C4 Combination Dinner ($13.95 Kung Pao Chicken and Sweet and Sour Chicken – Served with eggroll, pork fried rice and daily soup). An equally pleasing plate featured stir-fried chicken with vegetables in a sauce and, of course, the peanuts, there was the fried rice and eggroll, and stir-fried breaded chicken with peppers, onion and carrot, in a sweet and sour sauce. A very pretty plate but all was not as it seemed. Both of them liked the sweet and sour chicken and the fried rice and eggroll. However, both of them agreed that the kung pao chicken was just too salty to enjoy and both were unable to finish their portions; everything good except the kung pao chicken.

It had been a long time since I had enjoyed a decedent chow mein. After a long look at the choices, I finally chose the C8 Combination Dinner ($13.95 Chicken Chow Mein and Sweet and Sour Pork – Served with egg roll and pork fried rice). The first impression I had when the plate was placed in front of me was that the food looks like what I would expected to. It looked like what I remember from the Chinatown restaurants. An appealing plate, there was a good portion of breaded stir fried pork cooked with onion, peppers and carrots in a very tasty sweet and sour sauce, the pork fried rice and the eggroll, and a serving of chicken chow mein. The chow mein was a mix of stir-fried chicken, vegetables and noodles in a sauce.  The noodles were fried but not crisp. The sauce is a thinner, clearer sauce made from the broth with just a touch of sweetness, traditional, just as it should be. The flavor of the chicken and the noodles was never masked by the flavor of the sauce. The eggrolls were excellent, good enough that you might wish they were more part of the dinner than as a single one serving in an appetizer role. The fried rice is the filler of the dish. It is good but not special. I would suspect that if you were to order a serving of fried rice as an entrée from the menu it would be a bit more polished. The sweet and sour pork was excellent. It was breaded morsels of pork, stir fried with some onion, peppers and carrots in a very good sweet and sour sauce.
The Imperial palace is a small and I believe a family-run business. We actually only saw one person most of the time in the dining room. She as the hostess, the waitress and the bus boy all wrapped up in one. She was never hovering but she seemed to know when you needed her.

For my dinner, I have no complaints. In fact I loved every bit of it. If it were a more perfect world to my taste, perhaps there would have been a morsel or two of pineapple in the sweet and sour and perhaps the noodles in the chow mein could have been a bit crisp – you know, just like the old days. But that does not detract form the enjoyment of a great meal. Of this visit I would say that for the most part, with the exceptions noted above, the food was better than just good. It was a special night and the company was great making it a special, gala occasion. We all arrived about 5 PM and we didn’t leave until almost 8 PM – a most enjoyable session of reminiscing and catching upon the news of the last couple of years. Larry, Wasana, Jim and Gloria, thank you one and all.


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Thursday, September 08, 2016
  Bacon-Fried Apples - Fresh Off TheTree

Bacon-Fried Cinnamon Apples

Circumstances are often way beyond your control. That is how it was and why it had been four years since I have been home to Chugiak Alaska. It was a warm greeting by friends to start off my sojourn. The next day it was time to see what time and the Alaska weather had done to our pickup and our little place in the woods. It was, to say the least, a mess. There were fences down, weeds and grass had overgrown much of the yard. Snow loaded trees had arched over the drive way. Everywhere I looked I could see the ravages of the unattended rigors of the Alaskan winters. There was a lot of work to be done.

One of our apple trees had died and another looked about to go. The surviving trees were loaded with fruit; fruit that would go wasted if I didn’t make use of it. It took less than a minute to fill a bowl. I was wondering what I would do with the apples. From experience I knew that everyone nearby had no interest. I would bag some up from more distant friends but the remainder would still be here. I would be here too short a time to can them so I decided to make us of them in my daily meals as much as I could.

The next morning while washing the breakfast dishes, I took the skillet to wash it and noted the bit of bacon grease from the morning’s bacon. Then I thought about a favorite thing from the Cracker Barrel Restaurant chain, fried apples. That is where the idea of the bacon fried cinnamon apples was born. If you like bacon then you know most everything goes good with bacon.

I peeled and quartered the apples (The Nordland apples here are small, about the size of a small ball, about 2 to 2 ½ inches). I used a pair of scissors to cut up 2 slices of the pre-cooked bacon and put it in a skillet with two tablespoons of margarine. The pre-cooked bacon slices don’t have a lot of fat left but there is enough to impart that bacon flavor to the margarine. I cooked the bacon and margarine until the bacon pieces started to crisp. I added the apples, seasoned with a bit of salt and two tablespoons of sugar. At the heat setting I had set and what I maintained during the cooking, for the first few minutes I could hear the sizzle of the apples in the hot butter bacon mix while gently turning the apples. After about five minutes the sizzle stopped and the juice from the apples accumulated in the bottom of the pan and it became a slow stew of the apples.

The apples were beginning to take on a nice golden brown color. I tasted one. I could taste the buttery flavor of the margarine and a bit of the smoky bacon flavor but the apples were a bit too tart. The Nordlands are a tart apple and I added two more tablespoons of sugar as well as a couple pinches of nutmeg. After about another five minutes the apple liquid evaporated and the sizzle sound returned. A poke with a fork proved the apples were almost done. I sprinkled with about a tablespoon of ground cinnamon and continued to fold the apples and mix in the cinnamon. About another three minutes and the apples were fully tender, golden brown and smelled wonderful. I removed them from the heat and spooned a small sample into a cup.

Let’s face it. Cracker Barrel fried apples and these apples are basically apple pie without the crust. These apples have the added flavoring of bacon. Cooking can be a chore or it can be an adventure in creativity. Here I merged two things I like in order to make a slightly different dish. I had fun doing it and I definitely enjoyed the end result and I found an outlet for many of the apples still on my trees. How do they taste? The apples are a bit tart, a bit sweet. They have a definite cinnamon fragrance and taste as well as a bit of earthy flavor from the nutmeg, The smoky bacon and buttery flavor is in the back ground. They are not too sweet, not too tart, not too much cinnamon and not too much bacon although the little bits of crunchy bacon are a plus. I think, if only by accident, they came out just right.

I know how much sugar and cinnamon I added but I only know I had a skillet full of apples; a bit crude measurement wise for a recipe. I will play with this dish until I have a reproducible recipe and I will enjoy the experimentation as well as the final result and it will be a part of my personal recipe book. Remember, a recipe is only a starting point, a place to start to make it better.



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Friday, September 02, 2016

Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant 

Anchorage, Alaska

It was a long and tiring trip northward, back to Alaska. My good buddy Larry met me at the airport. That’s right! There are two Larrys and when you get the two of us together there is bound to be trouble so beware. It was an arrival in the wee hours of the morning so it was off to his place to crash for the little that was left of the night. After a welcome sleep I was up early for Alaska but late for the East Coast. Over coffee we caught up on the news of the day. There were lots of things to do that day. I needed to get a new battery for the pickup so I would have wheels and I needed get some groceries to stock the pantry. But before any of that it was time for breakfast.

If you have been in the greater Anchorage area very long then you must have heard about Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant. It is located in Spenard, an area a bit removed from downtown Anchorage during the rough and ready days of the Alaska Pipeline construction. Spenard was where the oil field workers would go to seek female companionship. The unofficial rumor is that the upper floors of Gweenie’s saw a lot of action back then. Those wild frontier days are long gone and the area has mellowed and is now busy with tourism and general commerce. But Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant is still there.

The décor of Gwennie’s features rock walls, stuffed bears, a wishing well in the middle of the dining room; all the Alaska kitsch you can think of. It is also know for tasty food at Alaska prices. It was off to Gweenie’s for breakfast.

Our server was named Sparky. It was a good name for her. She was always busy but always there when you needed her. She brought our coffee quickly and left a carafe with more coffee. Sipping our coffee we studied the menu. The other Larry decided on a broccoli and mushroom omelet (Broccoli and Mushroom Omelet $11.75 Omelets served with melted cheese sauce: All omelets served with choice of home fries or grits, toast or biscuits.) with the home fries and toast. It was large and filling meal, an omelet filled with mushrooms and bright green broccoli covered with melted cheese. It was well cooked without any crispy edges. Larry enjoyed his omelet saying that it tasted very good, had loads of mushrooms and broccoli. The home fries are primitive in nature consisting of various sizes and shape of potato. Apparently cooked in masse on a griddle, there are many textures that make for an interesting dish.  Some are golden brown all over and some have darker crispy edges.

This Larry was going to order eggs and the potatoes I just couldn’t decide on what breakfast meat. It had been a long time since I had corned beef hash and I finally decided on that. (Breakfast served anytime: Corned beef hash or ham or sausage or bacon and eggs.$8.75 Served with a choice of home fries or grits, toast or biscuit.)  I also ordered the home fries and toast. The eggs were cooked to order and I had a good-sized serving of the same potatoes the other Larry had. There was a very large serving of corned beef hash. This hash wasn’t made in the kitchen; it came ready to heat and serve in a large container form a supplier. That’s not to say it wasn’t good. A bit of a salty tang as normal, it was fully equal to the premium canned corned beef hash you would get at your local super market. There was lots of corned beef and a small amount of diced potato. The toast was thick slices of bread toasted golden brown. It was a big and filling meal, one that I fully enjoyed.

If you are ever fortunate enough to be in anchorage, Alaska, seek out Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant for one of your meals. It is Alaska however and where else could you say that you had breakfast in a bawdy house?

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