Five outstandingly delicious places to eat in Alaska

In the spirit of journeying during periods less traveled, I’ve embarked to Alaska this winter. Follow the adventures here, and prepare to have your preconceived notions destroyed along the way.

Particularly in the winter, it’s pretty crucial that you stay warm and well fed while in Alaska. We can’t make any promises about the ease of the former, but we’ve got the latter completely under control. Believe it or not, The Last Frontier is a foodie’s paradise, with a vast number of outstanding local eateries to choose from. During my stay in Anchorage, I was told that there were some 16,000 restaurant permits floating around the greater ANC area, which likely means that you’ve more food options than lodging choices. I was also interested to find that a great many of Alaska’s best eateries are tucked into what we Lower 48ers would call “strip malls.” I’ll admit — prior to visiting AK, I’d visited all 49 of the other states, and strip mall food was rarely a hit. Not so in Alaska. Read on to find out five totally delectable places to eat in the Anchorage and Fairbanks areas; who knows, your favorite hole-in-the-wall might be in there!

%Gallery-118372%1) Silver Gulch

This place didn’t even serve food three years ago, but after being a dedicated brewery for a decade, the owners decided to try their hand at something new. Good thing they did. Located in the tiny town of Fox, Alaska (around 20 minutes outside of Fairbanks), this restaurant and brewery makes its own grub and beer, and it’s easily one of the best meals you’ll find in the greater FAI area. The design of the place is refreshing as well, and the public is welcome to take a tour of the connected brewery at no charge. Looking for a recommendation? The Pub Pommes to get things going, the Halibut Tacos to stuff you and a walk around the brewery to make you feel a little better for overeating.

2) Seven Glaciers

Perched high atop Alyeska Hotel, this AAA Four Diamond restaurant is a serious treat — from both a visual and deliciousness standpoint. I’ve never been to a place with a more astonishing entrance. In order to get here, you’ll need to step foot into a scenic tram that lifts you up the mountainside in a matter of minutes. The views of the surrounding mountain ranges in Girdwood (~45 miles outside of Anchorage) are downright breathtaking, and the food inside may be even more so. Reserve a table with a windowside view, and feel free to opt for any of the (seriously amazing) fish dishes. You’re in Alaska, after all!

3) Moose’s Tooth

If you’ve heard of one restaurant in Alaska through the so-called grapevine, chances are it’s Moose’s Tooth. Situated in Anchorage, this place is widely known for having the best pizza in the state, maybe even the country. That’s a pretty tall claim, and after trying it for myself, I’d say the place mostly lives up to the hype. The vibe is laid back, the staff is warm and welcoming, and the service is top-notch. The food is truly world class; the only pizzas that I’ve had to rival this one in taste come from (the now defunct) Giordano’s in Chicago and Mellow Mushroom in North Carolina. Make no mistake — the sheer quantity of wild topping options is worth making a trip for, and I can guarantee you won’t leave disappointed.

4) Lemongrass

Thai food… in Fairbanks? It’s true! In fact, Fairbanks is fairly well known for having a staggering array of Thai food options, and Lemongrass is a particularly delectable choice. As I alluded to earlier, this one’s tucked slyly within a strip mall of sorts, so it’s fairly easy to overlook. You’d be smart to look it up, though, as everything at the table I sat at drew wide smiles from those eating. Naturally, the Pad Thai was remarkable, so even if you aren’t feeling too adventurous, you can still snag a great Thai meal in Alaska.

5) Crow’s Nest at the Captain Cook Hotel

I’ll be honest with you; this one’s worth stopping at just for the view. The food is delicious, mind you, but it’s a bit pricey and not quite as on-point as the grub at Seven Glaciers. But if you’re looking for the most impressive view of Anchorage from an eatery in the city, this is it. It’s located on the 20th (i.e. top) floor of The Captain Cook Hotel, and the overlook of the city (shown above) is simply astonishing. Be prepared to pay said view, though, and make absolutely sure you and your partner save room for the Bananas Foster dessert. That alone is worth making a reservation for.

Obviously, there are a lot more than five great places to eat in the state of Alaska. Southside Bistro, Bear Tooth Theater Pub and Middle Way Cafe all come highly recommended in the Anchorage area, while Big Daddy’s BBQ in Fairbanks calls itself the most northerly place to get southern barbecue. Got any other great recommendations for food in Alaska? Shout ’em out in the comments section below!

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

My trip was sponsored by Alaska Travel Industry Association, but I was free to report as I saw fit. The opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

The food and wine of Extremadura, Spain

One of the best things about traveling around Spain is trying out the various regional cuisines. Here in Extremadura, in the southwestern part of the country, the people are known for the quality of their cuisine.

First off, there are these shapely pig legs pictured on the right. Cured and ready to be cut into thin slices, this is called jamón, and is a personal favorite of mine. In a country where people are always saying their regional food is the best, a lot of people seek out Extremaduran jamón. The care and feeding of the pigs is the key.

Spaniards love their pork. While their beef steaks are only OK and their chicken dishes good but unremarkable, they seem to have devised unlimited varieties of pork products. There’s lomo (tenderloin), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (sausage with dried smoked red peppers), salchichon (Spanish salami) and a million kinds of embutido (seasoned sausage). I’m very glad I’m not vegetarian.

One surprise when visiting Extremadura was to discover my favorite cheese comes from there and only there. Torta del Casar is a soft white cheese made of sheep’s milk. It comes in a soft cake that is sliced open to reveal the gooey cheese inside. It has a creamy consistency and rich flavor, perfect to put on crackers. Extremadura produces a whole range of good cheeses, but torta del Casar is the most unique.

The region is also well-known for the quality of its paprika, called pimentón in Spanish. Not surprisingly it makes it into a lot of dishes, including cazuela, a paprika butter that’s very good on bread. Like every other region, Extremadura also has its own brands of olive oil, preserves, and sweets.

And let’s not forget the wine! One good line is Habla del Silencio, a full-bodied, slightly biting red of consistent quality. Another is Theodosius, a Tempranillo/Graciano mix named after the famous Byzantine emperor.

Every town in Extremadura has at least one shop selling local food and wine. If you’re in Mérida, check out Serraquesada on Calle José Ramón Mélida 24, close to the Roman museum, where most of the photos in the gallery were taken. This family-owned business focuses on Extremaduran products and stocks pretty much anything you could ask for. The front has rows and rows of jamón, and shelves stuffed with other food and condiments. In the back is a well-stocked bodega with a few tables so you can sit and sample Extremadura’s wonderful food and wine. Their website is still under construction but the business offers international mail order via email at

Many of Extremadura’s better-known products such as jamón and torta del Casar can be found in better shops all around the country.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Exploring Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest

Coming up next: Top five castles of Extremadura!



Gastro-diplomacy and the politics of food

Food has been a trending topic in travel circles for some time now. But though a good meal can tell a traveler much about the local culture, it’s not often that food is thought of as a force for political change at home. Yet, in a recent article for the Jakarta Globe, writer Paul Rockower makes just such a claim, part of a growing school of thought called Gastro-diplomacy.

Increasingly Asian nations, including South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, are turning to their national cuisines as a way to promote their country’s brands abroad, gaining increased attention and burnishing their image among the international community.

As the argument goes, people are more likely to relate to other cultures in terms of its cuisine, resulting in economic and political gains. In many ways, the effort seems to be working – the Thai government’s “Global Thai” campaign, which successfully helped open thousands of new Thai food restaurants in the U.S. alone, is seen as a model for other nations now following similar strategies.

So does a bowl of noodles create new paths to cultural understanding? At first-glance, Gastro-diplomacy does make a simplistic linkage between food and genuine cultural understanding. After all, food can just as easily become a stereotype (rice in Asia, tacos in Latin America) as it can be used to deepen cultural knowledge. But there are some signs that gastro-diplomacy has had success – Sushi, anyone? In the years ahead, look for politicians to not just try to win hearts and minds, but also stomachs.

[Via @EatingAsia]

[Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt]

Eating and biking in Italy: The feast of Emilia-Romagna

If aliens had orbited the Earth during the Roman Republic, they would have spied a technological marvel: an arrow-straight highway, 162 miles long, beginning at the Adriatic coast and slicing through the farmland communities south of the Apennines. More than 2,000 years later the Via Emilia still connects the same neatly spaced cities-including the cultural gems of Parma, Modena and Ferrara.

The modernized Via Emilia (SS9 on motoring maps) feels like Italy’s answer to California’s Highway 49. Transecting the region called Emilia-Romagna, it’s a conduit rich with history, linking the past and present. It’s poetic justice that the ancient thoroughfare now hosts the titans of Italy’s automotive industry: Maserati, Ducati, Ferrari and Lamborghini all have factories here. But it also happens that everything I love about Italian cuisine, from pancetta to parmesan, originated along this road.

“Food in Emilia-Romagna is not a joke,” our guide declares as we sit down to our first dinner, in Parma. She’s dead serious. This is where tortellini was created, modeled after the navel of Venus; where the width of a tagliatelli pasta ribbon was decreed to be exactly 1/1,270th the height of Bologna’s Asinelli Tower; where pork rumps are aged in dungeons. And this was where a 19th-century silk merchant named Pellegrino Artusi, abandoning the family trade, created the concept of “Italian cooking.”

Food in Emilia-Romagna is a religion-and to visit is to worship.

[Flickr photo credit: Charles Haynes]

First, a bit of disclosure. Though this is ostensibly a cycling trip, arranged through Colorado-based ExperiencePlus!, we won’t be biking very much. It was never our intention to ride along busy SS9 itself, and heavy spring rains have washed out many of our side routes. Instead, we get around mainly by minibus and consume about 6,000 calories for every 1,000 we burn. Normally, I’d be distraught — but these are very beautiful calories.

* * *

Parma is an ancient city, but it’s so cosmopolitan you know you’ll never catch up. A late afternoon stroll is filled with contrasting impressions: low sunlight illuminating the 13th-century Baptistery, with its weathered walls of pink and white Verona marble; organic cotton jackets and state-of-the-art espresso machines gleaming behind polished shop windows.

Parma was on the old Apennine pilgrimage route during the Middle Ages, and relics of that era remain, like the ceramic bowls mortared into the façade of the Bishop’s Palace, a sign that this was once a good place to get a bowl of soup.

After sundown, the cobbled streets of the old town swell with students and couples. Some huddle in tight groups, while others gather around tables covered with a dozen varieties of pizzas. Nighttime will bring the bar-to-bar pilgrimage that locals call La Movida, literally “the nightlife”-a far more civilized phrase than “pub crawl.”

* * *

The next morning we mount our bikes and set off. A country road carries us past farm fields exploding with red poppies, through small towns clustered beneath broken clouds and vivid blue skies. Scarecrows slouch in the fields, warning the birds away from the cherries. After an hour, we reach our lunch stop: Al Cavallino Blanco, famed for its dried meats.

Countless cured hams come from this region, but the most prized and expensive is culatello: a cut from the center of the pig’s rump (culo). Unlike prosciutto – the dried haunch of the hind leg – culatello is hung in dingy cellars along the foggy banks of the Po river until it is coated in a revolting green mold. This mold sets up a chain reaction that, as with cheese, breaks down the protein chains. In this restaurant’s subterranean vault, an obstacle course of culatellos-some 5,000 in all-droop from the low ceiling. The choicest cuts are marked with small signs, already reserved for their buyers, a highly exclusive club that includes Prince Charles and Armani.

Lunch is a cold cut orgy. We dine on salumi, pancetta, two kinds of prosciutto, warm spalla cotta (cooked pork shoulder), and lardo: pure white fat with a mild, melt-in-your-mouth flavor.

The famed culatello arrives, shaved thin as onion skin and equally translucent. Aged 18 months, it has a powerful, almost fishy taste that requires many goblets of the sparkling red Fortana Rosso to wash away. Pig butt meat, apparently, is where my taste buds draw the line.

* * *

Just west of Modena and slightly south of SS9 lie Reggia-Emilia and Rubiera, famed for their balsamic vinegars. At small factories, the boiled must of the local grapes is aged at least 12 years, and distilled in a series of wooden barrels of ever smaller sizes. It’s a careful, complicated process that Giovanni Cavalli, the passionate vinegar master, must explain five times-but once I understand it, the 80 Euro price tag on a three-ounce bottle makes perfect sense.

Cavalli leads us among the barrels, and offers us samples served in tiny spoons. The aceto balsamico is thick, and the color of molasses, but the taste transcends description. Sweet yet sharp, pungent and woody, it is the most complex and delicious flavor I’ve ever experienced: the world’s most sophisticated candy.

* * *
We awaken the next day to heavy clouds, and race through the rain to a parmesan co-op located halfway between Reggio-Emilia and Modena. Here cheese master Giulliano Lusoli oversees the production of some 20-25 wheels a day, on behalf of the local dairy farmers.

The factory floor is spotless, with a long row of cone-shaped copper vats in which milk is mixed with veal rennet. Heated and stirred, the liquid separates into siero (whey) and cheese, which Lusoli tests by hand until it reaches the perfect texture. It’s then pulled from the vats in cheesecloth slings, placed in molds, and dropped in a tub of brine for a couple of months.

We sample three varieties of parmigiano reggiano, aged 12, 22 and 34 months. Along with age, there’s pedigree: upland and lowland. The difference, Lusoli explains, is diet. While lowland cows eat alfalfa and wheat, the upland cattle (living at about 4,000 feet) dine on a mixture of grasses, wildflowers and herbs. Dribbled with balsamic vinegar, the parmesans are a revelation, with aromas and finishes distinctive as any wine. After dozens of tiny portions, I have eaten about a pound of cheese.

“We’ll ride it off,” our guide assures me.

Someday, maybe; but not in Italy.

* * *
The massive drawbridge of the vast Este family palace, in Ferrara, barely squeaks as scores of families cross the once impenetrable moat. I’m staggered by the thought that a single family ruled most of Emilia-Romagna for 350 years. It’s as if the same family had ruled America’s Eastern seaboard since The Dutch New Netherland colony renamed itself “New York.”

But Ferrara’s most welcoming attraction is found on Via degli Adelardi, an alley just behind the cathedral. Brindisi is the oldest documented bar in the world, providing refreshment as early as 1435. Ancient flagons of port are displayed in one corner, vintage Jack Daniels bottles in another. Musical instruments hang on the walls, along with an autographed photo of Miles Davis-a nod to the musical stylings of owner Frederico, who plays blues harp in a jazz band.

I order a glass of Sangiovese-the “blood of Jove,” a well-loved regional wine-and flip through the Guinness Book of Worlds Records, which Frederico keeps at the bar for skeptics who (like me) initially doubt this humble bar’s pedigree.

* * *

When we do ride, it’s wonderful. Cycling from Faenza to Brisighella we pass rural vineyards and olive groves, and grind up curvy hills lined with wildflowers. Then down we fly, the wind in our hair. Pulling up in Brisighella’s piazza, we’re lured immediately into the local gelateria, where the feisty proprietor claims she’s just made “the best banana gelato in the world.” Banana-it’s got to be good for you, right?

Famous for its spa waters, Brisighella-surrounded by sheltering hills- also produces the region’s best olive oil. We are called into a tasting room to sample several varieties, including Nobil Drupa, the town’s signature product, a costly EVO with the pungent aroma of newly mown grass.

“This oil speaks for us,” expounds Giulliano Manduzzi, who may be the most passionate olive oil artisan in Italy. “It speaks about our people, about our farmers, about our ancient agricultural tradition. This oil is like our flag!” He swells with pride. “We’re very proud to show you this oil from our medieval village.”

Manduzzi’s enthusiasm is contagious. Sipping the oil, I feel like an honored ambassador. I’m tempted to set up a consulate-right next to the gelateria.

* * *

Via Emilia knits all these towns together, giving them a shared history. But on a culinary level, it was one man-born in Forlimpopoli, just south of SS9-who gathered Italy’s flavors and created the very notion of Italian cuisine. Pelligrino Artusi (1820-1911) was a marvelously engaging writer who crisscrossed the Italian Republic during the mid-1800s, collecting hundreds of regional recipes in his venerated Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. As wonderful as the dishes are, it’s Artusi’s commentary that makes the book:

“Life has two principal functions: nourishment and propagation of the species. Those who turn their minds to these two needs of existence, who study them and suggest practices whereby they might best be satisfied, make life less gloomy and benefit humanity.”

The recently opened Casa Artusi is a state-of-the-art culinary institute that serves as a research center, restaurant and cooking school. As one of our final activities, our group is invited to try our hands making piadina: a simple, round Italian flatbread. Our “laboratory” is an industrial kitchen, where each of us is assigned a chef-tutor. Under their exasperated eyes we mix, pound, roll and fry our little parcels of dough.

This might seem a simple task, but-as is often the case with cooking-it’s the simple things that get you. My result might not have pleased Artusi, but I found it delicious-smothered in a thick preserve made from local figs.

My visit to Italy, like all visits to Italy, is too short. When I return to Emilia-Romagna, I’ll spend more time in the saddle-and much more time at Casa Artusi. Because cooking, I find, is a lot like cycling: No matter where you end up, it’s more satisfying to have arrived there yourself.

* * *

Jeff Greenwald is a writer and performance artist. His books include Mr. Raja’s Neighborhood: Letters from Nepal, Shopping for Buddhas, and The Size of the World. His new book, which was published in October, is Snake Lake. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, and, among other publications. For more, visit

Why airplane food sucks–a scientific explanation

We all like to gripe about airline food, especially here at Gadling. Last year we even came up with a challenge to see if you could tell airline food from army food. (I bombed that quiz)

Now scientists have discovered a possible explanation for the pervasive blandness we experience at 35,000 feet. In a new study, a team from Unilever and the University of Manchester has discovered that background noise affects the way we taste food. Volunteers were blindfolded and given a set of earphones. They ate various sweet, salty, and crunchy foods while listening either to loud or soft white noise or silence. The volunteers were asked to rate how much they liked the foods as well as how sweet, salty, or crunchy they were.

Louder noise made the sweet and salty ratings go down, while crunchiness went up. Also, how much the subjects liked their food was reduced the more noise they heard. One researcher suggested that the brain is distracted by the noise and is therefore less focused on perceiving flavor.

So don’t blame the cheap ingredients, the mass production, or the plastic containers. . .it’s the white noise that’s making you gag!

[Photo courtesy user andreakw via Gadling’s flickr pool]