By Chris Klint
1:11 PM AKST, December 19, 2011
Alaska’s Gourmet Subs
601 W. 7th Ave.
$7-$14 per plate
Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (varies with Dena’ina Center events), closed Sunday
When you’re choosing a place for lunch, you often begin by making two major decisions: whether you want something sit-down or speedy, and whether you want something complicated or simple. Those decisions often tip toward the latter and veer into fast-food territory when you’re attending an event, but a small sandwich shop Downtown near the Dena’ina Center is delightfully unconventional.
Alaska’s Gourmet Subs has been serving the Downtown area since 2003, but a friend and I first ate there earlier this month on a Saturday as we were driving past the Dena’ina. Since I don’t visit Downtown much for lunch and she works in the area but had never stopped in, we parked nearby (if you’re visiting recreationally, weekends are much easier) and stepped in for a bite.
For a relatively new establishment Alaska’s Gourmet Subs has a lived-in feel -- which is appropriate, because it looks like the restaurant has been converted from a house. A narrow L-shaped dining area wraps around behind the fast-food-style front counter that greet you as you walk in, creating a space that feels small and cheery. A bulletin board for local events adds a bit of charm alongside low-key Christian décor, including a small portrait of Jesus and a rack of religious tracts along one window.
The dining area has perhaps two dozen seats in close quarters to accommodate the lunch crowd along bars on the room’s edge and a few tables. During our visit many were occupied by members of the Academy of Art women’s basketball team from San Francisco, enjoying a meal between defeats in the AT&T Hoops Classic at the hands of the UAA Seawolves and the UAF Nanooks.
The hoops crew gave the place a boisterous buzz but also had the kitchen running full tilt, so we took a moment to make our selections from the menu, which looks pretty simple at a glance: hot and cold subs, a few pizzas and salads. The prized homemade soups (a sign outside announced an award from Urbanspoon.com for best soup in Anchorage) aren’t listed on the printed menu because they change daily, and at 2 p.m. we were already too late to try some that day.
My friend opted to eat light and ordered a Lamb Gyro ($7.25) with a drink. I asked for a 6-inch Pepper Club specialty sub ($7.95), then added a meal deal ($4) that included a bag of chips, a drink and a serving of coleslaw, potato salad or macaroni salad; I chose the potato salad. Due to the backlog of orders we had a good 20 minutes or so to talk and take in the ambiance, despite orders coming out of the kitchen every two or three minutes. When the food arrived I handed over the bag of chips to balance the two plates out, stopped myself long enough to take a picture, and dug in.
My Subway-inspired fear of not getting enough food in a 6-inch sandwich was completely unwarranted, with the loaf of herb-and-cheese bread mine was cut from at least half again as wide as the chain’s sub. Inside, the toasted sub’s simple ingredients -- turkey, ham, bacon, mayo and pepper jack cheese, dressed with lettuce, tomato and onion -- were more than the sum of their parts, with tangible hits of pepper on the thinly sliced, moist turkey a welcome change from the post-Thanksgiving poultry I’d only recently finished working through.
Across the table, my friend’s gyro was becoming a drippy mess with tzatziki sauce leaking freely onto the paper beneath the pita bread, but it still took a minute to get a sample from her. When I did, I knew why it had been so grudgingly given: it was one of the best gyros I’ve ever tasted. Applied in a plentiful swath atop the meat before the pita was closed, the cucumber-and-yogurt cool of the tzatziki suffused every bite of the gyro, only being fought back by the flavorful meat and the potent crunch of fresh tomato and onions.
Another surprise, well worth the added cost, was the potato salad. What I initially mistook as a simple yellow cup of premade salad from a tub turned out to be a homemade variation of the dish, huge chunks of potato giving way to rings of black olive amid a sweet and tangy backdrop. I offered some to my companion, who took one bite and declared, “That’s sweet pickle juice.” Perhaps in retaliation for my interest in her gyro, she took another bite or two as payment for her opinion.
Alaska’s Gourmet Subs fills a rare niche for convention visitors, offering food that’s both fast and good. On several prior occasions I’ve stepped out of the Egan Center, even closer to the Downtown core than the Dena’ina, with maybe half an hour to get some lunch but nothing distinctive nearby that quite fit the bill; due to the time constraint, I usually ended up eating at the 5th Avenue Mall's food court. Visitors to the Dena’ina who stop by will be doubly blessed to find not only an eatery that can feed them quickly, but one that puts so much attention into even the simplest of dishes.
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