101 W. Benson Blvd. Suite 101 (inside Key Bank building)
$4-$12 per plate
Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, dinner 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Longtime Lunchbox readers will notice that I’ve been trying to find hidden gems in the Anchorage dining scene, especially those tucked away out of sight like the Taco-Loco deli. This week I had a similar location in mind, which I visited late in the lunch hour on an overcast Thursday.
Ruby’s Café, inside the Key Bank building in the shadow of the adjacent JL Tower, is one of those places that you have to know about to visit. Despite the restaurant’s prominent real estate there isn’t much indication of its presence from the street, although it’s easy to reach from turn-ins on A Street as well as east-west arteries Benson and Northern Lights Boulevards. A line of dedicated parking spaces along the east side of the JL Tower makes the drive even easier, and an awning entrance that used to be part of Harry’s Restaurant leads the way in.
I didn’t see that awning on my initial visit, however, and found a second entrance to Ruby’s inside the building, one that opens directly onto its elegantly appointed dining room: an inviting space with muted lighting and décor, with about 20 tables separated by enough space to retain a sense of intimacy. It wasn’t until I took a seat and waited a few minutes for service that I was told to order and pay at an incongruous deli counter near the dining room, then take a number back to my table and await my meal.
While Ruby’s sleek website positions the restaurant as an Asian fusion eatery, its lunch menu betrays the same split identity between that aspiration and its beginnings as Ruby’s Delicatessen, which it’s still listed as on the building directory. An abbreviated version of the broader dinner menu offers about a dozen items ranging from Mongolian beef to Thai basil chicken, but the lunch offerings are dominated by a more conventional selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and hamburgers. I ended up ordering a house sandwich known as the Dillingham ($10), then taking a seat; the servers were languid and unhurried, and my sandwich came out after about 30 minutes.
I was fairly hungry, and fortunately the Dillingham didn’t disappoint: its toasted hoagie bun was loaded with thinly sliced roast beef brisket, handmade coleslaw and melted cheddar cheese, all tied together with barbecue sauce and Russian dressing. The smoky base of the meat (an excellent example of brisket, one of the best I’ve had in recent memory) carried the tangy blend of vegetables and sauces, which became far more than the sum of its parts with each and every bite. The sandwich was also an Alaska-sized portion as well, close to a foot long despite its diagonal cut and stacked plating.
While I was ordering, I contemplated picking up something on the side, but thought better of it due to the formidable list of standard sides for all sandwiches: Kettle chips, a deli pickle and macaroni salad. The former two were savory and filling in their own right, the chips a cut above most store-bought brands and the pickle that light-green extra-salty variety which lingers on the tongue, but the macaroni salad nearly stole the show. Surprisingly light and accented with bits of onion, pepper and celery, I was left craving more after I polished off the modest condiment cup of the stuff included with my sandwich; I’d highly recommend paying $3 off the appetizer menu for a decent portion.
Ruby’s is an island of calm in a sea of fast-paced Midtown eateries, its upscale clientele and subdued pace quite calming in comparison to most competitors in the area. Prices are reasonable and surprisingly flat, with most entrees coming in at $10 to $12, which lends the menu a sense of balance and encourages experimentation with one’s choices. If you’re in a hurry you might want to postpone a visit, but it’s a sublime place for a lunch date when you’ve got the time to sit back and take it in.