Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant
4333 Spenard Rd.
$7-$40 per plate
6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
I’ve stopped for a review along Spenard Road’s hotel belt before, noting the lack of local options in the area. A nearby landmark doubles as one of the few exceptions amid a sea of chain restaurants and fast-food outlets, however, and I finally returned for a visit.
Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant sits just north of Spenard’s hotel-restaurant core, in a ramshackle three-story building adorned with a totem-pole mural on its south side; it’s a little garish, but gives the place personality and makes it nearly impossible to miss from the road. Parking is plentiful and while I’ve seen the lot full on Sunday mornings, I had no trouble finding a spot during my lunch stop on a quiet Friday morning.
The restaurant’s interior keeps up an old-fashioned tourist-trap theme, with a faux log-cabin look accentuated by a river scene (drained during my visit) built into the middle of the ground-floor dining room. A few dozen wooden tables and chairs provide ample seating under relatively muted lighting, with Alaska-map paper placemats adding to the deliberately kitschy ambience -- they’re actually fascinating to glance at as a journalist, since even we sometimes forget the vastness of our state.
Gwennie’s menu is a simple but broad survey of comfort food spanning a variety of mealtimes and appetites, ranging from straightforward breakfasts to Alaskan seafood dinners -- while you won’t find anything too avant-garde on the list, it’s got the same appeal as stops like Kriner’s Diner and the City Diner if you’re feeling indecisive. I was caught in precisely that mood when I was ordering, finally selecting a Belgian waffle ($7.00) simply because I hadn’t had one in years; on an impulse, I added a side order of home fries ($4.75) to round out my meal. The restaurant was fairly quiet during my visit and the service was swift, setting down plates perhaps 15 minutes after I’d ordered.
The waffle wasn’t one piece but three, generously portioned squares topped by whipped cream with a small tub of butter on the side. I found the cream a perfectly suitable substitute for the butter, adding the same richness without the latter’s usual weight; it also cut down on the amount of syrup I used. The waffles themselves were a uniformly perfect golden brown, slightly crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, a combination which meant they held up long after the point where hotcakes usually get drenched and fall apart.
While I definitely appreciated the waffle, the home fries nearly stole the show: I’d been expecting a small plate of hash browns put together as an afterthought, but I got an oblong dish filled with what looked like a whole potato, salted and peppered then finely sliced and fried up until it was nearly blackened. It was the kind of classic “Alaska portion” that brought a smile to my face and a silent thanks that I hadn’t eaten since I woke up, providing a real-food counterweight to the relative lightness of the waffle.
Gwennie’s is the kind of laid-back local joint that feels like a classic brunch place rather than a full-course restaurant. While the dinner options are still there if you’re so inclined, there’s something relaxing and decadent about sitting back at noon with a carafe of coffee, taking in the fake scenery and digesting until you’re ready to head out and face the rest of the day -- perhaps, just perhaps, the tourists may be on to something.
Contact Chris Klint