Fat Ptarmigan offers this half-and-half hot coppa and meatball pizza ($13.95) from a selection of more than a dozen pies including duck, vegetarian and chicken options. Fountain drinks are $2.75 apiece.
441 W. 5th Ave. Suite 100
$6-$23 per plate
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, noon to 10 p.m. weekends
No fewer than three pizza kitchens have put themselves in the running for Anchorage’s strongest slice this season, skewing my review schedule as of late. This week, I’m rounding out a trifecta of recent meals.
Fat Ptarmigan has a stylish Downtown outpost at the northeast corner of 5th Avenue and E Street, neatly situated near the 5th Avenue Mall. While the location’s low-key facade blends into its surroundings at a glance, its windows are perhaps the restaurant’s most eloquent advertisement, showing off both its much more interesting interior and the diners within. Parking is a typical Downtown mix of easy or impossible, but I had the good fortune to find an abandoned meter still running a block north of the restaurant during my outing.
The windows at Fat Ptarmigan, along with a glass Arctic entry, offer a southern exposure which keeps its stall-oriented mix of seating open and inviting, from a hostess station just inside the door to the broken-up seating sections to either side of a modest central bar. Much to my surprise, the structure I initially mistook for the bar is nothing more or less than a viewing area built around the kitchen’s wood-fired pizza oven, where patrons can watch chefs both hand-toss dough for their pies and slide them under the heat on paddles. Between that enjoyable detail and a brick-faced look adorning many of the interior walls, the location feels much more lived-in than many of the city’s newest dining establishments.
Given the choice between the laserlike focus of Flattop Pizza + Pool and the wildly diverse selection at The Rock Wood-Fired Pizza & Spirits, Fat Ptarmigan’s menu settles on the former choice, offering less than half a dozen each appetizers, salads, sandwiches and desserts to distract from its core offering of 14 broadly designed pizza selections. Every pie on the menu comes in only one size, a roughly 14-inch “medium” that promises to leave leftovers for many partakers; feeling both hungry and curious, I veered into more carnivorous territory than some of the other fare I’ve sampled, opting for a half-and-half of the menu’s meatball and hot coppa selections ($13.95) which promised to represent the menu well. Since I’d arrived with an appetite, I also ventured to try a caprese salad ($6.95) to see how the kitchen handled its non-dough-based fare.
The caprese salad, which was served in about 10 minutes, was something else entirely in terms of my satisfaction with it, an alternating blend of sliced ripe tomato and mozzarella cheese, garnished with basil as well as sea salt and pepper. The freshness of the ingredients, especially the mozzarella, made me think back to warmer seasons of the year even before my taste buds caught their first sample of the balsamic vinegar-infused olive oil in which the whole plate was modestly drizzled. I can say that the dressing was the kind of tangy which made me wish I could lick the plate, such was the quality of the vinegar involved, but absent that I settled for sliding both sides of each tomato and cheese slice through it to accumulate the maximum flavor.
When the pizza itself showed up about 15 minutes after the salad, I noted an interesting change from how almost every other pizza in town I’ve ever seen is served -- much like an order of Moose’s Tooth breadsticks, Fat Ptarmigan cuts its pies into rectangular strips, often yielding a larger number of smaller pieces than the traditional method. Not only does the cut make the pizza more shareable among a large group, it also puts the ingredients front and center. The crust was an almost alchemical blend of dough and air, one which was supple and delicious before it soaked up moisture from the toppings; I’d recommend eating one small piece fast, to get the sensation before it disappears. Of the two halves, I found the hot coppa -- on paper, a simple addition of spiced salami to a pepperoni pizza with red peppers -- by far the better of the two, with a bite tempered by the coppa’s hint of rosemary that made it feel artisanal and inspired beyond its modest roots. The meatball side brings a delectable mix of background toppings to the equation, most notably green onions to go with the hand-finished beef, but feels like a more incremental change to a good thing.
While everyone’s answers in the coming months will be subjective and intensely open to debate, I have to give Fat Ptarmigan the edge among Anchorage’s newest pizza parlors. The ambience is easily the most enjoyable of the recent arrivals, with an eye for drawing people in that I appreciate, the pizza delivers on fronts ranging from inspiration to ingredients, and the truly central Downtown location promises to offer a decent stop for people coming from a variety of nearby destinations on foot. As the waitstaff crinkled up a butcher-paper tablecloth from a nearby table, I couldn’t help thinking that the place feels like an early Christmas present -- be sure to stop by and see what’s inside.