Lunchbox: Rustic Goat

Rustic Goat serves this Educated Dog ($11) with your choice of fries, seen here, or potato chips; fountain drinks are $1.95.

Rustic Goat
2800 Turnagain St.
6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m. to midnight Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday

Reporter Rebecca Palsha and I have a friendly competition to visit new restaurants first, lest we double up on stops and have to wait a while -- and the moment I saw her Alaska Bites segment on this Turnagain eatery, I knew I'd been scooped.

Rustic Goat occupies a compact but verdant southwest corner at Northern Lights Boulevard and Turnagain Street, its two-story glass-and-wood cube in a residential neighborhood making it conspicuous but not ostentatious. The site’s single drawback is parking: with about two dozen spaces for vehicles, even visiting for a late lunch involved getting pushed around the L-shaped lot by other cars and waiting for a space. With Anchorage police writing tickets in the area, the restaurant has taken to posting a map of available and forbidden parking on its Facebook page -- I initially parked in a lot only available after 4 p.m., but took a restaurant parking spot when someone left as I approached. Walking in from the parking lot during summer, you’ll likely hear conversations from the second-story deck on the building’s west side, potentially one of Anchorage’s best for plane-spotting.

Despite the temptations of outdoor dining, I took a seat inside to get a better feel for the building. A hostess said lunch at a table proper would involve a wait of 30 to 40 minutes, but offered immediate seating on the deck or in the bar. Even for recent construction, the bar is a dynamic and surprisingly open space despite its size -- about half a dozen small tables and some high stools crowd around the 10-seat bar proper, essentially an open counter set directly before the kitchen. There’s no formal separation between the two, with food being plated on a second counter directly behind the bar, and the entire area is overlooked by second-floor diners who share a grand view toward Downtown Anchorage through the restaurant’s glass facade on the north and east sides. The room’s single concession to artificial lighting, a wrought-iron chandelier dangling above the proceedings, looks like it’s from a Gold Rush saloon.

“Upscale American” seems to capture the spirit of Rustic Goat’s menu, with its one-page lunch version offering a quartet of salads plus half a dozen each sandwiches and pizzas. It’s worth taking the time to read the item descriptions, with exotic ingredients aplenty: “red wine macerated Malbec pears,” “salt roasted beets,” “bacon shallot jam.” Intrigued by the emphasis on refining relatively traditional dishes, I ordered the kitchen’s take on the humble hot dog, an Educated Dog ($11) and sat back to enjoy the view. Despite the brisk pace of the afternoon even at a relatively late lunch hour, the restaurant seemed to be running at an optimum tempo: all of the bar tables were occupied but nobody had to double up at any of them, and while the servers were busy a basket was set before me in about 15 minutes.

From my first look at it, I knew the Educated Dog had picked up a few tricks. The Louisiana hot link at its core, sourced from the Alaska Sausage Co., had a surprising amount of spice to it, exerting an unexpected authority over the dish -- usually a hot dog is defined by its toppings, as seen at the International House of Hot Dogs in Midtown, but the hot link held its own and was a perfect selection. Those toppings weren’t neglected by any means, however; the tomatillo chutney generously coating the meat was sweeter than ketchup, with a blend of golden raisins and marinated onion bits that lent an appetizing coolness that compensated for the link’s heat. A swirl of stone-ground mustard looked and tasted handmade without coming on too strong, serving more as an exclamation point than the sole source of spiciness mustard often becomes on a dog. Just about the only weakness I found was the slightly sweet challah bun: while it had been thoughtfully toasted to withstand its imposing burden, it was still weak at the bun’s hinge, ensuring that eating the dog would eventually become a hot mess. I chose French fries over potato chips as an included side, and they too were a production: salted, peppered and lightly sprinkled with grated cheese, in lieu of ketchup the kitchen provided a dish of garlic-tomato dipping sauce that went with them wonderfully.

Encouraged by the meal, I asked to see the dessert menu and wasn’t disappointed -- with plates at $6, its options remain defensible for a single diner in a way that higher price points aren’t. The treat I ordered, an apple crostata, was a medallion-sized tart with a few slices of apple, surrounded by pie crust which would have been flaky if it weren’t served piping hot fresh out of the oven. The modest pastry was paired with an addition that unexpectedly stole the show, though: a fist-sized ball of caramel gelato made in-house, its intense flavor almost mocha-dark and lightened only by the sugar in a caramel drizzle that lightly marked the plate. It’s the kind of nightcap worth stopping in for on its own, even if you don’t have time for a full meal.

Rustic Goat scratches an itch in Anchorage’s cuisine scene, especially in a neighborhood essentially devoid of food until the Spenard Road hotel belt of chain restaurants south or Minnesota Drive’s blend of stops like the City Diner to the east. It definitely favors Turnagain residents, since it’s still much more amenable to walk-ins than drivers -- for the moment, if you’re planning to bring friends I’d highly recommend a carpool. That said, I’m glad I waited to go since the restaurant seems to reach its prime in summer; if you have a chance, be sure to visit before the snow falls.