The Cop and The King

Homicide detective Nancy Patrick’s hand went involuntarily to the nickel plated Smith & Wesson .357 magnum on her hip as she stared in wonder at the creature in the kitchen.

Since Nancy and her husband, homicide detective Christopher Booth, had become friends with Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson, they had been involved in one adventure after another. Most involved fast cars, criminals, guns, and fighting for their lives. So it was when they arrived in Alaska after A Shooting at Auke Bay.

More pleasant were the adventures that began “when the sun went over the yardarm” at five o’clock daily. It was a time when refreshing cocktails or fine wines were poured. Cocktail hour was always followed by amazing meals. Some as complicated as the kolety, sort of a Russian version of a burger made with pork. It was a welcome departure from the scrambled eggs, ham sandwiches, buckets of chicken, and pizza that had been the staples of the Booth-Patrick household.

Now Nancy was staring at the three king crabs who were staring back at her with their twin eye stalks, which seemed to search the room, moving independently of each other. It was little wonder Nancy was startled by the giant crustaceans. Even for a species known for its large size, these specimens were giants. Each had a carapace of nearly eleven inches in diameter. Their leg spans looked to be six feet. Monsters.

King crab & drawn butter

Later, when the confrontation in the kitchen had passed, Nancy joined the small group in the large sitting room for French 75s, Trent’s signature cocktail. The crabs were cooked quickly in boiling water and served simply with drawn butter. The “Sourdough” Alaskans showed their new “Cheechako” friend, Nancy, how to cut through the shells of the leg segments to extract the long lengths of sweet meat. Dipping it into drawn butter is all that’s necessary for king crab.

What are your thoughts on king crab? What’s your favorite way to eat it?

Don’t forget that I’ll be hosting a book release and signing party for A Shooting at Auke Bay on August 3rd at Mexico in Alaska. Let me know if you’d like to be invited. Who knows? You might even meet Trent and Darcey!

Trent’s Riddle: Go to Mexico but Don’t Leave Anchorage

Darcey Anderson was puzzled by the riddle her husband, Trent Marshall, posed as they cruised north on their chartered yacht in A Shooting at Auke Bay.

“I want Mexican food when we get to Anchorage,” she announced.

Trent smiled.

“Then go to Mexico,” he said, “but don’t leave Anchorage.”

“What did he mean?” Darcey asked Robert Monk, the retired Alaska State Trooper commander who had been a friend of Trent’s dad. “Do you know?”

Robert laughed.

“He meant you should meet Maria-Elena,” Robert said.

“Maria-Elena?” Darcey repeated. “Does she have a last name?”

“She does,” Robert replied, “but you don’t need it. Maria-Elena is a legend in Alaska.”

Maria-Elena opened Mexico in Alaska in 1972. From the beginning her restaurant was a favorite of Anchorage diners.

She is known not only for the excellent Mexican food she brought to table but for her kindness and gentle disposition. One couple tells of the time their baby was acting up a bit, complicating their attempt at lunch. Maria-Elena took the baby in her arms and walked around the restaurant, comforting the child, letting the stressed parents enjoy a relaxing meal.

“Let’s go,” Darcey said, after hearing Robert’s answer to Trent’s riddle.

Maria-Elena met them with her usual warm smile. She showed them to an excellent table and personally took their order.

Carne deshebrada taco & tamal

Robert ordered a carne deshebrada, or shredded beef taco, and beef tamal. Darcey ordered lighter fare while staying within the realm of the Mexican kitchen. A chicken salad. Mexican style.

When the large bowl was placed in front of her, Darcey said, “Now that’s a salad!”

Chicken salad, Mexican style.

Robert was very pleased with the taco and spicy tamal placed in front of him. The excellent quality for which Maria-Elena was known.

They left somewhat later, pleased with their meal, taking with them a container of hot salsa and a package of flour tortillas, both made in house.

Even better, Maria-Elena agreed to host a book release and signing party for A Shooting at Auke Bay on August 3rd. Let us know if you’d like to be invited! You might even meet Trent and Darcey!



What’s Different about a 21st Century Burger, Fries, and Hot Dog?

A relative new entry in the upscale fast food market, BurgerFi opened its first restaurant in Florida in 2011, ironically housed in what was once a Burger King.

The company focuses on traditional fast food with all natural ingredients. It also offers a vegetarian burger.

Making burger magic at BurgerFi

BurgerFi’s commitment to the sustainable nature of the 21st century extends to furniture and wall paneling. All are made from recycled products.

The fictional Bay area homicide detective couple Christopher Booth and Nancy Patrick, who we met in Neighbors and Other  Strangers, make their way to Alaska in the upcoming third in the Trent Marshall/Darcey Anderson series, A Shooting at Auke Bay.

In Anchorage, they meet Steve Hamlen, a real person. One of a group of late 20th century pioneers instrumental in bringing advanced telecommunications services to Bush Alaska.

When they decided to have lunch together, Steve suggested they meet at BurgerFi.

A good choice.

Christopher and Nancy both ordered the CEO, a burger made from a combination of wagyu beef and brisket. It comes adorned with only a modest sauce of candied bacon and tomato, made in-house.

It needs nothing more.

The couple agreed it was one of the best burgers either had ever eaten.

They also each ordered a side of fries, hand cut and brought to table perfectly browned. The way hand cut fries should be.

Steve opted for the VegiFi, a vegetarian burger with a patty made of quinoa and hand cut vegetables accompanied by lettuce and Cheddar cheese.

He also ordered hand cut onion rings. Huge. Perfectly breaded. Perfectly browned. Onion rings.

After lunch, Steve continued on in real life, pleased with the meal and his new, fictional friends.

Christopher and Nancy returned to their world of fiction, determined to convince the author to set a scene at a BurgerFi.

They thought it would spice up any story.

If you’d like to meet somewhere for lunch with Christopher and Nancy, just leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the arrangements.

And check out my books! Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/author/parkergordon

South

October 16, 2015 – The blackboard in the bar at South said the day’s sparkling wine was Mumm’s.  OK.  I’m in.

The cocktail menu boasts a French 75.  A favorite.

And anyone who knows me knows my kinship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his legendary character Sherlock Holmes.  They would understand why the Basil Rathbone cocktail got my attention.  Cucumber, basil, lemon peel, pink peppercorns, Bombay Sapphire Gin & Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Tonic.  It could become a favorite.

South is bright.  Vibrant.  Glittery.

I want to go back in the evening for cocktails.  But today was about food.

South is the latest restaurant opened by Laile Fairbairn and her partners.  It joins Snow City Café, famous for its breakfasts, and Spenard Roadhouse, that cozy, family-friendly eatery that reminds me so much of growing up in what was then the south part of town.

There’s the feel of a French bistro about South.  I asked Laile if that was their intent.   “We were definitely thinking European,” she told me.  “French, yes.  But evenings have more of a Spanish influence.”

General Manager Tyler Crenshaw has done a good job of creating an atmosphere that encourages friends to meet for lunch.  Or even better, brunch.

Executive Chef Shane Moore has developed a brunch menu that features European classics alongside southern standards.  (Biscuits and gravy anyone?)  Spanish-influenced dishes like Huevos Divorciados.  (Eggs over corn tortillas with black beans and pico de gallo.)   And what Alaskan restaurant wouldn’t offer Crab Benedict on a brunch menu?  It’s our own classic.

I was meeting my long time friend and colleague Marnie Brennan.  Her husband, the journalist and author Tom Brennan, had been scheduled to join us.  But as it happened he had doggy duty that day.  His job, Marnie explained, was to take their two dogs, Bonnie and Clyde (both females, by the way), to the doggy hotel to demonstrate that they could play well with others.  As one with a King Charles Cavalier who sincerely believes she is a princess I fully understand doggy duty.  Still it was Tom’s loss.

Milan, the young man assigned to tend our table, greeted us with a cheerful, “Bonjour!” thereby adding to the French bistro feel.  Milan is from Serbia.  He’s been in Alaska for about a year now.  He says Alaska is a beautiful place to be.

He also said the chef was offering a seafood New England style chowder.  I had to try a cup.  Good decision.  The small bowl was brimming with Alaska seafood.  Shrimp, crab and cod in the traditional milk-based soup.  The chef accomplished a difficult task.  The milky liquid of the chowder gave body without being floury.  Sliding noticeably but subtly beneath the milky texture was the distinct flavor of the sea.  Terrific.  Just Terrific.

Marnie decided to be good.  As in healthy.  She ordered the egg white omelet with zucchini, asparagus, kale and tomato.  Sprinkled heavily with feta and arugula sprouts.  Since she had made the moral decision to be good and be healthy, she wasn’t expecting great flavor.  She was pleasantly surprised.  Delectable, she said.  Packed with flavor.  Healthy can be tasty.

When it came to ordering an entrée I was very much into French bistro mode.  The menu has both a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame.  Traditional bistro dishes.

A Croque Monsieur is simple.  A grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

A Croque Madame is the same but more.  It traditionally is served open faced, topped with a fried egg.  At South the Croque Madame is presented on brioche with Black Forest Ham, grilled asparagus and caramelized leeks.  Covered with a pungently delicious Gruyere Mornay sauce.  Topped with the traditional fried egg.  I asked for smashed potatoes on the side.

It was not only delicious, it was beautiful.

On our way out someone called, “Hey, Marnie.”  So Alaska.  We always think of Alaska as a very large land mass with the feel of a small town.  It’s wonderful to find a place like South that still has that old Anchorage feel.  That Alaska hominess.  Where you still run into people you know.

I can’t wait to go back for dinner.

And, by the way, if you’re in a hurry and want something light, on the other side of the maître d’s desk is South’s Coffeehouse.   Pastries, light sandwiches and Kaladi Brothers coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casa

May 25, 2015 – Fusion restaurants are all the rage now.  It’s exciting.  Producing  interesting, sometimes delicious dishes by combining flavors of different cultures.

It has occurred to me that there is a downside to carrying food cultural diversity too far.  I wouldn’t want some of my favorite foods to become memories.  Then I recall the first fusion restaurant I ever visited.  Mestizo in Baton Rouge.  The brain child of Chef Jim Urdiales, born of Mexican and Cajun parents, combined two of the world’s great cuisines to create something remarkable.  Something memorable.  You really haven’t lived until you’ve had a shrimp and crawfish stuffed chili relleno.

This week I was joining my Inupiaq friend Willie Hensley for lunch.  Willie is one of Alaska’s most respected statesmen as well as a good friend.  When we get together the conversation is interesting, substantial and significant.  So is the food.  Willie’s willingness to experiment with new food concepts matches my own.

Today I suggested a fusion restaurant I had heard about on the east side of Anchorage.  We made our way through the road construction detour on Muldoon Road.  (It’s said that Anchorage has only three seasons:  winter, almost winter and road construction.)  We found Casa in a non descript stand alone building.  As we entered we saw a bar with pool table to the right.  We were guided to a booth on the left side.  The restaurant side.

The room was decorated much as one would expect in a Mexican restaurant in Anchorage.  But the menu was far different.  Casa is a Mexican-Korean fusion restaurant.  How could we pass on the chance to try that?

Casa is the latest offering by Ronnie Lee, the Korean born chef who came to the United States to study fashion design.  Instead he discovered Japanese food and became enthralled not only with the food itself but with the color and design used by sushi chefs in preparing their presentations.  Lee has opened two successful sushi restaurants in Anchorage.  Casa is an experiment in a new and untraveled direction.

We placed our orders and very quickly the ubiquitous chips and salsa of a Mexican restaurant appeared.  Each of us also received a small bowl of chicken soup with threads of egg white.  Much like an egg drop soup.  We were in a fusion restaurant.

Willie ordered bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish that translates literally as “mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables.”  The meat was pork.  The rice was Spanish rather than the customary white rice of Korea.  The classic presentation of bibimbap includes a raw egg on top.  At Casa the egg was replaced with a dollop of sour cream.

The sampling I tasted was highly pleasant.  I was especially pleased with the hint of sesame oil.  The flavors of Mexico and Korea were working well together.

I opted for the bulgogi burrito.  Bulgogi is another dish those accustomed to Korean food will recognize.  It translates to “marinated beef.”  The marinade usually includes soy sauce, sesame oil, green onion, garlic, shiitake mushrooms and onion.

The burrito set before me was huge.  Massive.  I told Willie there was no way I could eat all that.

I focused first on the sides.  There was, of course, the standard accompaniment of refried beans and rice one would expect in a Mexican restaurant.  There was also a beautiful tempura shrimp and slices of tempura sweet potato.  I forgot about the beans and rice.  The tempura was delectable.  The breading light and perfectly cooked.  Just nicely crisp on the outside without overcooking the delicate shrimp and sweet potato inside.  Beautifully done.

I turned my attention to the burrito.  Like the breading on the tempura, the tortilla encasing the bulgogi was cooked just right.  The marinated beef inside was very tasty, the complexity of the marinade prevalent with each bite.  The addition of cojito cheese, sort of the Mexican version of Parmesan, was a good choice.  It added a bit of tang to the other cheese, more conducive to melting, that was included.  Green and red sweet peppers, onion, tomato and cilantro,  a touch of salsa, and a swipe of guacamole on top.  All combined to make a highly palatable meal.

Mexican Korean fusion works.  Works well.  I did eat the whole thing.  And l’ll do it again.

 

 

Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria

August 3, 2014 – I’ve not kept it a secret that I’m fond of the Broken Tooth Brewing Company in Anchorage.  My son David is lead brewer.  He brews great beer.

Rod Hancock and Matt Jones started the brewery to supply their restaurants.  They’re still supplying the restaurants but the beer is so good and so popular it stands on its own reputation.

I’ve written about the Bear Tooth Grill and the Bear Tooth Theater Pub.  But where it all started was Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria.  Rod and Matt opened Moose’s Tooth in 1996 and it was immediately successful.  A decade and a half into a new century it’s become legendary.

Every table in Moose’s Tooth is filled every day.  Come early.  You will be waiting for a table.  You might wait as long as 45 minutes.  You won’t begrudge the wait.  The food, and the beer, is that good.

My wife and I were meeting David, his wife Amber, and my grandchildren, seven year old Quinn and three year old Remy, on a late Sunday afternoon.  A warm, sunny afternoon.  We arrived first.  We got our names on the list and were given a buzzer that would let us know when they had a table ready for us.  Then we went outside to sit in the sunshine.  We both grew up in Anchorage.  We know that when it’s summer and it’s warm and there’s sunshine in Alaska you sit in it.  There will be many days when it won’t be warm and sunny.

The buzzer went off shortly after David and Amber arrived.  We were shown to a table in a corner alcove.  About as secluded as it gets in Moose’s Tooth.  The room was buzzing.  In a good way.  Buzzing with energy.  People enjoying themselves.

My wife and I followed David’s advice and tried the apple ale.  It’s one of Broken Tooth’s most popular products.  I’ve had  it before and knew it was good.  My wife found it delightful.  Deliciously crisp and apple-y.

Moose’s Tooth is not just any pizza parlor.  Sure, they have the old standards.  But if you can think of it, they put it on a pizza.  And if they haven’t thought of it yet they’ll probably try it if you think of it.

We decided to order two pizzas and let each adult choose a half.   Quinn and Remy were happy with their small cheese and pepperonis.  Pizza family style.

For her half, my wife chose Spicy Chicken Picante.  The topping of blackened chicken was spiced with jalapenos and dried chili flakes, and rested on a cream cheese base.    Yes, cream cheese on a pizza.  Who knew?

Amber went with the Avalanche.  Sort of an adventurous diversion from the standard pizza.  There was pepperoni and blackened chicken but also bacon.  Cheddar cheese was added to the usual pizza mix of mozzarella and provolone.  And barbeque sauce took the place of marinara.

David chose the Meatball Parmesan.  A meatball sandwich on a pizza.  Moose’s Tooth excellent marinara support the meatballs and accompanying black olives, green peppers and basil.  Parmesan is added to the mozzarella and provolone.  A touch of garlic oil adds a little zip.  Pizza  or sandwich.  Meatballs with tomato sauce and garlic are hard to beat.

I was least adventurous of the group, opting for the All American.  Meat eaters special. A marinara sauce covered with pepperoni, ground beef and lots of mushrooms.  Criminis.  At my request the kitchen was happy to leave off the olives and replace them with jalapenos.

It was a tasting party with everyone trying everyone else’s chosen pizza.  Hard to say which was best.  They were all good.  Better than good.

My wife summed it up.  “This is the best pizza in Alaska.”

The best.

 

 

 

 

 

Rustic Goat

August 1, 2014 – The Kaladi Brothers have scored again.  Added to their string of coffee houses scattered around southcentral Alaska (and one in Seattle) is now the full service restaurant quirkily named the Rustic Goat.

The goat part of the name comes from the company.  It’s long  been a symbol of Kaladi Brothers.  I’ll explain that but first, to fully understand anything related to the Kaladi Brothers you have to know that there aren’t any.

According to company legend there was once a goat herder named Kaladi who noticed that one of his goats was acting weird.  He was all jumpy.  Full of energy.  He watched the goat and discovered that he was eating a certain berry from bushes that grew along the path.

Kaladi decided to try some of the berries himself.  He discovered he, too, was full of energy after eating the berries.  Well, one thing led to another and wouldn’t you know it?  Coffee!  So the next time its six a.m. and you’re hoping that first cup will get your eyes wide open, thank Kaladi.  Or his goat.

Instead of brothers the Kaladi Brothers company started out with a few guys operating a portable stand selling coffee in a downtown Anchorage park back in 1986.  Today two of that group, Tim Gravel and Brad Bigelow, run Kaladi Brothers.  They’ve turned it into one of Alaska’s best loved and well run locally owned companies.

The restaurant is located in an old warehouse that has been beautifully converted using a lot of glass.  Hence, the “rustic” part.  But there’s nothing truly rustic about the place  Both floors feature glass walls that let in lots of light.  A long bar dominates the first floor with tall bar tables scattered throughout the room.

Dining tables are on the second floor, reachable either by a set of rather steep stairs or a thoughtfully provided elevator.  A balcony stretching down the west side of the building provides outdoor dining.  Though it was a day of bright sunshine it was a bit windy and cool.  We opted to enjoy the best of two worlds by selecting an indoor table by one of the glass walls.

I love hot dogs.  Especially when they’re spicy.  I couldn’t resist the Rustic Goat’s “Educated Dog.”  A Louisiana hot link made by the Alaska Sausage Company served on a challah roll, slathered with a tomatillo chutney and stone ground mustard.  Deliciously messy!

The accompanying fries were salted after they came out of the hot oil when they are most receptive to seasoning and then were sprinkled with grated parmesan.  My wife declared them the best fries she has ever eaten.  It was all I could do to save a few for myself.

In fairness she did give me one of the tacos she ordered.  Soft corn tortillas wrapped around pulled pork.  The pork rested on a dollop of mole bean puree and was decorated with candied jalapeno, roasted corn salsa, chopped fresh cilantro and green chili sour cream.   Outstanding!  Simply outstanding!

Hot dogs and tacos.   Old standards presented in delightfully innovative style.  And all thanks to a mythical, coffee loving goat.  An amazing world in which we live!

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky Wishbone

July 28, 2014 – I was probably 13 years old the first time I had lunch at the Lucky Wishbone.  I know we hadn’t been in Anchorage for long.  The father of one of my new Alaska friends took us there.  And that day I had the first burger, fries and milk shakes of many yet to come.

George and Peg Brown had opened the restaurant four years earlier, in 1955, and have been famous for fried chicken, burgers, milk shakes and friendly customer service ever since.  George is 92 now but still works in the restaurant.  Peg passed away a few years ago.  Their daughter Pat is in charge when her dad isn’t around.  And Pat has maintained the Wishbone’s reputation for good food and friendly service.

The Lucky Wishbone was one of the social centers of Anchorage in the early days  of statehood.  Many of the state’s political, business and social leaders could be found there.  It was a favorite of Alaska’s three term governor and founding father Bill Egan when he was in town.  I was reminded of that when my wife and I had lunch recently at the Wishbone.  Looking across the parking lot I recalled the small building that sat there.  It was Governor Egan’s headquarters in the days immediately following the Great Alaska Earthquake.  And I was a 17 year old Civil Defense volunteer assigned to be his errand boy for a few days.

My wife was born in Fairbanks and grew up in Anchorage.  I was surprised, then, to learn that she had never been to the Lucky Wishbone.  She was long over due.

Inside the décor hasn’t changed.  On the wall next to the entry are scores of small photographs of customers, including several famous faces.  The wall at the far end of the room still holds pictures of World War II era aircraft.  In a world that moves so rapidly it’s a comfort to find a place that hasn’t changed.  They just keep doing what they have always done and they do it well.

Our waitress, Mckenzie, told us that George wasn’t there.  He had a visitor from out of town and was playing tour guide.  Pat was in charge that day.

As usual when I’m at the Wishbone I ordered a chocolate milk shake.  And also as usual, Mckenzie brought it immediately and I had finished it before our meal arrived.  There’s nothing like having dessert first!

I love their fried chicken.  And they make a great chili burger.  But they’re also one of the very few restaurants that offer two of my favorites:  chicken livers and gizzards. You can order them individually or you can order what they call “giblets.”  That’s a combination of livers and gizzards.  Now I know chicken livers and gizzards aren’t for everyone.  But they definitely are for me.  I ordered the giblets.

My wife was far more conservative.  She ordered the fish sandwich.  But then she said maybe it would be a shame to not try the fried chicken since the Lucky Wishbone is famous for its fried chicken.

Mckenzie had the perfect solution.  “Why don’t I substitute a couple of pieces of chicken for the fries that come with your sandwich?” she offered.  My wife thought that was a grand idea.  To sweeten the deal Mckenzie also showed up with a small bowl of cole slaw, one of my wife’s favorite side dishes.

My giblets were wonderful.  Livers and gizzards both lightly breaded and perfectly fried.  The gizzards had the delightfully gelatinous chewiness that make them so uniquely good.  The livers had the creaminess that makes them so delicious.

People who like gizzards and livers will understand this.  People who don’t like them, well, stick with the fried chicken and burgers.  You’ll be just as delighted.

 

 

 

David’s Smoked Chicken

May 26, 2014 – My son David is becoming a master of the grill.  Especially the smoker.

We were planning a cookout on Memorial Day.  I told him to pick something that he does best.  Something terrific.  Something over the top.

We met at Mr. Prime Beef, the butcher shop that  has been providing Anchorage with quality meats for 41 years.  With the practiced eye of the connoisseur, David looked over the displays of beef, pork, lamb and poultry.  While he was doing that, I snagged a link of reindeer sausage.  Why not?  We’d have a hot grill.  Might as well use it all.

Finally David said the chickens looked best to him.  Chicken it would be.

On Sunday night David placed two chickens in a brine of chicken stock and dry onion soup mix.  The birds rested in the liquid for about 16 hours.  They came out of the brine plump and ready to soak up all the flavor he could deliver.

On Memorial Day, he filled the grill’s separate firebox with chunks of hickory and pecan, some of which he had thoroughly soaked in water.  We wanted lots of smoke.  Wet wood makes smoke.

David actually uses a method called smoke roasting, or smoke baking.  In this process the meat is not over direct heat.  The coals are in a separate firebox.  Heat is maintained at about 250 degrees, hotter than you would want for cold smoking.  Meat that is smoke roasted is fully cooked and ready  to eat.

He set a tin pan of apple juice below the grill where the birds would be lying.  The evaporating sweet liquid would keep the chicken moist while adding another layer of flavor.

Back to the birds, David next applied a generous rub of chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, sugar and cayenne.  Another layer of flavor.

I enjoyed the next four hours watching him make adjustments to the wood in the firebox.  Maintaining a delicate balance.  Keeping the temperature at 250.  The smoke roiling around the closed grill.  Making sure the birds weren’t cooking unevenly.  That they weren’t browning too fast or too much.

After two and a half hours he began to periodically baste the birds with the apple juice into which some melted chicken fat had dripped.  Not a lot of fat, he said.  But some.

Fat has its purpose I told him.  Remember the words of Julia Child:  “Fat is where the flavor is.”

Four hours of bathing in hickory and pecan smoke.

Four hours sucking up flavor from the gurgling, bubbling, fat infused apple juice.

The plump, brown chicken came to table accompanied by baked beans that David had made from scratch and Amber’s potato salad.  Each bite a burst of juicy flavor.

Chicken over the top!

 

 

 

 

Fusions Southern Food & Bar

May 22, 2014 – It looks more club than restaurant.  Lighted bar.  Lights in the dance floor.  Laser light beams flashing all around.  Fusions Southern Food & Bar in Anchorage exudes energy.  Excitement.  Fun.

I was there with my friends Dave Gransbury and Carol Holder.  I had checked out the menu earlier.  Any restaurant that has okra, chicken & dumplings and collard greens on the menu gets my attention.  And this menu reads like Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house.

A very pleasant woman named Sharon showed up at our table to take our drink orders.  I was reading the menu again and was interested in “Robert’s Famous Red Hot Fried Ribs.”  I love ribs.  I like red hot.  Couldn’t ever recall having fried ribs.  Sounded like something I should try.  I asked Sharon who Robert was.

“He’s the owner,” she replied, then turned and waved over a young man who turned out to be, indeed, the owner.

Like so many of our residents, Robert Alexander arrived in Alaska with the military a few years ago.  Since leaving the Air Force he has been busy developing into quite the entrepreneur with multiple businesses.  He’s a busy man.

I was right about the club atmosphere.  Robert said they serve food in the early evening.  Later the band arrives and the dance floor fills up.  Tonight, he said, was Motown night.  He said they do karaoke on Wednesday night.  Dave said he wants to come back for karaoke.

I asked Robert about the ribs.  He said they’re spicy.  I said I like spicy.  But, he said, the ribs aren’t the best thing on the menu.  What is the best thing, I wondered.

“Have the oxtails,” Robert said.  “They’re slow cooked for five or six hours.  And if you can’t eat it all I’ll be here to help,” he laughed.

I’ve eaten oxtails.  I’ve cooked oxtails.  And I know when done right, they are amazing.  I took Robert’s word and ordered the oxtails.

But first, we asked for fried okra and fried pickles for appetizers.  Both were just great.  Crunchy on the outside with the wonderful flavors of okra and dill pickle on the inside. For me, both are like potato chips.  You can’t eat just one.

When our entrees arrived, I discovered that Robert was right.  The oxtails were astonishing.  Large chunks of slow-cooked meat with just enough gelatinous quality to make them even juicier.  Fork tender.  Served with rice and gravy.  A deep, dark astounding gravy.  The chef who prepared it knew a little something about making a roux.  It was as good as I’ve ever eaten.

Carol had ordered fried catfish and let me taste it.  Thick slices of the delicate, snow white fish with a nicely spiced breading.  Fried perfectly.  Another stunning dish.

Her catfish came with what was described as a “spicy” coleslaw.  She let me sample that also.  It was spicy.  It was very good.

Robert was right.  I couldn’t eat all the meat on my plate.  Besides I was saving room for dessert.  It was a wise decision.  Fortunately Robert had left the building to attend to other business so I had plenty for the to go box.

The large helping of nutmeg-scented peach cobbler placed in front of me was shockingly good.  I savored every mouthful.  Each bite taking me back to those Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house.

Dave hadn’t said much.  He had ordered the giant fried pork steak and then the peach cobbler as well.

Near the end of the meal he took time to say, “Gordon, this is good.”

And then a moment later, “I’m coming back for karaoke night.”