May 28, 2013 – Lenore Weaver started flipping burgers at the White Spot in 1959, about the time that I arrived in Anchorage as a boy. In those days it was located alongside an alley on C Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues in downtown Anchorage. Near the Army-Navy Surplus store and the endless stream of establishments on Fourth Avenue to which Bob Hope once referred as “…the longest bar in the world.”
As a teenager the White Spot was irresistible. Great burgers and fries. Lenore’s fries were so famous that she was known at times to simply ask customers, “What do you want with your fries?” And the two pinball machines along the back wall of the small space presented a never ending challenge to still developing hand-to-eye coordination.
Lenore passed away in 1999. Fourth Avenue is more genteel these days than it once was. The White Spot lives on, in a new location directly on Fourth Avenue near A Street, just a couple of blocks from its original location.
Tom Doerner owns the place now and works the grill in the still small café like a master. The White Spot retains the fame of its burgers and fries but Tom has added halibut, plated or in a sandwich, ablaze with the fresh seafood flavor that keeps regulars coming back for years. He also offers cole slaw in place of the fries.
I met my longtime friend Willie Hensley there for lunch. In addition to being a close friend for a few decades, Willie is one of the most interesting people I know. An Inupiaq from Kotzebue, he is the author of the book “Fifty Miles From Tomorrow” that tells the story of his life and that of his people. The Inupiat are those people whose traditional homelands are along the northern and western coasts of Alaska. The northern Eskimo.
It was his paper, written for a graduate course at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks many years ago, that laid the foundation for what became the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act in the early ‘70s changing the economics of Alaska forever. After a successful career in politics and business, Willie now divides his time between consulting and as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.
On this day he was just another hungry Alaskan. And so was I. Hungry for a White Spot burger.
Though I have heard rave reviews of the White Spot halibut that would have to wait for another day. I wanted a White Spot burger. Better yet a White Spot chili burger.
It came covered with chili and heavily sprinkled with onions and the hand full of pickled jalapeno slices I had asked Tom to toss on top. It was every bit as good as I remembered from the days when Lenore worked the grill. So were the fries. Perfectly browned and bright with familiar flavor.
As I attacked the chili burger and Willie his cheeseburger, three nuns came in and sat at a small table next to us. One of them told Tom that her sister had sent money for her to come to the White Spot. They ordered the halibut.
A Harley pulled into the empty parking space directly in front of the door. The rider, in full Harley leathers, his braided pony tail and full beard shot with streaks of gray, came in and sat at the counter. He left his puppy perched on the passenger seat, wearing little doggie goggles and safely encased in a container that appeared custom designed to keep the little pet safe.
A couple seated next to the Harley guy asked about the puppy. We learned her name was Sheba. The lady asked if she could pet her. “Say her name first,” was the reply. She did.
Peaceful coexistence. So White Spot.