August 18, 2013 – I feel an affinity with Bob Persons, the owner of the Double Musky in Girdwood, the ski resort community just south of Anchorage. I’ve never met him. We’ve traded a few e-mails. Talked on the phone once. I’ve come to like him. We have a lot in common.
We both have traveled in the course of making a living. Bob’s first career was as an auditor for Chrysler. Traveling people eat a lot of meals in restaurants. We appreciate good restaurants. We develop a certain sophistication in our tastes. At least we think we do. Sometimes we begin to believe that we could run a restaurant and put a good, even a great meal on the table. And sometimes, as in the case of Bob Persons, we might be right.
Bob and I both have connections with Louisiana. I was born there and lived there for the first 12 years of my life before moving to Alaska. Bob married Deanna, a native of Louisiana. They spend a few weeks of each year in Louisiana.
We both love Alaska. I grew up there and always consider it home no matter where I am on any given day. Bob visited Alaska briefly after his discharge from the army and from that day on wanted to find a way to get back. He finally made it when he got word that Chrysler had a job opening in Anchorage that met his qualifications. He and Deanna headed north. Dining in Alaska was about to change.
A man who traveled to make a living. Ate in a lot of restaurants. Thought, “I could do this.” Married a woman from Louisiana where food is a way of life. Found himself in Alaska where he always had wanted to be. It was the late 1970s and it was just about to come together for Bob and Deanna. They decided to open the restaurant they had dreamed about.
They started with the Girdwood Grill, a hamburger haven housed in a small building that had been the first post office in Girdwood. Within a few months they heard that the Double Musky was for sale. Housed in a ramshackle cabin on the road that borders Crow Creek, The Musky had been around since I was a teenager skiing the slopes of Mount Alyeska. It had lurched from owner to owner through the years without ever meeting with any success or making much of an impression.
In the spring of 1979 with the Musky up for sale yet again, Bob and Deanna were ready to put it all together. With the help of a friend they bought the property. They were in business. Customers were coming through the door. They were putting meals on the table.
But it was a struggle in those early days. They started with just the two of them. It was hard work with little relief. And Bob realized something important. He owned and was operating a restaurant but had never had any training in the food business.
He laughs when he talks about it now. “Food was a hobby,” he says, “and I was trying to run a business.”
He had the instinct and the passion. He needed education. He called Paul Prudhomme, the great chef from Opelousas, Louisiana. Prudhomme had been head chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans before leaving to open his own world famous K-Paul’s on Chartres Street in the Vieux Carre. That was about the time that he literally invented the blackened redfish craze that swept the nation a couple of decades ago.
Bob explained his situation to Chef Paul. Prudhomme said, “Why don’t you come on down for a couple of months?”
Bob headed to New Orleans. He spent the next several weeks learning from Chef Paul the techniques that would enable him to convert instinct and passion into some of the best food in the nation. The Double Musky had arrived.
Since the Persons opened the doors of their restaurant in 1979 the Double Musky has become a legend in Alaska. They don’t take reservations but that’s ok. Anchoragites will drive the 36 miles to Girdwood and try to get there early so they’ll be at the front of the line when the doors open.
The building has been upgraded and expanded but has retained its Alaska cabin-like appearance. At least on the outside. On the inside it’s more like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Beads, doubloons and posters of Carnival are everywhere. It’s festive. It’s fun.
The menu reflects the Persons’ Louisiana and Alaska connections. They offer Louisiana standards like etouffee, gumbo and jambalaya. They use a lot of Alaska seafood. King crab, halibut, salmon, shrimp, scallops. But they are most famous for their steaks. Food critics from the Food Network to the Washington Post have praised their pepper steak.
My son, David, and daughter-in-law, Amber, accompanied me on my latest visit to the Musky. We drove down alongside the majestic Chugach Mountains on a rainy Sunday afternoon. On the other side of the highway the tide was full in Turnagain Arm. Pulling in among the dripping spruce trees surrounding the Musky we found the line at the door already formed. But we were still there in time to get in for the first seating. The next hour and a half were a delight.
As always every table was occupied. The bar was standing room only as later arrivals enjoyed cocktails while waiting for tables to open up. The servers were moving quickly and efficiently from table to kitchen and back to table.
At our table we shared a plate of Cajun Popcorn, crawfish tails lightly battered and fried. Pleasingly browned and crunchy on the outside, delicate and sweet on the inside. The perfect snack as we enjoyed before dinner cocktails.
All three of us ordered gumbo. Bob makes his gumbo in the style he learned from Chef Paul. South Louisiana gumbo with a heavy, dark roux. The way I like it. No, the way I love it. Served over rice, filled with slices of sausage and large shrimp. A flawless presentation of Louisiana’s greatest traditional dish.
After the crawfish tails and gumbo I considered staying Cajun all the way. Maybe etouffee. Or halibut stuffed with king crab.
But no. I go through the same thought process every time I’m at the Musky. And usually, not always, but usually it ends the same way. I’m there for beef. Prime rib. Rare.
A few minutes later I was looking down at a huge slab of perfectly rare beef. The roasting was superlative. Accompanied by a simple baked potato drowned in butter. I was dining in the Double Musky at its best.
I have only one complaint about the Musky. It’s the same one I’ve had for years. I love their desserts. And by the time I get through the appetizers and entrees that I also love, I’m always too full for dessert. I look longingly at the tray of sweet offerings knowing that I can’t take another bite.
But I’ve been here before.
“Double Musky pie to go, please.”
After all, it’s a 36 mile drive back to Anchorage, too.