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!