Downtown deliciousness

by • April 10, 2017 • Apres, HighlightsComments (0)88

With new owner and chef, Sack’s is better than ever

Head chef Shana Whitlock has livened up the Sack’s Cafe menu for a real downtown dining treat.

Head chef Shana Whitlock has livened up the Sack’s Cafe menu for a real downtown dining treat. Courtesy Sack’s Cafe.

Decades before terms like “seasonal” and “locally sourced” ubiquitously peppered the restaurant industry, Anchorage’s Sack’s Café was designing dishes based on fresh, simple ingredients.
I’m pleased to share that after a momentous management change and the onboarding of a new and adventurous executive chef, Sack’s has managed to stay true to its roots while blossoming further into an establishment that blends garden-fresh dishes with culinary creativity, and all in a warm and inviting ambiance.
The sale of Sack’s came a year ago, when original founder JoAnn Asher transferred the reigns to longtime industry pal Laile Fairbairn, herself the proprietress of landmarks like Snow City Café and Spenard Roadhouse. The chef newly helming Sack is Shana Whitlock, a French-trained tornado in the kitchen who previously scored raves at South Anchorage’s now-shuttered Torchon Bistro.
Fairbairn has the Midas touch for launching establishments, and Whitlock showed anyone who crossed Torchon’s threshold she’d never met a French dish she couldn’t dominate. Together, and backed by a competent team at this downtown restaurants, Sack’s today is as good as it’s ever been. And it doesn’t hurt that the joint has graduated from beer-and-wine only to a full-on bar featuring top-shelf spirits. Cheers!
Visiting Sack’s several times recently, I enjoyed items from the brunch, lunch and dinner menus. This variety in itself is something that makes Sack’s stand out among downtown establishments that often serve just breakfast and lunch, or just lunch and dinner.
During weekdays, the Sack’s lunch menu includes its long-featured Migas, a sassy dish with scrambled eggs, chorizo, salsa, avocado, jack and cheddar cheese, complimented by fried potatoes and soft tortillas ($14). This is a personal favorite; the melty cheeses and smooth scrambled eggs pair perfectly with the kicky sausage, creamy avocado and flavorful salsa. It’s just the right blend of comfort and heat to kick-start any day.
Other weekday staples include a fried egg sandwich and a breakfast burrito. On weekends, this menu generously expands to include even more early-morning options, like benedicts, skillets and omelets.
Longtime diners will see some holdovers on the lunch menu, like the tomato and gorgonzola soup, or a flavorful veggie avocado melt. But largely, these menus are overhauled since Whitlock came on.
First of all, here’s where Sack’s is unchanged: ingredients are fresh and local, dishes are elegant, and the menu remains focused and refined. It doesn’t try to be everything; rather, it offers several things, and does them very, very well.
What’s new: exciting proteins like oxtail and wild boar, expanded and sophisticated appetizers like bone marrow, and a remodeled lunch selection that includes six incredible salads ($8-$20) and a whole array of sandwiches and entrees.
I listened as the diners behind me – two businessmen clearly on lunch break – raved over their respective udon noodle bowl and shrimp sandwiches. The waitress deftly balanced her tables, delivery perfunctory, spot-on service as agreeable easy-listening music filled the warmly decorated space.
I hit up Sack’s for dinner on a recent evening. We agonized over the scrumptious choices, settling finally on the King Crab Napoleon appetizer ($15). The composed dish consisted of a buttery lump of succulent crab sandwiched between two crisp wontons with avocado, atop micro greens, with a sweet papaya burre blanc sauce. The crunchy wonton provided the perfect textural structure to the soft crab and avocado.
For entrees, my friend chose the fried chicken sandwich ($14), also featured on the lunch menu. Served on a Hawaiian roll that’s made in-house, the perfectly prepared chicken came topped with a kewpie-style mayo and house pickle, alongside a pile of thin-cut house fries.
At the bartender’s suggestion, I chose the house confit of duck ravioli ($28). I’m not even always a fan of duck, but I’m still thinking about this perfect dish. Minimalist in size but maximum in flavor, it featured several plump raviolis filled with small pieces of duck, drizzled in a sauce of seasonal mushrooms, toasted hazelnut ragout and balsamic caramel.
It was rich, earthy and sweet all at once – the sort of special dish that speaks to the original vision of Sack’s when it launched more than 30 years ago.
Sometimes, long-standing institutions age out, and fade away.
Happily, with a reinvigorated vision, revamped menu and an intact and renowned reputation, Sack’s is poised to press on.

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