Laid-back yet lavish

by • August 14, 2014 • ApresComments (0)162

Girdwood’s dining options blend the best of all moods

You don’t have to go far to get away from it all.
That’s how I felt after two sunny summer days and nights in Girdwood. A weekend immersed in this small town’s laid-back scene left me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Maybe it was the plush hotel, or the consistently delicious dining, or the striking scenery, or that carefree vibe Girdwood people are so known for that seems to permeate the whole town with a mellow ease.

Don’t have a reservation? No problem. The view from the bar at Seven Glaciers is incredible.

Don’t have a reservation? No problem. The view from the bar at Seven Glaciers is incredible.

My excursion began on a beautiful Friday, checking into the Hotel Alyeskal at Alyeska Resort. This hotel is a stunner, rising dramatically against a picturesque and mountainous backdrop, trimmed by elegant landscaping that gives way to rambling forests threaded with hiking trails. Guests approaching on foot stopped to take photos and gape, then gaped and photographed some more once inside the elegant lobby, with its cushy caramel-colored leather chairs, Alaska Native art and subdued lighting, filled with the soft lull of classical music.
With more than 300 rooms and an engaging collection of shops and dining options, Hotel  Alyeska bills itself as “a basecamp for summer and winter excursions.” The location is perfect: It’s just far enough from the main drag to feel peacefully detached, yet getting anywhere from the hotel is easy. Staff members are competent and knowledgeable, rooms are clean and accommodating, but the warmth and pristine surroundings offer plenty to enjoy on-scene.
The first night in Girdwood began at the Double Musky, a much-revered establishment on Crow Creek Road known for Cajun flair, killer steaks and an award-winning wine cellar. Double Musky is casual fine dining at its finest: upscale cuisine in a woodsy setting, with a colorful, celebratory interior, every inch of ceiling and wall dripping with Mardis Gras beads, clever signs, sparkling trinkets and baubles, and stained glass paneling.
At the bar, beverage options include specialty cocktails, Alaska and import beers and “Musky margaritas.” Appetizer favorites include hot crawfish cheese dip and escargot-stuffed mushrooms. Most cost $11 and include the house’s irresistible jalapeño cheese rolls. Entrees include crab-stuffed halibut and Cajun staples like shrimp etoufee, steaks are a sure thing, and I was thrilled with my Copper River salmon, moist and lightly crusted in a mustard panko with a lemon aioli drizzle.
After dinner, it was off to Chair 5 for cocktails. This locals’ joint offers a sprawling menu, full bar and fun environment. There’s a pool table, a real jukebox, and a few flat screens for the sports fans. Generous windows afford ample natural light and bright bar décor like neon and mirrored beer signs. This would be a natural stop with friends for a pitcher and pizza after hiking. Like Double Musky, Chair 5 is only two miles from the hotel.
Come morning, I bee-lined straight for the Bake Shop, near the Sitzmark Bar & Grill and a refreshing one mile walk from the hotel. Predictably, a hungry crowd spilled out the door, the air rich with the smells of maple syrup and bacon. Food is reasonably priced and it’s worth a short wait to enjoy the giant, gooey cinnamon rolls, the veggie-laden “plate-o-potato,” or Alaska sourdough pancakes. Another option: nearby Jack Sprat, a cozy sit-down restaurant in a chalet setting, showcases fresh and inventive dishes during its popular weekend brunches.

Approaching the terminal on the way to Seven Glaciers.

Approaching the terminal on the way to Seven Glaciers.

Later, joined by my sister, we tried happy hour at Sakura, the hotel’s Asian restaurant. We nibbled edamame ($2.50, 5-6 p.m.) as the friendly sushi chef prepared rolls. Ours perfectly showcased raw tuna, alternately topped with mango and soft avocado, the sticky white rice holding together beautifully between our chopsticks.
After a dip in the hotel’s indoor hot tub (sharing a huge, peaked-ceiling room with an enormous saltwater pool), it was time for the top-shelf experience of our weekend: dinner at Seven Glaciers Restaurant. To get there, ride the tram 2,200 feet up the mountain. On the lift toward the summit, our car-load of passengers oohed and ahhed with reverence, snapping photos of the sloping hills, glacier-filled valleys, and glittering, distant water of Turnagain Arm.
Up top, Seven Glaciers hugs the lip of the mountain, flanked by the tram station and the Bore Tide Deli. The spacious restaurant features incomparable views of the seven glaciers it’s named for, with an accessible elegance that delights locals and tourists alike. We sipped wine and dined on scallop bisque, perfectly cooked king salmon and a nutty risotto, capping off the experience with deconstructed strawberry shortcake and chocolates. The food was bright and delicious. We left in a hazy culinary afterglow.
The night was young, so we hit up Sitzmark, an iconic Girdwood bar at the base of the slopes that offers free live music every Saturday through September. A five-man bluegrass band from North Carolina packed the room with rambunctious revelers. Bartenders hustled to fill drink orders, girls in trucker caps twirled around near the stage, and patrons spilled out on to the sprawling patio beyond, enjoying the magical summer light.
Girdwood is known for being a veritable recreational playground. Forest hikes, beautiful parks, downhill mountain biking, a showpiece ski and snowboarding resort – the town teems with activities. You know what they say: work hard, play hard. So next time you find yourself in Girdwood to put in a good day’s work on the trail or hill, be sure to leave time to indulge. You won’t be sorry. But you might be sorry you can’t stay longer.

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