“Alaskans like to eat.”
So spoke Anna, the driver who steered our bus from Anchorage to Talkeetna this afternoon after I asked if we should eat at the Lodge or go into town.
Town in this case is 500 people and the shuttle from the Lodge stops running at 8 p.m. So, the Lodge it would be for dinner. And a good, though lonely choice it turned out to be. Jennifer and I were the only guests in the Foraker dining room of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. Things next door at the bistro were humming a bit more. One of the restaurant staff told us the occupancy for this Saturday in July – the supposed height of the tourist season – was 60 percent. Bookings for the following night were 20%. It’s been like this all summer, he said.
It’s 9:30 p.m. as I write this and the mid-day sun is streaming in our window. It won’t get dark until well past midnight and by 2:30 a.m. it will be getting light again.
Today opened two new culinary doors.
At dinner I did the conservative thing and had grilled salmon with roasted fingerling potatoes, morel mushrooms and a bed of spinach. A worthy choice and somewhat necessary for someone on the diet of a coronary bypass survivor, who had broken ever rule at lunch.
Jennifer was more adventurous. She ordered roasted elk. Neither of us ever had eaten elk before. Hers was cooked a beautiful medium rare and served on the bone. The meat was tender and full of a rich flavor. It also was far leaner than either beef or lamb – more on the order of venison or buffalo. It was served with excellent mashed fingerling potatoes and red cabbage.
I might have gone for the elk too had it not been for what I did at lunch in Anchorage. On the way to our wonderful dinner at Glacier Brewhouse the last night we walked by several sidewalk vendors selling reindeer sausage, or hot dogs. The notion of was intriguing. I never had eaten reindeer before and figured I might never again get the chance. So, while Jennifer camped out in the hotel restaurant for a late breakfast. I headed off around the corner to 4th Street, the city’s main thoroughfare.
M.A.’s Reindeer/Hot Dogs/Sausages is located on the modest plaza in front of the federal government building at 4th and F. M.A. himself has been at it for 18 years, having started a couple of blocks down the street and moved to his current location some years later. The menu board offers chicken linguisa, M.A.’s Italian, kosher beef, kosher Polish, reindeer, bratwurst and Louisiana hot links. Available condiments are kraut, jalapenos, ketchup, yellow mustard, pickle relish, barbecue sauce, hot chili sauce, and cheese. Locals make up 85% of his business and no self-respecting local would order a sausage without M.A.’s signature sautéed/caramelized onions. He said he shares the secret to the onions with anyone who wants to know, just as long as they give him credit when they cook them or tell others about them. The secret? He caramelizes them in coke a cola.
Each night M.A. hooks his cart to the back of his car and hauls it away. Each morning, except in the most extreme weather, he sets up again.
I came for the reindeer and that’s what I ordered, with onions. Local knowledge, he advised me, calls also for some yellow mustard. He keeps his sausages hot in a steamer then finishes them on a grill as ordered. They are then served on a hot, egg bun and handed to the customer in a wrapping of tin foil. The smallish grill sits at one end of the mobile cart and the sausages share space with the fry pan in which the onions are sautéed.
I polished off the reindeer sausage and was convinced. The sausage was juicy and tasty in a skin that snapped when bitten into all the way to the last bight. And the sweet onions were a perfect complement. My curiosity tweaked, I went back for an M.A.’s Italian. It was good, but no match for the reindeer. And I’m a big fan of Italian sausages.
I asked M.A. which is his biggest seller and he said “reindeer by far.” In second place, far behind, are the Polish. The stream of customers walking up to the cart never stopped while I was there. But M.A. moved things though so quickly that the line never was more than five deep. Each customer would step up, order his or her sausage, step aside, possibly order a drink and/or chips, pay for the order, receive the sausage, add the condiments and take a seat on the front steps of the federal building or on the concrete flower box on the other side of the plaza.
Now, what you really need to know is that these were the first two sausages I’ve had in the two years since my quadruple bypass surgery. I’m on a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium diet. At lunch today, I trampled all over that diet. Was it worth it? You bet. I started to make up for it by having the salmon for dinner and only tasting one bight of Jennifer’s elk.
Chapter Eight – July 16, 2010 – A FOOD LOVER’S TREK tracks the travels of Table Talk editor Larry Levine and his wife Jennifer as they make their way by auto, ferry, plane and train from Los Angeles to Fairbanks Alaska and back. A new chapter will be published every day as long as they can connect with the Internet. You can read the earlier chapters by clicking on Food Lover’s Trek above. If you are enjoying this series tell a friend they can follow it at http://www.TableTalkatLarrys.com