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Alaska: Conquering the Last Foodie Frontier

September 17, 2015

A view of Alaska’s mountains. To explore well be sure you eat well. (Photo: Mark Stevens on Flickr)

It is easy to find award winning chefs in big urban cities—but for travelers who have an appetite for untamed exploration, it’s a special treat to find one at the end of a dirt road in America’s largest national park. You won’t recognize these chefs’ names, but you likely spent the day hiking past the ingredients in their dessert menu. Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun, where chefs forage for salmonberries in the wild, design eight-course tasting menus, and regularly earn nods from Michelin and James Beard. 

Seward Brewing Company

Forget bottled spices, Seward Brewing Company taps seasonings “impossible for a foodie to see anywhere else,” says chef/owner Erik Slater, who picks chick weed and beach grass for mild herby flavorings. A chef since the age of 18, Erik takes risks with menu items like the house favorite—halibut salad, which plays with candied pale malts used in making its award-winning beers. It is bright and earthy and pairs righteously with one of the light house ales.

Eastern Alaska clams with bacon, kale, tomato, and ale sauce at Seward Brewing Company. (Photo: Erik Slater)

Gustavus Inn

Run by the Lesh family since 1965, Gustavus Inn wanted to simply serve overnight guests (and a few hungry wanderers) family-style dinner in a historic homestead in Glacier Bay National Park. But a reputation for everything strawberries and salmon put them on the culinary map with a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics restaurant distinction. “We smoke it, make sushi, make gravlaks and sashimi, blacken it, poach it, stuff with crab, crisp the skin, and create the most delicious broth with the heads,” says co-owner and wife JoAnn.

The Gustavus Inn grows much of the food that is served to their guests. (Photo: Joann Lesh)

McCarthy Lodge 

Open from May to September, McCarthy Lodge shares America’s largest national park—Wrangell St. Elias National Park—with four major mountain ranges and a few dozen residents and visitors. Michelin Guide exclusively ranked the restaurant a “Must-See,” thanks to the executive chef’s ingenious eight-course tasting menu that explodes with off-the-grid textures and flavors you will likely Google for reference. Try borage lately? On any given night “you might be sitting next to a neighbor who grew your dinner,” says owner Neil Darish.

Cabbage saffron soup, served at the McCarthy Lodge. (Photo: Paul Andrew Lawrence)

Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant

After a day of hiking the Last Frontier in Seward, there’s nothing sweeter than rewarding yourself with a decadent plate of comfort food. While Chef Kevin Lane of Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant took first place in the 2013 Great Alaska Seafood Cook Off, we have to admit the Smoked Scallop Mac & Cheese and the Poutine with green peppercorn gravy are the ultimate post-exercise treat.

Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant, right on the harbor. (Courtesy: Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant)

Crispy Black Cod at Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant. (Courtesy: Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant)

Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lodge 

The owner of Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lodge isn’t afraid to play with organic ingredients that master a panorama of artisan contradictions like the Blue Note truffle with local french bleu cheese and milk chocolate ganache, garnished with smoked bacon sea salt and the Salmon Surprise truffle with bittersweet Alpine honey, black pepper ganache in a dark chocolate shell topped with smoked salmon. Want a taste of Alaska now? They also offer mail order.

Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge. (Courtesy: Modern Dweller’s Chocolate Lounge)