May 10, 2013
5 Memorable Alaskan Meals
By David Draper
As an outdoorsman from The Outside (that is, the Lower 48), I’ve been blessed to have visited Alaska about a dozen times. Admittedly, more than half of those occasions were work trips scheduled in early March when there isn’t a lot for an uninitiated outdoorsman to do. Those times my coworkers and I would retreat to a good dive bar (generally Darwin’s Theory in downtown Anchorage) filled with friendly locals and spend our off hours listening to their stories of lives spent in the Last Frontier.
Since then, those tales, told over stiff drinks, inspired several trips of my own, and I’ve now hunted or fished Alaska five different times—from the Kenai to the Noatak to Montague and Kodiak. It seems like I’m always somewhere between reminiscing/recovering from my last trip and planning the next. Through all these adventures, I’ve managed to have more than a few memorable meals. Here are my five favorites, in rough order of overall epic-ness:
Eating in Anchorage
For Outsiders, most trips to Alaska require a stopover in Anchorage. Of any city in the U.S., I feel most at home here. It’s got amazing views, friendly residents and, within minutes, you can be out of the urban environment and into the wilds. I always try to schedule an extra day on the back end of my hunts to spend in Anchorage re-acclimating to society after several days spent in the solitude of the bush. One of my first stops is Glacier Brewhouse. It’s generally packed with the right mix of tourists and locals, and I always sit at the bar and order an oatmeal stout. Of the many meals I’ve eaten there, my favorite was probably after a weeklong solo fishing adventure, where I gorged myself on white king salmon. (This was the same night I tried salmon-flavored vodka).
Fish Tacos for a Family
On that same trip, I spent a day on a halibut charter with a grandfather who had brought along his adolescent grandson to experience Alaska. Brendan was proud to have out-fished his grandpa that day. We celebrated that night around a campfire with a simple meal—small chunks of Brendan’s halibut grilled over the fire and tucked into some stale taco shells we found at a local mini-mart. Their trip was nearly over and, in unguarded moments, you could see both were growing weary of the other’s company. But that night the familial bond was strengthened with a memory Brendan will hopefully remember when he, someday, accompanies his grandson to Alaska.
Caribou on a Stick
My first hunting trip to Alaska was a D.I.Y. caribou hunt in the Brooks Range. The bush plane dropped us off on the banks of the Eli River, leaving our small group to fend for ourselves for five days (that turned into a full week when we got weathered in). My friend Jeff Baldridge and I both managed to connect on caribou during our first afternoon of hunting, and after packing his bull back to camp through the hellish terrain that is muskeg, we were all starving. Too tired to put much effort into eating, we stripped branches from nearby willows, speared strips of caribou meat and roasted them over an open fire. (We did the same with some sausages we had packed along, as you can see in the photo.) It was atavism at its finest and with no link to the outside world, not even a sat-phone, I felt as if this primal act was a connection to all the hunters who had gone before us for thousands of years.
Cocktails in Kotzebue
Sometimes a memorable meal isn’t really a meal. Due to weather in the small native town of Kotzebue where our bush planes were based, our pick-up from caribou camp, originally scheduled for Friday, didn’t arrive until Sunday. Without a satellite phone, that was three days of uncertainty and quickly dwindling rations. I won’t say we kissed the ground in Kotz when we finally made it back Sunday night, but there was no small measure of relief. Kotzebue is a dry town, but someone produced a bottle of cheap whiskey and we sat on the balcony of our hotel as the sun faded, toasting our good fortunes until the bottle was empty and our eyelids drooped.
Crab Night on the Sundy
In my crab-stuffed blacktail post earlier this week, I mentioned spending a day pulling fresh tanner crab from the Gulf of Alaska. That night, aboard our mobile hunting lodge the Sundy, we feasted on those fresh crab in an epic night of gluttony. Picture eight hungry hunters (that’s Doug Jeanneret of the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance in the photo) packed around two tiny galley tables piled high with fresh, steaming crab. For probably a solid hour, we cracked and hammered on crab legs, swilling cold beer and red wine between bites. After the melee was over, there was crab meat and butter everywhere, including on the windows. The night may or may not have ended with a hip-hop dance-off between Winchester’s Michael Turbyfill and the late, great gunwriter J. Guthrie.