When I stopped by Tuesday morning to meet with Channel 2 reporter Rebecca Palsha, who also writes the Alaska Bites food blog, I found the restaurant much changed from my last visit perhaps a year or so ago. The large and deep dining room’s industrial-white walls had been repainted in darker hues and tastefully decorated, giving the space a warmer feel despite the snaking line of beverage counters and bagel baskets still in place to serve the to-go crowd.
With some 28 varieties listed on the menu, Alaska Bagel is one of the few places in town with a truly comprehensive bagel selection since the recent closure of Marty’s New York Bagel Deli. They’re available plain, coated with “shmears” of various toppings or incorporated into several simple breakfasts and sandwiches, alongside a selection of conventional breakfasts, soups and salads. While Rebecca ordered a Bagel Cheese Scramble on a plain bagel ($7.75), I chose to try an order of French toast ($6.50); on the drink front Rebecca went for a mug of hot chocolate ($2.50), which I decided to try too.
We weren’t in much of a hurry, but our food took something like 25 minutes to arrive with four parties in the dining room. Although Rebecca and I saw several people staffing the counters, with people at a bar near the register served relatively quickly, there was only one waitress for the entire place and she seemed a little overworked. We were concerned enough to approach the counter lest Palsha miss interviews for a story she was working on that day, but a few minutes later we were served and tucking into our food.
My French toast was very direct and to the point: no meat or hash browns on the side, just four thick slices of battered and fried bread with a tub of syrup and an overflowing cup of butter on the side. As it turns out that’s exactly what I wanted that day, with the subtle spices of the batter like nutmeg making themselves known against the sweetness of the syrup and the savory hits of butter, the comfort-food vibe of the dish conspiring with the sunlight flowing in through the dining room’s southern exposure to briefly transform a typical weekday into what felt like a lazy Sunday outing.
Rebecca tore into her bagel scramble with gusto, putting away half of it before the rest went into a box for her lunch, but she seemed to want a little more flavor from it. The basic ingredients -- a generous pile of bacon, cheese and scrambled eggs served sandwich-style inside the large bagel -- were all fine, she added some salt and pepper to heighten the flavors. She said the bacon was a bit undercooked for her tastes, and while the scramble looked appetizing to me it might simply have been too plain for her.
We both agreed on the hot chocolate, however, which was a supremely good selection on Palsha’s part. Served in 16-ounce cups with a thick head of whipped cream atop the cocoa itself, when I chugged some down it was nearly viscous in its thickness with chocolate, much like a mocha I’d recently had at the Middle Way Café; while it didn’t have the caffeinated wallop of that beverage, it was every bit as refreshing and warming against the nip of the cold air outside, right down to the guilty pleasure of the sludge at the bottom.
As I think about Alaska Bagel, its formula is remarkably similar to that of the nearby Kriner’s Diner: simple food, substantial portions and a central location. Some might say the menu needs to be deeper or call for greater complexity in the dishes served, but I’ve got a soft spot for places that do only a few things yet do them well. As for Rebecca, well...you’ll have to ask her next week, when she writes her first Lunchbox review as the first of several newsroom voices who will join this feature on a rotating basis.