2729 C St.
11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday
Anchorage restaurants have a long tradition of combining multiple cuisine specialties under one roof, from the French and American dishes offered at Café Croissant to the array of Samoan, Tongan and Hawaiian food available at Hula Hands Polynesian Restaurant. Last week I visited Midtown to stop by another establishment with a divided menu.
Charlie’s Bakery and Chinese Cuisine is an intriguing culinary proposition, offering potential one-stop shopping for a plate of dim sum and a loaf of sourdough bread. It’s neatly tucked into a restaurant-dense Midtown strip mall on the north side of Northern Lights Boulevard, sharing its digs with the Alaska Bagel Restaurant, as well as storefronts for KFC and Taco King. The block’s readily accessed westbound on Northern Lights or southbound on C Street, and it also seemed to see a lot of foot traffic during my visit.
The entire façade at Charlie’s is west-facing windows, which do a lot to light up the small cafeteria-style dining area that greets you when you walk in. The space is spare but relaxing and doesn’t have much interior décor; a lighted picture menu of the restaurant’s Chinese offerings and a large bakery case on the right lead visitors in to make a selection, then pay for it on the left and take a seat. An Arctic entryway built into the restaurant from the front windows takes up some of the space but isn’t too obtrusive.
Charlie’s menu contains about 30 dishes for regular weekday visitors, with another 10 marked as Saturday-only specialties. It’s a slightly eclectic take on a conventional Chinese menu, with everything from conventional staples like Mongolian beef and sesame chicken to pork-and-pickled-noodle soup and barbecued eel. Eager to sample something from both the entrée menu and the bakery case, I asked for a plate of red-hot pepper chicken ($9.95), as well as a piece of chocolate cheesecake ($3.95). I was handed the cake slice and a number, which brought an elegantly plated dish of chicken to my table perhaps 10 to 15 minutes later.
The red-hot pepper chicken initially didn’t seem as fearsome as I thought it might be from its dangerously strong smell, chunks of chicken mixed with whole chili peppers, onions, green onions and julienned carrots in a tangy sauce. That equation changed when I bit into one of the peppers and found a sudden hit of slow-roasted flavor, coupled with an equally slow burn that made the dish live up to its name. You can make the chicken as mild or hot as desired by regulating how many of the peppers you eat, and I feel no shame in admitting that I left a few on the plate alongside the remnants of a small mountain of steamed rice.
After the chicken, the chocolate cheesecake was a welcome wave of creamy coolness on my tongue, several layers of light and springy chocolate cake alternating with whipped cheesecake. The piece I was served was tall but not too wide, and a harder layer of chocolate-infused crust atop the rest of the cake was utterly decadent and took me several minutes to break up with my fork before properly savoring every bite. If you stop at Charlie’s, be sure to pick up some dessert -- you won’t regret it.
I have to say that I’m glad I visited Charlie’s, since I’d heard about the place but never visited until now. It’s a pretty quick fix for lunch, faster than some fast food I’ve gotten in the area, and the opportunity to pick up something decent for dessert while you’re at it is reminiscent of the Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop. While some establishments suffer from the split focus of multiple specialties, Charlie’s does well at both and is definitely a case where a restaurant is more than the sum of its parts.