The United States of Pizza: Alaska
Although I worry that a pizza oven would threaten the structural integrity of an igloo, Spencer Shroyer (editor of the Anchorage Daily News's Play Magazine), my invaluable source of Alaskan pizza intel, showed me that wood-fired ovens do indeed exist in the Land of the Midnight Sun. All Alaska jokes aside, we in the Lower 48 must overcome our Rudolph-ladened imaginings of Meat Lover pies strewn with caribou, moose, and reindeer sausage (a topping option at the Great Alaska Pizza Company) dipped in Eskimo ice cream instead of ranch.
Due to the difficulty of growing year-round in Alaska (the state does experience a very short but intense growing season that produces world-record-setting crops like a 19-pound carrot and a 106-pound cabbage), there aren’t as many specialized regional ingredients aside from fish. According to Spencer, reindeer sausage (“not spicy like its Italian counterpart, it’s more like kielbasa”) and moose meat (“not readily available commercially”) really don’t show up on pizzas as often as Lower 48 residents would think. Though Spencer says, “Our state motto could be: 'We complain about the Lower 48 and then copy whatever they do five years later'”—it seems that mimicry is not always a bad thing: “The taste for gourmet-style pizzas and microbrewed beers cruised up the Alcan Highway from the Lower 48 and into Alaska, and the state hasn’t been the same since.”
Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria
Throughout my findings, the Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria (3300 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage AK 99503 (map); 907-258-2537) was by far the most well-known and referenced pizza joint. With belly-busting, nontraditional pies like the Avalanche (pepperoni, blackened chicken, bacon, red onions, parsley, cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, and barbecue sauce) and Santa’s Little Helper (pepperoni, blackened chicken, steak, bacon, red peppers, cilantro, mozzarella, provolone, and marinara) and its house-brewed drafts, the Moose’s Tooth has been helping Alaskans survive through many a dark winter.
Local seafood finds its way onto pies like the Shrimp Fiesta (shrimp, red onions, jalapenos, red peppers, diced Roma tomatoes, cilantro, chili flakes, shake cheese (Parmesan in a can), Parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, and garlic oil), the Blackened Halibut (Cajun-seasoned halibut, diced red onions, diced Roma tomatoes, spicy sour cream sauce, parsley, mozzarella, provolone, garlic and olive oil), and the Smoked Salmon.
No matter if pies like the Kodiak Ranch (mushrooms, red onions, broccoli, black olives, diced Roma tomatoes, green peppers, cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, and ranch dressing) and toppings like Denali Sauce (puréed spinach, ricotta, herbs, and spices) are Alaskan in name alone, the Tooth has built a strong local following and success that’s spawned two sister spin-offs: The Bear Tooth Grill and the Bear Tooth Theatre Pub for all your filmic pizza hankerings. Spencer’s take on The Tooth: "The Tooth's reputation was built on standout pies like the Blackened Halibut, its beer (more than ten taps of house-brewed suds), and its laid-back vibe (employees rock tie-dyed T-shirts for uniforms). The parking lot is always packed and every year it’s a lopsided winner of best-pizza-in-town awards.”
Capri Halal Pizza
Although Moose's Tooth gets all the hype, Erin Zimmer's friend and Anchorage resident Andrew C. has this to say about Capri Pizza (4505 Spenard Rd
Anchorage AK 99517 (map); 907-243-3333), a Pakistani-owned halal pizza joint that's only been open for a year now: "They're becoming known for their shish-kebab pizza and their salmon pizza—the latter being the best pie I've ever had on my world travels. It's owned by a family of Pakistani bakers, so the crust is fluffy and chewy and has hints of olive oil and spices. Their best pizza is the smoked salmon edition; the salmon is flaked and mixed into the cheese toppings. It's amazing. I wouldn't say Capri's is better than Moose's overall, just that Capri's smoked salmon pizza is better than any one item the former has."
If you find yourself "at the end of the road," in Homer, Alaska (where the town's first traffic light went up in 2005), you’ll find not one but two notable wood-fired pizzerias: Fat Olives and Finn’s Pizza.
Homer may be lacking a plethora of traffic lights, but wood-fired Italian brick ovens? Fat Olives has one that churns out thin-crust pizzas, with giant slices to-go that run about $3 a pop. According to Spencer: “If you drive south from Anchorage until you can’t go any farther (around 220 miles), you’ll reach Homer: 'A quaint drinking village with a fishing problem,' according to a popular bumper sticker. The place for pie at the end of that road is Fat Olives Restaurant (276 Olson Lane, Homer AK 99603 (map); 907-235-8488). There’s usually a cheese, a vegetarian, and two types of meat pizzas cut into long, thin slices and ready for pick up. The toppings are at the discretion of the kitchen, but on a recent trip I had a tasty veggie slice made with pesto sauce, black olives, onions, garlic, red peppers, and mozzarella cheese. And, yes, local libations from Homer Brew are on tap.”
A New York Times Reader’s Pick, Finn’s Pizza (Cannery Road Boardwalk, Homer Spit Road, Homer AK 99603) has owners Sasha Raupp and Bjorn Larsen serving up wood-fired pizzas made with organic and local ingredients. Serious eater Gaffer touts it as not only the best pizza in Alaska but as good as the pizza he’s had in New York. Depending on the slice, that’s a pretty big claim, but these photos may take a little edge off that New Yorker skepticism.
And lastly, other notable mentions from pizza maven Spencer:
"The Last Frontier’s pizza spots don’t all boast fancy-pants pesto and in-house IPA—there are also plenty built on regular ol’ red sauce and a bottle of Bud. At Muldoon Pizza (450 Muldoon Road, Anchorage AK 99504 (map) 907-333-8111), an East-side institution since 1975, diners can slide into tall-backed booths and get a house special (mozzarella, pepperoni, mushrooms, hamburger, black olives, Canadian bacon, sausage, and onions) with a frosty mug of beer.
"There’s also Greek eatery Pizza Olympia (2809 Spenard Road, Anchorage AK 99503 (map); 907-561-5264), where, in addition to a mean pasticcio and moussaka, they roll out pies such as the Athena’s Delight (garlic, green peppers, feta, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, onions, tomatoes, and Greek oregano). Feeling romantic? For an additional $4, the folks at Olympia will turn any pizza into a heart-shaped symbol of your affection.”
But if you’re really sick of the reindeer and caribou and jonesing for a Lower 48 slice, there’s always Nome's Airport Pizza, which delivers pies by plane.
Special Thanks To
Spencer Shroyer for all his invaluable pizza knowledge. Spencer is the editor of Play, the Anchorage Daily News's weekly entertainment section; he writes about food and pop culture on its blog. Also a DJ, his ramblings about music can be found at djencyclopediabrown.blogspot.com.
Andrew C., of Anchorage, for the Capri Pizza tip.