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Lunchbox: Bear Paw Restaurant

Published On: Sep 20 2013 03:47:25 PM AKDT
Bear Paw Restaurant

The Bear Paw Restaurant serves this buffalo chicken pizza ($15), which includes a side salad not listed on the menu. Fountain drinks are $2 apiece. (Chris Klint/KTUU-TV / June 10, 2013)

Bear Paw Restaurant
415 E St.
11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week
$6-$19 per plate

I usually consider visiting restaurants something of a break from my day job, since it’s not often that news and cuisine intersect. After a recent change of ownership at a well-known Downtown establishment, though, I decided to stop by and see how it was faring.

The Bear Paw Restaurant is the new occupant of the former Rumrunner’s Old Towne Bar and Grill, which closed in December amidst mounting complaints by lawmakers over the renewal of its liquor license. While the Rumrunner’s logo on the marquee has been replaced by the Bear Paw's, the “Old Towne Bar and Grill” phrase is still up there as a reminder of the location’s previous tenants. I didn’t have too much trouble finding on-street parking during my visit on a sunny afternoon, and the restaurant -- which reopened just a week or so ago -- only had a few customers when I showed up.

Not much of the décor inside the Bear Paw has changed from its Rumrunner’s days, with better lighting apparently the primary addition to its unchanged layout. A series of flat screens throughout the bar show a loop of Alaska images instantly recognizable from the videos played at your favorite local tourist trap: helicopter shots of Arctic tundra in summer, brown bears standing in streams, Iditarod mushers at the Anchorage ceremonial start. The music leans more toward rock than the clubby mix Rumrunner's favored; it didn’t leave my ears ringing the same way they always when I left Rumrunner's, but it still seemed a bit loud for the space.

At the moment, the Bear Paw’s initial menu is relatively limited, leaning more heavily toward bar food than actual sit-down fare. A selection of nine appetizers ranging from sliders to spinach dip is on offer, but the entirety of the lunch menu consists of five hamburgers, four each sandwiches and pizzas, and two each soups and salads. Most of the items on offer are pretty standard fare (a bacon cheeseburger, a club sandwich, a Caesar salad), with few changes to distinguish them from their basic templates. While a back page lists several seafood, chicken and steak dinners with two side dishes apiece, they sounded somewhat heavy to me and I skipped back to the previous entries.

I ended up asking for a barbecued-beef pizza, recalling the surprising success of a similar dish from my visit to the Tri-Grill in South Anchorage, but after a few minutes my server came back and told me the kitchen was out of ingredients for it. I then switched my order to a buffalo-chicken pizza ($15), which I thought was slightly expensive until the server returned again and told me the pizza included a side salad not listed on the menu. Despite the confusion, service was relatively quick, with the salad showing up in about 10 minutes and the pizza showing up perhaps another 10 minutes after that.

I’d asked for Italian dressing with the salad, and then changed to Thousand Island when I was told that was out, but my server brought the salad out with Italian and a memorable explanation: “We do have Italian now, because we don’t have Thousand.” I was glad for the change myself, since the Bear Paw’s slightly creamy, quite tangy example was a nice compliment to the salad’s ingredients. Primarily red onions atop romaine lettuce and diced tomato, the salad also had some garlicky croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese added in for flavor, a simple mix that worked well when it was all thrown together.

The pizza was quite good, although I didn’t find it precisely as advertised. I really liked the dough, a soft-baked flat that was firm enough to carry the pie yet soft enough to remain chewy all the way out to the crust, as well as the mozzarella/Parmesan/bleu cheese blend that added some authority to the pie’s taste without giving the bleu’s edge free rein; red onions ensured a bit of added zing, and a base of ranch dressing rather than marinara provided another traditional foil to buffalo chicken. All that was missing was the buffalo flavor, which the lightly spiced grilled-chicken chunks didn’t convey because they lacked sauce of any kind -- I wasn’t sure whether it was an accidental or conscious omission, but it left the dish tasting like a white pizza, good yet bland.

On balance, the Bear Paw seems to be handling its abrupt transition from nightlife venue to restaurant with tentative steps, taking on the basics before trying to reach too far. The teething pains seem familiar from other new restaurants I’ve visited, but I mainly hope the menu develops a personality akin to that at other recently repurposed eateries like Seward’s Folly. Although there wasn’t anything wrong with what I was ultimately served, the Bear Paw has yet to follow in Rumrunner’s footsteps and find its niche.

Contact Chris Klint