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Lunchbox: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza & Spirits

Published On: Nov 21 2013 02:17:25 PM AKST   Updated On: Nov 21 2013 02:19:06 PM AKST
Lunchbox: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza and Spirits

Lunchbox: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza and Spirits

The Rock Wood Fired Pizza & Spirits serves this lunch buffet ($9.99) daily from its 11 a.m. opening to 1:30 p.m. every day, including a single side salad as well as unlimited pizza, soup, pasta salads and lasagna. Fountain drinks are $2.49 each.

The Rock Wood Fired Pizza & Spirits
3401 Penland Pkwy.
11 a.m. to midnight daily
$6-$16 per plate

Anchorage seems to be seeing a veritable phalanx of pizza restaurants this winter, which has left my list of upcoming reviews somewhat conflicted. While I’ve got other stops still on it, I recently visited one of the growing field’s newest competitors to see if it made the cut.

The Rock Wood Fired Pizza & Spirits is a local franchise of a regional chain, similar to Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill in Midtown; in The Rock’s case, it boasts about 20 restaurants in the western U.S. and Canada, about half of them in Washington. The Anchorage eatery, situated between the Northway Mall and a newer Home Depot, affects an edgy rocker look from the twin torches on pillars outside the doors to a huge tattoo-like logo emblazoned on part of the worn-wood paneling. The location has the same abundant parking it did before the Red Robin it once housed moved east to Tikahtnu Commons, as well as the tall sign marking its location for travelers on the Glenn Highway.

Stepping inside reveals more of the same bandstand motif, from dark and subdued lighting to a section of seating resembling a stage and tables modeled after the lids of bands’ equipment cases. Much of the look works well, although one detail -- exposed screw heads along the edges of the tables -- practically begs to snag and tear clothing over time. The floor plan is slightly more open than it was under previous ownership, but much of the seating is still found in booths along the walls, with the relatively few tables enjoying an even greater winter cachet for being concentrated under a greenhouse façade containing most of the building’s windows.

Although I made the mistake of assuming from the marquee that The Rock would be disproportionately focused on pizza, much like Flattop Pizza + Pool in the Downtown area, but the franchise’s spread seems to have also diversified its menu. About a dozen items each fill the menu’s appetizer, soup/salad and sandwich/specialty sections alongside smaller yet still respectable burger and pasta selections, ensuring that almost anyone can find something appealing. The pizza menu is equally ambitious, filling its own page with nearly two dozen pies ranging from vegetarian to seafood. Taken together it’s an almost overwhelming abundance of choice, but The Rock also has a lunch buffet ($9.99) until 1:30 p.m., which I opted for as a quick way of sampling the menu’s depth. The waitress asked for my choice of salad and dressing, which comes with the buffet, then pointed me at the line to pick up a plate.

I tried several slices of pizza, all of which shared a few basic characteristics: crispy crust without much of a rise at the edge, and a subtle overall kick of flavor from almond wood burned in the oven. Within that, though, the buffet’s rock-themed pies ran the gamut from the adventurous to the conservative, frequently rotating cheese and vegetarian options in alongside those featuring meat. One of my favorites was a slice of Revolution, not so much a dedicated barbecue pizza as one built atop a regular slice with pulled pork, pineapple, red and green peppers and drizzled barbecue sauce; I also appreciated the rich power of Flirtin’ With Disaster, its bed of caramelized onions, garlic and chili flakes topped with two types of sausage. California Dreamin’ bring more sun-dried tomatoes per slice than even the Moose’s Tooth, its chicken balanced by modest but still generous amounts of chicken, pine nuts and garlic, while My Generation is a more pedestrian white pizza, slightly heavy with sauce even before the addition of chicken pieces, bacon and ranch dressing.

The garden salad I asked for was waiting upon my first return to the table, a house selection of greens with a locally made peppercorn-ranch dressing; I liked its mix of lettuce, julienned carrots, olives, cucumber, onion and green pepper, although the creamy ranch didn’t seem discernably peppery and might have been the normal variety applied by mistake. A pasta salad available with and without seafood from the buffet had a stronger zest to it, while a Greek salad went heavy on the feta cheese amid a rich dressing holding together its cucumber-tomato blend. Just about the only misstep I tried was a bit of lasagna, an overly cheesy mass which was hard to cut and didn’t seem to possess much real flavor; your kids might still want some, but I’d avoid it personally.

While I wouldn’t say the Northway restaurant is suddenly Anchorage’s best pizza parlor, with its pies occupying a spot somewhere between local craft pizza chains and mass-market entries like Sicily’s, it’s got a lot going for it to recommend a return visit. Unlike almost every other competitor in town, the huge selection of non-pizza items offers something for everyone, and the lunch buffet only enhances that flexibility at a competitive price. Dinner might be a more expensive proposition, but for lunch The Rock is hard to beat.