3002 Spenard Rd.
$6-$17 per plate
8 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week; dinner hours 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
French cuisine is a relatively rare sight in Anchorage, with a few places offering French dishes as part of a mixed menu and only a handful of dedicated restaurants spread across town. One of those restaurants is in Spenard, which I took my mom to for lunch on a recent Monday thanks to the Presidents Day holiday.
Café Croissant is tucked away on a curve of Spenard Road just south of Benson Boulevard, between the city’s main DMV office and natural gas provider Enstar’s Anchorage headquarters. The warehouse-like exterior gives way to a dark and muted décor inside, with elegant lighting and French music lending the place an intimate feel despite the relative openness of its single-room seating area.
The lunch menu isn’t strictly French, with its choices running to a more conventional selection of hot and cold sandwiches, salads and comfort-food entrees, with several eggs Benedict selections. Torn between my curiosity about the normal menu and duty to order something French, I compromised by ordering a D. Hamilton and Cheese sandwich ($10.95) with a side substitution for a cup of French onion soup ($2). Mom had an equally hard time making a selection from the menu, but ultimately went for a Chicken Pot Pie ($12) with salad on the side. We spent a little time in conversation, and our meals were served in a fairly quick 15 minutes.
The D. Hamilton and Cheese was worth the attention it garnered on my read through the menu, with its assertive blend of ham and melted Provolone nicely accentuated by grilled tomato slices, red onion and Thousand Island dressing. As I chewed through the toasted French bread and made a mess of my plate, the thought occurred that the sandwich was strongly reminiscent of a Reuben (which the café also serves), with the omission of its stronger elements like sauerkraut and rye bread. The second half was even better than the first, after the juices from its ingredients had a chance to infuse the bread with added flavor.
Mom’s pot pie was a subtly delicious creation, the insanely flaky layer of pie crust across the top of its ceramic dish revealing a filling golden with notes of both cream and chicken broth. It was richer and thicker than most pies I’ve seen, inviting us to keep the stuff on our tongues and savor it for a long moment before swallowing. The salad on the side was simple but coated in a tart and potent raspberry vinaigrette, its light and tangy taste almost making me wish I’d gotten a salad myself.
That sense of regret lasted only as long as it took me to dig my way past the mix of molten Swiss and Gruyere gluing a massive crouton into place atop my ramekin of French onion soup, dig my spoon into the nest of onions beneath it, and slip that rush of savory heat into my mouth. As promised by the menu, the soup was both sweet and savory, with a variety of spices including bits of anise contributing to its rich strength. It’s also wildly filling, and even without a sandwich I’d have been hard pressed to finish off a bowl of the stuff.
Café Croissant definitely fills a niche, but it’s not just the one listed in its name and menu. In a city brimming with places like the Moose’s Tooth that fill up at lunch until they become boisterous and crazy, the Spenard restaurant is a quiet place that balances refinement and accessibility, offering a reserved chic that makes it a great place to bring someone for a talk or a date. Couple that with memorable dishes that make me want to visit for dinner sometime, and it’s only fair to give the place a hearty “C’est magnifique!”