3901 Old Seward Hwy. #20
$3-$9 per plate
10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday
It’s always good to get one of our hard-working reporters out of the building for lunch, and a quiet Friday afternoon let me slip out of the newsroom with reporter and Morning Edition anchor Todd Walker -- although we didn’t stray far from our Midtown digs.
Peppercini’s Deli House is one of several restaurants that have settled into the University Center, at the intersection of the Old Seward Highway and 36th Avenue, along with the New Cauldron and Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill, the subject of a previous Channel 2 review. The mall was once home to a Regal Cinemas location on Peppercini’s end of the building that has become an annex of the University of Alaska Anchorage, offering the deli a steady stream of college-age customers.
The restaurant features an airy and open layout featuring some of the mall’s few exterior windows, with décor heavily populated by reds, yellows and earth tones. A well-staffed kitchen sits in front of a large open area where people can read about what’s available on large boards, then order and pay for food with an adjacent cashier. Customers then take a number, sit down and wait to be served.
One of Peppercini’s strengths is the reach of its menu, which focuses on sandwiches, po’boys and wraps but reaches into soups and salads, as well as baked potatoes and even pasta. Todd knew exactly what he wanted before I’d even scanned the list: a Meatzza po’boy with a breadstick ($8.49). For my part I selected a Dusty Special ($7.99), which pairs one of five half-sandwiches with a small soup, salad or baked potato; I asked for roast beef on sourdough and a broccoli-and-cheese potato, with a side substitution of ouzo pasta salad ($0.59 extra).
The food was at our table in about 10 minutes, and we promptly started in on the spread. Todd wolfed down half of his po’boy -- a mix of salami, pepperoni and Black Forest ham with zesty marinara and an Italian cheese blend on a French bread roll -- in short order, although he said it was “almost overly meaty” and left him feeling so full midway through the meal that he took the second half home. Its breadstick on the side surely didn’t help matters, although Todd put it away with relish.
I’d wager that I had the bigger problem, though, since I’d grievously underestimated the Dusty Special: a “small” baked-potato order apparently includes a full potato, although mine was coated with enough broccoli-cheese soup, shredded cheddar, bits of real bacon and fresh chives to leave me scooping up forkfuls of mixed bacon and soup before Todd had to leave. Odds are that two people could comfortably split a Dusty Special that includes a potato, since there’s so many ways to divide the food which it contains.
As an unexpected treat before we left the restaurant, a passing employee offered us and other customers free chocolate-chip cookies (usually $0.99). The one I tried was crumbly, soft and decadently homemade; it wasn’t hot-from-the-oven fresh, but it was definitely memorable and worth the price to anyone with a sweet tooth.
The half-sandwich I ate later was equally simple and good, dressed with mayo and mustard but not enough to overpower the much more generous layers of beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato and onion within. As an unexpected bonus, it even came on one of the few examples of discernibly sour sourdough bread I’ve had in recent memory: not sharp enough to truly stand out, but markedly stronger than most restaurants dare to make the stuff nowadays.
I found the ouzo pasta salad a surprisingly powerful side dish, its relatively bland base strongly spiced and mixed with large chunks of artichoke alongside smaller bits of peppers, onions, olives and Feta cheese. It’s a step up from free sides included with all sandwiches like a breadstick or potato chips, at a tier that also includes potato salad and coleslaw for those with varying tastes.
Peppercini’s is a formidable competitor in the Midtown lunch arena, one in which it specializes due to its sadly limited hours. The prices are comparable to nearby stops like Johnny Chicago’s and the Moose’s Tooth, but the sheer volume of food the kitchen delivers means you’re almost ordering two meals for the price of one. Whether you bring friends or simply load up on to-go boxes, it’s hard to run afoul of such a broad spectrum of choices.