Dirty Skillet’s Hope Charm
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
If you are sitting on the fence about visiting Hope, Dirty Skillet is another reason to make you get up and go. With its inaugural season underway, the restaurant offers hospitality, variety and quality with its menu and drink selections.
Drop in for a drink and stay for an appetizer. You’ll likely want an entrée or burger and dessert too.
This Gazette reporter went to Dirty Skillet with Associate Publisher Lesley de Jaray to sample the menu on a very warm, early August afternoon. The heat gave owner Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay a reason to open up the large windows overlooking the outdoor deck seating area, and a pleasant breeze blew through.
Dirty Skillet currently features a solid selection of draught beer from four breweries: Girdwood Brewing Company, King Street Brewing Company, Broken Tooth and Deschutes. I went with the Deschutes Fresh Haze IPA, the only out of state selection, while de Jaray chose Broken Tooth’s Raspberry Wheat. Both were refreshing choices.
There are three appetizers on the menu: Dusty Road Rice Balls, Gold Panner’s Salmon Spread and The Skinny Dipper, veggie sticks with bell pepper/feta spread. The specials were Reuben Eggrolls and an interesting cheese board for two.
Served as an order of six, the rice balls are crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. The mustard dipping sauce is mild and slightly tangy, making for a pleasant contrast to the richness of the reindeer sausage bits, rice, cheese and finely diced red peppers.
There are also three items on the salad and soup section of the menu: Crab Cake Cast Iron Caesar Salad, Detonator Chili and Grandpa’s Roast Veggie Red Lentil Soup. The Caesar dressing was nicely executed. The baked crab cakes had large chunks of meat, diced red pepper and just enough breading to hold everything together.
After the next round of beer arrived, so did our burger selection. The Ball & Chain is no ordinary burger. From the very first bite, the fresh, clear flavor of the beef stood out. Raised in Oklahoma, the beef was truly memorable.
The patty was topped with white wine onions, blue cheese and rosemary garlic aioli. The arugula added a pleasant sharp bite as a counterpoint to the aioli’s richness. The varied flavors worked well together. The burger was served with shoestring fries seasoned with fresh rosemary.
The menu has three other burgers, each with their own creative twist to make them quite tempting, and there was another one as a special. The entrees consist of Thai Sunrise Street Tacos, Whiskey Bacon Mac and Cheese, Miner’s Pie, Kettle Bottom Steak, Cap Rock Stuffed Mushroom and a rotating special. There is also the Mini Miner’s menu featuring four kid favorites. For dessert, there is homemade ice cream and a large assortment of pies.
The Gazette tried for an in person interview with Jabaay, but she was shorthanded and too busy to sit down while we were there. To learn about Dirty Skillet’s first season we conducted the interview via email instead.
GCG: What has it been like running Dirty Skillet in its first season?
JSJ: We essentially hit the ground running. We were shocked at our soft opening to give Hope locals about 24-hours notice that we wanted to practice on them, and they all showed up! That was both super supportive and pretty telling as to how most of the summer was going to be.
GCG: How have Hope’s residents responded to Dirty Skillet?
JSJ: We’ve been amazed at how well received our little restaurant has been by the Hope community. We have regulars who put their own name on certain dishes, send their own BnB guests our way, and even pitch in from time-to-time to make serving possible.
GCG: How did you design the menu?
JSJ: Chef April Barraza and I regularly revisit the menu adding, changing and creating specials. Each item has to fit our food requirements: hearty, heaping and home-style. We also ask on every dish, “Can it be made gluten-free? Can it be made vegetarian? Can it be made vegan?” Not everything can be changed successfully, like our steak and pies, but everything must answer yes to the question “Is it Instagrammable?”
GCG: What does Dirty Skillet add to Hope’s budding culinary scene?
JSJ: Our goal was to create a place of community, not just great food and beautiful atmosphere. We offer local beers, carefully chosen wines and beautifully crafted foods. A lifelong friend of mine, Heather Tauschek, is a genius gardener, and she planted some gorgeous edible flowers for us, which we add to many of our plates.
GCG: What changes are you looking to make or do differently next season?
JSJ: We plan to completely overhaul our kitchen this winter nearly tripling the amount of space we have. I’d also like to see about hiring staff just for lodge guests and cleaning so that we aren’t divided in our service at the restaurant. That’s mostly an issue of housing, as most folks working in Hope need housing provided. And there isn’t much of that available in town.
GCG: Do you have any interesting stories about working at Dirty Skillet?
JSJ: Most of my staff is very young and without any food and beverage experience. I have a whopping six months of experience serving in a Mexican restaurant almost 20 years ago, so we are all learning together, which makes me the resident expert. Chef Barraza is a critical piece to our first summer! And I hope she comes back year after year. Our amazing chef is professionally trained and has years of experience working worldwide, so she’s had to just throw her hands up and either laugh or cry with us some
GCG: What lessons have you learned about running a restaurant?
JSJ: It’s critical to have a large network of support from friends and family. Many times I called on folks last minute to get me out of a short-staff bind. People help by bringing food in from Anchorage that we’ve run out of, helping in the dish pit, cleaning out the cabins and reorganizing storage closets, even getting their Tap cards to help pour some nights. I’m grateful for each person in my little circle who has put in time to help see Dirty Skillet and Bear Creek Lodge succeed.
GCG: You also own Alaskan Byways and Bear Creek Lodge. Can you tell me about these businesses?
JSJ: Alaskan Byways is our small double cabin rental business just a few doors down from the lodge. Soon, we’ll have three more rentals on that property, including a historic downtown Anchorage cabin and a reconstructed vintage Alaska railroad car. Hope Alaska’s Bear Creek Lodge is the several acre cabin accommodation that Dirty Skillet serves. Between Byways and Bear Creek Lodge, we currently have ten rentals, which will soon be thirteen rentals.
GCG: How many people do you employ?
JSJ: Dirty Skillet is the restaurant of our lodge, Hope Alaska’s Bear Creek Lodge. Our staff multitasks between cleaning and maintaining cabins and the grounds, greeting and checking in with guests, and working in the restaurant. All told, there are 12 employees, plus the occasional kid of mine that I can recruit to water flowers or fold laundry with me.
GCG: Let’s finish with a dessert question. What can you tell me about your pies and ice cream?
JSJ: We have the Alaska’s greatest pie baker on staff. Maria Motoyama turns 80 this year, and she bakes exclusively here at Dirty Skillet with her daughter, Gina. Maria worked for decades at Tito’s Discover Cafe. We were thrilled when Maria and Gina agreed to bake for us. Our pies alone are worth the trip to Hope. We also make homemade ice cream in half-gallon batches. We have rotating flavors, but our signature is Turnagain Mud. It’s a cinnamon vanilla flavor that we add activated charcoal to the recipe. It creates an almost black color with a mud texture, extremely similar in look to the silt in the Turnagain Arm.
GCG: When is the last day of the season?
JSJ: Our final day open to the public is Sept. 28th. We’ll have a locals only night on Sept. 29, then we close for the winter, reopening mid-May.
Editor’s Note: Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay is a Staff Writer for Glacier City Gazette.
10702 Hope Highway, Mile 15.9
Fri.-Sat. 3-10 p.m.
Tue.-Thur., Sun 3-9 p.m.