By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Watching bears and smelling porcupines can really build a hunger when you are at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). It’s easy to get lost observing animal behavior, especially while taking photos. Before you know it, you’re hungry, but at AWCC food and hydration are now only footsteps away.
This summer, AWCC contracted with NANA Management Services of NANA Regional Corporation to provide food and beverages. The result is an enhanced concession store with snacks, drinks, sandwiches and such. The new Raven Café is outside serves food truck cuisine from under a large, white tent.
The Gazette visited AWCC to interview Matt Little Dog, General Manager and Executive Chef with Alaska Airline Center/AWCC. He cites his management responsibilities to include Simon and Seafort’s, the downtown Marriot Hotel and The Varsity Sports Bar at Alaska Airlines Center as well as the Raven Café.
“We have many locations in Anchorage, throughout the state and throughout the country as well,” Little Dog said. “We pick up contracts and we manage them and supervise services. We have security. We have facility management and provide full service range.”
He described Raven Café’s menu as upscale food truck fare that can be made quickly at a large volume in short time. With the anticipated opening of Bison Hall on Sept. 1, catering can take place there. Little Dog cited a recent sixty person wedding rehearsal dinner held in a tent at the back of the center.
“Right now it’s a temporary, modified service,” Little Dog said. “We are enhanced with a tent that has more options to cook than just our little food truck. We added some equipment to do that because it’s not a traditional food truck you’re standing inside. We’re focusing on offering fresh, Alaskan products. We have fresh salmon on there, and we have a variety for vegetarians. We cover a lot of different variety for folks to choose from.”
While the concession store will remain open, Raven Café closes for the season on August 24, so you need to hurry if you want to taste their menu. The café’s 12-item menu is designed to appeal to a cross-section of visitors from around the world who may be hungry.
“A lot of times they arrive on busses and they haven’t eaten for a while,” Little Dog said, “and they’re looking for something to tide them over and get them to Anchorage or Seward or wherever they’re going.”
Reindeer dogs, burgers and hot dogs are available, but it’s the other menu items that stand out. There are three rice bowls: tuna poke salad, Southwest chicken and veggie. Alaska salmon is prepared three ways: seared and glazed, grilled with Kale Caesar and as a sandwich.
The poke salad rice bowl has a colorful, vibrant appearance that is just as flavorful. Toasted kale forms the base and is topped with cilantro, lime jasmine rice and an orange Asian slaw. Chunks of poke are placed next. Then two sauces are added – sesame aioli and unagi, which is a Japanese barbecue eel sauce.
Bright green seaweed salad and mix of sesame seeds are the final toppings. The seaweed salad adds vibrant notes of color and a slippery, crunchy texture that is a pleasant contrast to the rest of the ingredients.
The tuna is gently marinated and fresh, with pleasant hints of ginger lingering on the palate. The tuna salad has an engaging mix of textures, colors and flavors. Each bite is different, especially after the sauces soak into the rice with its light touch of lime.
Seared sesame soy glazed Alaska salmon is made with fresh sockeye and served over the same kale, rice with slaw bed as the tuna. The 5-ounce fillet is cooked on a BBQ broiler, which left a very tasty sear beneath sesame aioli and unagi sauces. The aioli adds a creamy richness while the unagi adds a complimentary contrast.
The Southwest chicken rice bowl is a fresh tasting mix of grilled chicken, corn, diced tomatoes, black beans, lime rice, cheese and multi-colored tortilla chips. It’s a solid option for those who might not like fish.
Raven Café enhances the AWCC experience by providing a variety of menu items, including healthful and vegetarian options that appeal to a wide audience. Having an easy, enjoyable meal nearby extends the stay at the center, allowing for more varied wildlife viewing. The animals are always moving around and up to something different.
By making a second round through the center, you’re guaranteed to see much more animal activity than you would with a single pass through. If you time your visit right, you can witness the animals to eat before feeding yourself.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Seward Highway Mile 79, Portage, AK
8 a.m.-8 p.m., 7 days a week
Raven Café – 11 a.m.-2 or 4 p.m. depending on business, 7 days a week
Note: AWCC has a new entrance about a ¼-mile from the old one, which is no longer in use.