Picnic Club Offers First Supper Club
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
In the past year and a half, Girdwood Picnic Club (GPC) has earned its reputation as a local favorite. A friendly ambiance and staff, combined with an interesting, changing menu, lets locals and visitors immediately feel at home. Now GPC is branching in new directions.
On Nov. 13, Girdwood Supper Club made its successful debut, giving the restaurant a new way to showcase its culinary creativity. The three-course tasting menu was limited to 40 people. A wine pairing for each course was available for $20 dollars. The event sold out, and GPC closed earlier than anticipated. GPC Co-owners Jenny and Raleigh Hill were both excited about the first Supper Club’s results.
The first course featured a choice of Roasted Beet Salad or Goat Cheese Crostini. The wine pairing, AIX Rose from Provence, France, was light and crisp with a touch of fruit. The beet salad has spinach tossed in light, honey Dijon vinaigrette that added a lively bite. Beets provided earthiness, while fresh mozzarella balls, pickled haricot vert and a half boiled egg rounded out the salad.
Options on the second course were Curried Chicken Stew or Baked Pasta. The stew consisted of pulled chicken in a creamy curry with a mix of carrots and peas poured over biscuits. The curry was dusted with paprika that added an unexpected but welcome peppery bite. The rich biscuits were crispy on the outside and flakey on the inside, resulting in a pleasantly filling stew.
Baked Pasta was made with butternut squash, spinach and rotini, tossed in a Parmesan pesto sauce and topped with breadcrumbs. It was creamy and hearty. The second course was pleasantly paired with Tenshen white wine from CA.
Dessert was Citrus Trifle. Served in a glass, the lemon cake and key lime custard had a pleasant citrus nip that was topped with whipped cream and graham cracker crumble. It made for a fine finish.
Raleigh Hill was proud to pair the citrus trifle with one of his favorite wines – Domain Carneros Sparkling Brut from Napa, CA. The sparkling brut was pleasant and balanced with a mix of sweetness, acidity, dryness and carbonation, making it an ideal compliment to dessert.
Raleigh is looking to hold more Supper Clubs during the winter months. He has a background in dinner service at Seven Glaciers, where he began sommelier training. He brings this knowledge to the wine pairings.
Raleigh and Jenny imagined Supper Club to reflect the dinner parties they used to host. The goal is to offer a flavorful meal priced to make it a value for Girdwood and giving residents another dining option.
“We’ve kicked the idea around for a while,” Raleigh said. “Some of our most common questions are ‘Are you going to do dinner’ or ‘why don’t you do dinner?’ It’s a lifestyle choice with having a young son and both being in the restaurant industry for many years to enjoy your evenings.”
One of the reasons GPC began was because Jenny and Raleigh wanted more control over their lives to raise their young son Oliver. Jenny has been in the restaurant industry for over fifteen years, Raleigh more than a decade.
“We decided we wanted to work for ourselves and have a little bit more control over the direction of our lives take, how we spend our time, spend time with our son,” Raleigh said. “He was three [when we opened]. He’s five now.”
GPC’s concept came from years of creating a vision for a new restaurant in Girdwood. Jenny and Raleigh enjoy dining out often and were searching for something new, something that embraced regular change.
GPC is on its eighth menu, and a new one is on the way. Menus stay about two months before being switched, and Jenny has developed a recipe repertoire as a result.
“We wanted to be a restaurant that wanted to force change and cater specifically to the people of Girdwood,” Raleigh said.
The changes keep the menu fresh for staff and customers, especially regulars. The new menus can present a downside to diners who prefer more predictability in a menu.
Raleigh said, “Sometimes I’ll have people ask, ‘How could you take this menu item off? How could you not have enchiladas? How could you not have biscuits and gravy?’ I remind them those items weren’t on our first menu. They weren’t on our second menu. If we hadn’t changed, you’d have never had the chance to try them. We’re giving you that opportunity to try new things.”
“I’m in awe of the things she does because there is no way I could do them. There’s no restaurant without Jenny.”
– Raleigh Hill on his wife Jenny
The driving force for change comes from Jenny, who is GPC’s Line Cook. Raleigh is still in awe of his wife’s culinary skills. Opening GPC was her professional cooking debut.
“She is a fantastic cook,” Raleigh said, “and there was no doubt she’d be able to. Once we got this, she’s been extremely impressive to me. We both bring what we bring to the table. I’m in awe of the things she does because there is no way I could do them. There’s no restaurant without Jenny.”
Jenny began learning to cook at a young age from the matriarchs in her life and never had formal training. She always enjoyed cooking and growing up, her chore was making dinner. Today she reads cookbooks like novels and watches PBS cooking shows, but she always acknowledges her roots.
“It’s a woman’s touch,” Jenny said. “I was raised by women – my mom, my grandma, my great grandma. You want the food to taste good, but you have to remember to eat with your eyes first. I knew how to make gravy by the time I was eight years old, and how to make bread, that sort of thing, comfort food.”
Though Jenny likes making people happy through food, being a line cook is a different experience. She enjoys it because it is unlike her other experiences, especially thinking three steps ahead to ensure successful execution. She believes there are a lot of benefits from the regular menu changes.
“Just to keep things fresh,” Jenny said. “We want to give people new flavors. It’s fun for us too. It keeps us creative. It keeps us on our toes.”
Served 7-11 a.m., GPC’s current breakfast menu features a number of tempting items as well as traditional fare. The Gazette tasted two breakfast items: Shakshuka and the Cowboy Benedict.
Shakshuka consists of eggs baked in a lightly spiced tomato sauce, topped with feta cheese and cilantro, with grilled pita wedges. The sauce is thick with soft, sliced onions and peppers and is a tasty compliment to the tender eggs and toasty pita wedges.
The Cowboy Benedict is an interesting twist on a familiar favorite. Jalapeno cornbread squares are topped with bacon slices, egg and a spicy chipotle sauce that brings everything together in an irresistible way. The cornbread is fresh and light, the meal is hearty, and the spice will wake up your palate.
Offered 11 a.m.-4 p.m., GPC has an assortment of salads, sandwiches, entrees, and three brunch items for those in need. The Gazette sampled the Fall Into Autumn Salad and the Chicken Mole Plate.
The lively seasonal salad was a complex yet balanced mix of spinach and romaine, roasted butternut squash and quinoa. Then there were the candied pecans, dried cranberries, feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Each bite yielded assorted flavors.
With chicken mole, black beans and Spanish rice served in equal thirds across the plate and corn tortillas on the side, diners are in for a treat. The rich mole has earthy undertones and is studded with pulled chicken.
In addition to food, GPC occasionally hosts evening music events from 6-9 p.m. The time accommodates an audience that prefers to see music earlier rather than later, especially with a staff of moms, dads and their children.
“You can go to some of our events,” Raleigh said, “have a drink or two, have a bite to eat, listen to some good music and be home by 10 p.m. That’s unique in Girdwood. Families have had nice things to say about that.”
This past summer, GPC set up a small donation box for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE). GPC collects health products for women and infants in crisis as well as cash. GPC sent AWARE a check for $200 dollars, mostly based on small donations, and is close to sending another check for the same amount. Raleigh said GPC is part of the community and is looking for ways to give back to it.
When asked what was most rewarding about her job, Jenny replied, “It’s making friends with our regulars. It’s a whole new set of personalities. I bartended for years at Chair 5, and I had my set of regulars there. And here you get all of your friends at 7 a.m. for coffee.”
“We try to be a welcoming place for all ages,” she said. “We just want to make people happy with food.”