Heading to Denali National Park this summer? If you’ll be anywhere near the Park, make time for dinner at this special spot — it is definitely the place for a memorable meal. A semi-secret hideaway, 229 Parks is located just 8 miles south of the cacophonous area we refer to as “Glitter Gulch.” While you can find sustenance in Glitter Gulch – and more than a few coach-loads of tourists – there is little to be found in the way of inspired cuisine in that congested corridor. Instead, head down the road to mile 229.7 along the Parks Highway for innovative tavern fare along with unpretentious fine dining.
Chef Laura Cole’s seasonal menus feature the freshest ingredients, sourced from local producers whenever possible. One recent offering was fresh troll-caught Alaska salmon, pan seared with herbs and topped with nicoise olive tapenade, served with delicate haricots vert and fingerling potatoes. Fragrant and flavorful basil aioli brought another dimension to the dish. I worried that the tapenade might overpower the salmon, but instead the olives were a lovely compliment to the richness of the fish.
While I savored the salmon, other diners enjoyed fresh halibut bouillabaisse with herbed tomato broth, spot prawns, lemon pasta, and saffron aioli crisps. The cracked peppercorn beef tenderloin with herb truffle butter and thyme mache salad won high praise from – of all people – a couple from Texas. Ranchers from the second-largest state, the couple proclaimed the tenderloin was the best meal of their entire 3 week Alaskan holiday.
Dessert offerings at 229 Parks rotate, but typically include a variety of fruit and berry tarts, custard dishes, and an array of house made ice creams. I sampled the malted crème brulee and found it to be a unique twist on the traditional version. Instead of a creamy malt-flavored custard, the consistency was fluffy and similar to a soufflé – reminiscent of the airy interior of a malted milk ball, except it was soft and topped with a crunchy burnt sugar crust.
Laura Cole is a professionally trained chef and cookbook author. Before opening 229 Parks Restaurant with her husband, Land, Laura was executive chef at Camp Denali and the North Face Lodge. North Face is an exclusive backcountry lodge located deep within Denali National Park, known for excellent adventures and gourmet cuisine. Laura’s book, “A Cache of Recipes: From the Kitchens of Camp Denali and North Face Lodge,” is available at the restaurant, from Alaska booksellers, or it can be ordered from major retailers.
Already planning my next visit to 229 Parks, I think I’ll sample the rosemary and lemon crusted free-range rack of lamb – provided it is on the July menu. If not, then I’ll simply put myself in Chef Laura’s capable hands and opt for one of her other featured entrees. I know I can’t go wrong with that strategy.
Milepost 229 ( ~229.7) George Parks Highway