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Tuesday, June 20, 2006 

Eating out: Wolf Run Restaurant

Some restaurants have reputations that are hard to shake. McDonald's, for instance, will have a hard time changing its fattening image no matter how many salads it offers. And in Fairbanks, many people still view Wolf Run Restaurant as a coffee and dessert place. With its unfortunate location, hidden in plain sight next to the Johansen Expressway, Wolf Run has had to fight to gain recognition as a full-service restaurant that offers lunch and dinner seven days a week.

The original Wolf Run owners converted a house into the restaurant, and the result is an odd layout with a fireplace and a few tables downstairs and most of the tables on the upper level. The downside to this cozy arrangement becomes evident when the restaurant is crowded: Laughter from a nearby table drowned out our own banter on a recent visit. "The acoustics are definitely not conducive to quiet conversation," Tom noted.

The menu is small but diverse, ranging from a crab mushroom cheesecake appetizer to a Cornish game hen entree. I opted for the surf and turf with a cup of potato dill soup ($22), while Tom selected ravioli Florentine with the Wolf Run salad ($16). Wolf Run also has a beverage menu that would rival many coffee shops', with an assortment of drinks and a full range of teas.

The soup arrived quickly, and I eagerly slurped up a spoonful of the creamy base that was visually awash with dill. Dill was an interesting choice: The flavor is distinct, yet even in large quantities it doesn't overpower the dish. When I bit into the large chunks of potato, I found myself missing the dill flavor. The garlic bread that accompanied the soup, however, was not as exciting. The slices of French bread with a hint of garlic and melted cheese were largely flavorless and made a poor foil to the soup. Tom's salad was a small serving of a house specialty: fresh greens, mandarin oranges, caramelized almonds and a tarragon-vinaigrette. The mandarins added a vibrant splash of color, but the sweet, crunchy almonds and the tarragon dressing dominated the overall flavor.

My surf and turf came with a flat iron grill and shrimp sauteed in citrus butter. A chef with a deft touch can sprinkle a cut of meat with salt and pepper and still make each bite savory, and that was the case here. The cut was flavorful and tender, but I found that the "medium rare" was a touch too rare for my tastes in the middle of the cut. The shrimp’s citrus butter flavor was barely perceptible, noticeable mainly when the sauce was sopped up with bread. The plate was decorated with a smattering of steamed fresh vegetables — four snap peas and five carrots — good for presentation, but not much in the way of a side dish.

Tom's pasta was served in a large bowl, where the cheese and spinach ravioli floated serenely in a pool of pesto-cream sauce. The sauce was thin, with the cream barely diluting the punch of the fresh pesto. The taste was so vibrantly green that it seemed the perfect dish to herald the arrival of spring on a sunny evening.

To round out the evening, we painstakingly narrowed down the impressive dessert selection, until finally arriving at the Kentucky derby pie ($5.50), a concoction of pecans, chocolate, walnuts and bourbon sauce. Wolf Run used to serve mainly desserts, and it seems to be their specialty still. Our large slice of pie arrived at the table with its center artfully collapsed. The chewy top layer yielded to a densely sweet layer of chocolate and nuts. The pie was delicious until we got to the crust; flaky but flavorless, it detracted from the filling. Unlike a pizza crust, a pie crust does nothing for the dish.

Later in the week, I returned to Wolf Run for lunch to try their assortment of sandwiches. I sampled the soup and sandwich combo ($8), choosing the veggie sandwich along with Greek lemon chicken soup. Based on the description, I was hoping for something similar to an avgolemono, with a creamy lemon tang, but was disappointed to receive a cup that was closer to a generic chicken and rice soup. The veggie sandwich soothed me with its thick slabs of homemade bread slathered with both an avocado spread and a cream cheese lightly spiced with dill and black pepper. Generous helpings of tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts and greens rounded out the satisfying sandwich.

Wolf Run serves a selection of quiches each day, and I was tempted by the snow crab and blue cheese quiche with a side of German potato salad ($8.50). I was pleasantly surprised when the potato salad arrived: Warm, thick cuts of potato soaked with onions and chopped bacon rested in a slightly sweet vinegar glaze. As I ate, I reflected that onion, bacon and vinegar would make a wonderful potato chip flavor. The quiche sounded promising on paper, and it's hard to fault the technique: The eggs were light and fluffy, encased in a flaky, crisp brown phyllo crust. However, a strong blast of oregano overpowered the other flavors, leading me to suspect I'd received the wrong dish by accident. Unfortunately, I had not; the oregano was deliberate and disastrous. Oregano should be saved for a Mediterranean quiche, as it overpowered even the pungent blue cheese, leaving the snow crab lost in the mix.

In the end, Wolf Run had a few misses, but also scored many hits. The entrees were reasonably priced, our server was attentive and the desserts remain some of the best in Fairbanks. "It's more satisfying than our recent pricey meals," Tom said as we finished. Tucked down a confusing cul-de-sac, Wolf Run is a lot harder to find than it is to see, but it's definitely worth the effort.

Review published in the Anchorage Press.

I used to serve at Wolf Run for years and if you had gone there 10 years ago you would've been absolutely delighted. The soups were cooked to perfection and the dinner specials were amazing. Oh my word the creme brulee' and bread pudding with brandy carmel sauce. I died every singe time.

During my time there, the owners, chefs, baker, waitstaff, (can't forget the regulars) were such amazing people and put a lot of love into what they did. This of course had to do with the training we all received from the owner to create that unique, special atmosphere.

There were beautiful decorations everywhere you looked. Fun little quotes in the very clean restrooms. It was preserved as a quiet getaway and if people were disruptive we would seat them as far away as possible from those who were quietly talking. That was what the original owners wanted and that's what they created. I'm only saying this because I went back for a visit to Fairbanks last summer and took my son there because Wolf Run was my special place. I almost cried when I walked in. It lacks all the warmth and charisma it used to have. Wasn't greeted with a smile.... The food was hit and miss and my potato dill almost broke my heart. My favorite meal was 1/2 veggie sandwich and potato dill soup. I couldn't ever get enough of their food. Oooh halibut bake. I would get off work and stay and order dinner and eat it in the cushy (not torn up) chairs and just relax before I went home.

I did get the secret of the steak pottage and get to share that little bit of My Wolf Run with my family.

I'm sure the restaurant is still good, but just doesn't compare. Thanks for letting me share, I just want to preserve the original Wolf Run for those who didn't get to experience it. It was wonderful and I miss it!

Oh I am so sorry to read this post. I just moved back to Fairbanks after being gone for 10 years. I haven't had a chance to go to Wolf Run yet but was so looking forward to going. Now I might not even try...I don't want to have that kind of heartache! Wolf Run was my favorite place in the world while we lived here. We lived here BK (before kids) so my friends and I would often go to enjoy the quiet atmosphere and catch up. Everything on the menu was fabulous...every single time! The staff and owner were beyond compare. You always felt welcome and well taken care of. I miss it too.

P.S. I am glad you have the steak pottage to share with your family. It was heavenly.

I so miss the old Wolf Run (esp. the steak pottage and the bread bowls). The old was a favorite place of my wife and I. But after ownership changed, we tried going there again 3 times hoping we might get a taste of the old. (We really missed Wolf Run!) And each time we were heartily disappointed. The atmosphere, the food just isn't the same, and can't compare.

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