Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 9:46 PM on Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A taste of something new

Eateries bring new menus, businesses, residents to the table

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

New eateries, new names, new menus. No matter how you cut it — or fork or spoon it — there is some good eating being planned for Homer's summertime and year-round residents.


AK Crab Shack

AK Crab Shack

Owners: David and Jana Brauner

Location: 4241 Homer Spit Road

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., 7 days a week

Menu: Crab by the bucket, sandwich, dip, soup

It's a double-hitter for David and Jana Brauner. The couple got married May 5 and the following day they opened AK Crab Shack.

Blue and red king crab and snow crab by the bucket. In a po' boy sandwich. In soup. In dip. In jambalaya. The menu is served with the blessing of friends and family who have given the Brauners' recipes a green light.

"I did a couple of taste-testing parties and had people fill out surveys and refined things from there," said Jana. "I'm pretty confident in the recipes at this point."

The idea for the all-crab menu came during a visit to Juneau where David, a pediatric cardiologist, travels to hold clinics.

"We saw a similar crab shack and thought we could do something similar in any coastal town," said Jana. "Homer was a really ripe place for it."

When the building, formerly a liquor store, came up for sale, the couple bought it and have turned it into a much different environment.

"We completely remodeled it, and Jeff Helgemoe Construction did an amazing job transforming this space. It's incredible in here," said Jana.

The crab is, of course, Alaskan. The blue crab, which starts out blue but becomes identical to other crab in color and taste when cooked, is from the waters of St. Paul Island. French bread for the po' boy sandwiches comes from the ovens of the French Oven Bakery in Anchorage. Corn muffins are homemade.

Call or stop at the AK Crab Shack to place an order. Food is take-out only. AK Crab Shack is open through the early part of September.


Boss Hoggz

Boss Hoggz


Jimmy and Amy Lower

Location: Thompson's Boardwalk, Homer Spit

Opening: May 15

Hours: 5 a.m.-1 a.m.

Menu: Burgers, breakfast and barbecue

"Something outside the box, something unique, something very fun for the community" is what owner Jimmy Lower said Boss Hoggz offers Homer's hungry.

"It's food with an attitude," said Lower.

The Boss Hoggz Big Burger Challenge features burgers created by and named for the Homer Harbormaster, Homer Volunteer Fire Department, Alaska State Troopers, the Time Bandit, the Salty Dawg and the Homer News. Proceeds will go to a charity of their choice at season's end.

When cutbacks cost Lower's wife, Amy, her job with the Sacramento, Calif., school district in November, the couple decided to find a place more in keeping with their values and way of life. After reaching Soldotna, they began scouting around. Within 15 minutes of arriving in Homer, they knew they'd found their new home.

"People may say this is the end of the road, but this is the end of the rainbow, the pot of gold," said Lower of the family's new hometown.

Amy is now a speech pathologist at South Peninsula Hospital and Jimmy is channeling his restaurant experience to "deliver something to the community that has not been done yet."

"We survived the winter to serve you in the summer," has become Lower's motto.

The end of the summer won't mean a close of business for Boss Hoggz. Lower has his eyes open for an in-town, wintering-over location where he can keep on cooking.

"I want people to come down, give me a big handshake and know that I appreciate their business," he said. "It's really just all about the community. This is a way I can show what I'm good at and give something back to the community."


Harbor Grill

Harbor Grill

Owners: Jose and Carmen Ramos

Location: Homer Spit Road

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; will be open seven days a week beginning Memorial Day.

Menu: Seafood, steaks, hamburgers, pasta, salads, appetizers

With an emphasis on local seafood and steaks, and a spotlight on halibut ceviche, the Harbor Grill opened May 6 in a spacious building that offers views of both sides of the Spit. Diners can choose the wide-open scenes of Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet and the mountains beyond or the Homer Harbor and the head of the bay with its snow-covered peaks and glaciers.

"The menu is seafood primarily, with halibut, salmon, scallops, king crab, oysters, all local," said owner Jose Ramos, who, with wife Carmen, also owns Don Jose's Mexican Restaurant on Pioneer Avenue. "And steaks, of course. New York and ribeyes."

Appetizers also have a seafood emphasis. Selections include fish and chips, oysters, calamari strips, crab cakes and halibut ceviche.

A wide assortment of cocktails also is available.

Selections for lunch, as well as dinner, include hamburgers, pastas and salads.

Prior to the 2010 summer season, Ramos was challenged with finding adequate staff and sought someone to manage the location. Rick and Sharlene Cline, owners of The Homestead Restaurant, stepped in for Ramos and opened under the name The Crooked Hook. The Clines offered casual dining modeled after an English-style pub.

This year, however, Ramos is back.

"We've been opening every year for the last nine years, with the exception of last year when we had different management," said Ramos.

The first three weeks, Harbor Grill will be open six days a week, Tuesday-Sunday, from 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Beginning Memorial Day weekend through Sept. 10, it will operate the same hours seven days a week.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Paintbrush in hand, Munchroom owner Dave Maze adds finishing touches to the restaurant before this weekend's Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival.


Owner: Dave Maze

Location: 4460 Homer Spit Road

Opening: Already open

Hours: Currently 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Menu: Hamburgers, hot dogs, daily specials

A "hamburger joint" is owner Dave Maze' description of the Munchroom. With a "Papaya Dog" and a "United Steak Burger," it's a joint all its own.

The Papaya Dog gets is name from one mentioned by Michael Richards' Kramer character on the TV sitcom, Seinfeld.

"He was dying for a papaya dog and they never show it, so I always imagined what a papaya dog was," said Maze.

He's answered that question with a quarter-pound hot dog on a homemade bun with papaya salsa, chunks of fresh papaya and a papaya ring, topped with a maraschino cherry.

The "United Steak Burger" is no less creative.

"It's two small steaks that we grind just before we cook it," said Maze of meat purchased locally from McNeil Canyon Meats. "It looks pretty good."

For dessert, there's Maze's version of pizzelle, traditional Italian waffle cookies.

Cooking is divided between Maze and his son, Joe, and they've added a "cook's choice" to the daily menu. It might be burritos. It might be meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Depends on who is standing at the stove.

On Spit Road, the Munchroom faces all the action, but also is near the harbor, between Fish Dock and Ramp 1.

Currently opening at 10 a.m., Maze hopes to eventually have coffee ready for fishermen heading out in the morning.

"Maybe when we're done preparing the restaurant I'll have the energy to get up early," he said.

Retired from teaching in Bering Sea villages and after 20 years of camping in Homer, Maze is now putting down some Homer roots.

"I love Homer. It's the place to be," said Maze.


Mermaid Bistro

Mermaid Bistro

Owners: Evan and Kathy Vogl

Location: 3487 Main Street

Opening: Already open

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Menu: Lunch and dinner, with variety of tapas

Making the jump from Spit to downtown, Evan and Kathy Vogl are serving a lunch and dinner menu operating out of Mermaid Café under the name of Mermaid Bistro.

Natural ingredients get top billing in the savory dishes coming out of the Vogls' kitchen.

"That includes produce when we can get it. Evan has talked to some of the new high tunnel farmers in town and they're wanting to keep us as local as we can," said Kathy of items found in such tasty choices as spinach reggiano, broiled sable fish and thick-cut pork with red onion jam.

Meats sources include McNeil Canyon Meat Company. Beverage selections draw for K Bay Caffee, Ring of Fire Meadery and the Kenai River Brewing Company, and a search for tasty organic wines is being conducted.

Handcrafted tables and chairs offer inside seating for 30. Warmer weather allows use of six additional tables on the wrap-around deck. The Vogls have no plans to take reservations, but encouraging to-go orders and have set it up to be easy for them and their customers.

The Vogls style of cooking has been known locally since 2001 when they began serving pizza from Fat Rack at Alice's Champagne Palace. Two years later, they relocated to Fat Olives, selling their share of that business in 2006. Hole in the Wall Barbecue on the Spit came next, with the Vogls' selling that in 2007, before moving out of town for a year and a half. They returned to the southern peninsula's eating scene last summer, first at Fireweed Golf Course in Anchor Point and spending the last eight weeks of the summer season on the Spit.