|THUMBS DOWN: One of the electric radiators in our room was broken, the beds were much too soft, the floor sloped and the TV remote barely worked.|
But if you stay overnight, as we did on our vacation last month, the Best Western Bidarka Inn is far from the best choice.
In fact, the place is little more than a roadside motel with a faux log-cabin exterior and the worst complimentary breakfast I've ever had.
Our room had two electric radiators, but the smaller one in the bathroom didn't work. The two queen beds were much too soft, and the floor between them sloped down toward the wall.
The TV remote barely worked, and buttons had to be pushed two or three times to change a channel or perform another function.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the next day's free buffet breakfast didn't offer cut-up fresh fruit, nuts or raisins for the granola or egg whites for the mediocre made-to-order omelet, and the coffee was dispensed by a machine.
THUMBS UP: The Homer Farmers Market operates on Saturdays and Wednesdays until Sept. 30, and reopens next May.
We drove a rental car 225 miles to Homer from Anchorage, mostly on two-lane roads clogged with motor homes and other recreational vehicles, arriving in early afternoon.
I loved my lunch special of the day at Cosmic Kitchen, a juicy Thai Wild Salmon Slider and Blackened Rockfish Slider, served with Sweet Potato Fries and Coleslaw ($10.25).
But my wife complained her Seafood Ramen Bowl ($14.29), though tasty, had hardly any broth.
The tables were turned at dinner at Pho & Thai Restaurant, where she enjoyed a bowl of Vietnamese Pho Combo ($12.50), but I hated my Pad Thai ($10), which was made with the wrong noodles and overcooked, dry tofu.
I was hoping to order wild Alaskan shrimp, but the restaurant served only low-quality farmed shrimp from Thailand.
We finally agreed over lunch the next day at Happy Face, a Korean-owned restaurant on the 4.5-mile-long Homer Spit with a menu of sushi, fresh seafood, Chinese and Korean food.
I liked my battered-dipped, deep-fried fresh Halibut with French Fries ($19.95), and she loved her stone-bowl Bibimbap, a Korean comfort dish of rice, shredded vegetables and beef, topped with a fried egg (also $19.95).
THUMBS UP: The deep-fried fresh Halibut at Happy Face Restaurant in Homer, Alaska, called the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. Gochujang, a Korean red chili paste, was available for the fries.
THUMBS UP: The Dolsot Bibimbap at Happy Face Restaurant was everything this Korean comfort dish is supposed to be and more.
THUMBS DOWN: The spicy cabbage kimchi was some of the best we've ever had, but Happy Face Restaurant charges $4.95 for a small bowl, and doesn't offer seconds at no charge, as does every other Korean restaurant I've patronized in the past 20 years.
HIT AND MISS: I enjoyed this Seared Alaskan Halibut with Warm Crab Salad and Vine-Ripe Heirloom Tomatoes ($41) in the Gold Rush Restaurant at the Denali Park Village Hotel. But my wife found her Red King Crab Legs to be much too salty ($39). With two a la carte salads, a soda and a 15% tip, our dinner totaled $118.50.
We paid another $100 each to take the Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train to Whittier from Anchorage, instead of driving our rental car there, and enjoyed the narration, sightings of Beluga Whales on the return trip and the guide's corny jokes:
"Bear tracks are tracks with no train on them" and "Silent dogwoods have no bark."
BIG HIT: If you want to see this caribou and a wide variety of other wildlife in Denali National Park and Preserve, book the Tundra Wilderness Tour, an 8-hour guided bus ride, with frequent stops, that operates from June 1 to Sept. 13 ($173.20 for adults from the Denali Park Village Hotel, including a snack box and water).
ELUSIVE DENALI: The highest peak in North America, Denali usually has its head in the clouds, but one day we saw the mountain from the deck of the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge -- 43 miles away. Denali's original name was Mt. McKinley.
SPLASHES OF BEAUTY: We saw beautiful wildflowers in Anchorage, above, and just about everywhere else we traveled in Alaska during our vacation Aug. 1-15, including the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, below. We found seeds to take home to New Jersey at Grizzly's Gifts on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage.
More hits and misses
After all, foreign guest workers have been a fixture on the Jersey shore for decades.
But when I got home, I read that Alaska, at 7.1%, has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, so why weren't Alaskans hired for these jobs during the 4-month tourist season (May to September)?
Hanan, our server for dinner in the King Salmon Restaurant at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, volunteered she was an Arab-American woman from Florida.
But she spoke almost robotically, and tried to upsell me to a more expensive glass of red wine, claiming it would "pair better" with the food I ordered.
However, when she agreed to split two entrees, Asiago and Pine Nut Linguine ($25.50) and Sea Salt King Salmon over risotto ($49.50), she didn't mention surcharges I saw on the check later.
About those guest workers. We were told by our American driver-guide on the Tundra Wilderness Tour that a doctor from Bulgaria was washing tour buses for $20 an hour.
His American co-workers said he probably won't be returning next year, but the guest worker said he intends to return, because he was being paid more in Alaska than he is as a doctor in Bulgaria.
As someone who eats only seafood, I soon got used to paying more than $40 for a fillet of Halibut or wild King Salmon in a fine-dining restaurant in Alaska, where those fish are caught.
A Connecticut tourist we met on a train suggested that restaurants and other businesses charge as much as they can during the abbreviated, 4-month tourist season.
Unless you're a really big eater, skip Bridge Seafood Restaurant in Anchorage, where entrees are priced higher than at other fine-dining restaurants, because they include a free, all-you-can-eat salad bar.
And don't be surprised when the "signature" or "famous" salmon spread at Bridge Seafood and other restaurants contains 95% cream cheese and hardly tastes of the state's greatest wild fish.
The smoked seafood at Alaska Sausage and Seafood in Anchorage was another disappointment.
We paid nearly $25 a pound for Kippered Halibut and nearly $24 a pound for smoked Salmon Strips, but I didn't read the ingredients label until I got home, and was shocked to see brown sugar, corn syrup solids, sodium lactate and sodium ascorbate had been added to the fish.
|ARTISTRY: The Red Chair Cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.|
We liked our Veggie Omelets ($13 each) at the White Spot Cafe, 109 W. 4th Ave. in downtown Anchorage, but the place is so popular we had to sit at the counter and wait about 30 minutes for them.
A better choice for breakfast is The Red Chair Cafe, if only to see the art-filled interior, but here, too, we had long waits for our food, and on two visits, I wasn't able to order the signature Tustumena Smokehouse Salmon Benedict, because they had run out of the "seared salmon bacon" ($15.75).
On most mornings, we were happy with the free buffet breakfast at our hotel, Hyatt House in Anchorage -- fruit salad with premium berries; granola topped with slivered almonds, dried raisins and cranberries; an omelet of the day or a made-to-order omelet with or without egg whites; pancakes, premium teas and more.
And when we were too tired to go out to dinner, we found some appealing dishes on the bar menu, and washed them down with wine or Alaskan beer on tap.