Haines, Alaska: Food scene still vibrant even during a pandemic

Be it for Beerfest, the bald eagle festival or salmon fishing, Yukoners love Haines, Alaska. The pandemic put Yukoners’ visits on hold, but a trip to Haines during the recent gap in travel restrictions revealed things have been far from quiet in the small town of 2,500. The food and beverage scene is thriving. When cross-border travel is open again, here are five new spots (and one old one) you won’t want to miss.

Old Field Kitchen (OFK)

When the Old Field Kitchen is serving dinner, it feels like everyone in town is either seated inside at the restaurant’s long, communal dining tables, or waiting for take-out in the bright, country-themed lobby.

Hot sake and local beer are on offer. The menu is always changing, taking advantage of local ingredients when possible. Ramen is a staple at OFK. The kitchen uses locally harvested kelp in its broth. The night we visited, dinner featured tonkotsu ramen with springy alkaline noodles and an unbelievably tender slice of pork belly. The super fragrant chicken tikka with cauliflower masala was accompanied by jasmine rice and fluffy naan. A fried chicken sandwich was served with jalapeno slaw, roasted root vegetables and horseradish aioli.

If you’re there for brunch, you may be tempted to skip the baked goods in the display case and head straight to the menu. This would be a mistake. The pastries are flaky and warm, with wonderful flavours. You’ll find cinnamon-orange morning buns and pear frangipane croissants. A highlight of brunch was the polenta bowl, with soft-boiled eggs, parsley, capers and tapatio hot sauce.

The Old Field Kitchen opened in summer 2020 and is in the centre of the Fort Seward parade grounds. Winter hours include Sunday brunch and Monday dinner.

Three Northmen

It’s a pleasure to order a drink from someone who is excited about their craft. That’s what happened when we asked Chad at the Three Northmen to walk us through the meadery’s offerings.

It’s a fun place. Mismatched furniture plays nicely with the clean walls and beams. The floor is littered with discarded peanut shells, a carpet to which you’re invited to contribute. It wasn’t confirmed that the establishment’s name is a play on the term Norsemen, but the meadery does have a viking vibe, with big wooden beams, barrels and antlers adorning the walls.

Leave any ideas you might have about mead behind. This is not your uncle’s honey homebrew. Three Northmen has something for everyone. There are meads, hard soda on tap, ciders and cysers (mead fermented with apple juice).

The creative mead flavours include birch, cranberry-pomegranate, and smoked maple. The town favourite is the Woodsmen, a woodsy concoction that incorporates birch, maple and spruce flavours, aged in an oak barrel. The taps along the back of the bar serve several flavours of hard soda, which you can take home in growlers. I couldn’t get enough of the spruce tip hard soda, which reminded me of Quebec spruce beer (if you know, you know).

Three Northmen opened in July 2021 and is found on Main Street next to the Hammer Museum. Winter hours are Thursday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Josie’s Bread and Bagels

Josie’s bread and bagels can be found at shops around town and they’ve been selling at markets for a few years. In 2020 however, they opened a bakery and cafe at Dalton City, the fairgrounds in town. You can go in for baked goods, soup and, if you’re lucky, Stromboli—a rolled-up pizza similar to a calzone. The bagels are the star of the show, with flavours such as parmesan rosemary and cranberry orange. They’re remarkably soft and make a tasty lunch all on their own. Located in Dalton City. Winter hours are Mondays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Tuesdays and Fridays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Chilkat Valley Desserts

Fresh, locally-made gelato in Haines. As Keith scooped our gelato into cups, he told us people were skeptical that a gelato place could work in Haines. In fact, people have lined up outside at -10 degrees C for scoops. Chilkat Valley Desserts started up just before the pandemic. It almost shut down, but instead employed a “COVID cooler” a.k.a. a deep freeze on wheels that was filled with pints and left outside for people to shop using an honour system. It was wildly successful. Now you can buy pints at Haines Packing (located on Main Street), while samples and scoops can be enjoyed at Josie’s Bread and Bagels in Dalton City. Winter hours allow for tasting, individual servings and takeaway pints on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Check Facebook.

Costa Brava Bakery and Patisserie

Costa Brava is a home-based French and Spanish-inspired bakery. We found it in the middle of a holiday rush and sampled more than our share of goodies. There were cupcakes and tarts filled with ganache and salted caramel, millionaire bars, and take-and-bake pie. The best thing we tried during our stay were Pastelitos. Commonly served fresh for breakfast, these warm, flaky pastries were filled with guava and cheese. There are many great breakfast options in Haines and this is one of them!

Costa Brava’s goodies are available at farmers’ markets in the summer. The rest of the year, you can order off Costa’s website or Facebook page. Ordering and pick-up were easy.

BONUS: Port Chilkoot Distillery’s new bar

Past visitors to Haines might remember the tiny standing-room-only tasting room at the Port Chilkoot Distillery. In spring of 2020, it expanded into a beautiful cocktail lounge, more than three times as large as the old space. With it comes an expanded menu, including snacks. I kept going back for the Queen Bee—a really nicely balanced cocktail featuring house-made gin and absinthe, honey and lemon. It’s a beautiful space, featuring local art and great drinks. Find it in the old fort, on Blacksmith Street. Winter hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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