The Bake Shop (Girdwood, AK)

Our home base in Girdwood was a small studio condo at the base of the Alyeska resort ski slope, and even when we first checked in, there was a noticeable pleasant aroma of baking bread and spices. On our first trip back out to the parking lot to get the rest of our luggage, we immediately discovered why: the front door to the condo building exits pretty much directly into the outdoor dining patio for The Bake Shop, one of the primary breakfast joints in Girdwood.

You can’t help but notice The Bake Shop during breakfast hours, since every morning they were open, they had a noticeable line and, at times, a substantial wait to order. It’s also obviously a favorite among both locals and returning tourists, since about half of the line appeared to be carrying ceramic The Bake Shop coffee mugs, which, upon purchase, entitle the holder to free coffee for life. And I’m glad the weather was nice, since not only did it enable dining with the pleasant weather and view outside, but it more than doubled the seating capacity (despite the long lines, we always managed to score a table shortly after placing our order).

While I truly love pancakes, I have some definite pickiness when it comes to what I consider good pancakes. For a proper pancake, they need to have crispiness (preferably by frying them in an amount of butter that’s considered borderline excessive), while also having a firm texture and some chewiness. My gold standard for pancakes remains the “Wally Blues” from Al’s Breakfast in Minneapolis, but I’ve encountered quite a few other places that are doing some seriously good pancakes. You can’t wander into The Bake Shop without seeing more than a few mentions of their famous sourdough bread and sourdough pancakes, so I decided to give them a try. It wasn’t without a slight bit of skepticism; most of the times I’ve had “sourdough pancakes” the result has been subpar, usually with rubbery (instead of just ‘chewy’) pancakes lacking in crispiness. But in the case of The Bake Shop, that skepticism was misplaced: these were good pancakes. Scratch that, these were awesome pancakes: the batter itself had a nice, rich, and slightly sour sourdough taste that instead of resembling most sourdough, instead tasted a bit like an extra-amped buttermilk. When cooked up, it was the perfectly level of chewiness, reminding perfectly of my favorite Wally Blues back in Minneapolis. And the crispiness? Spot on, with a nice soft crunch as you approached the edge of each cake. I’ve had other places where perfectly good pancakes were taken down a notch by poor syrup, but The Bake Shop came through there as well, with real maple syrup (imported from Michigan). So, overall, these pancakes were splendid, and the star of our visit.

Carol did quite well, too, opting for the French Toast. Again, they go with the sourdough approach, with two thick slices of their house whole wheat sourdough bread, soaked in an orange-and-cinammon custard, and served up with a fried egg. These were some of the best French toast I’ve had: the custard was pleasant, the bread still had a nice sourdough note shining through, and the overall level of cooking was “lightly crisped” (I don’t care for soggy French toast).

For a side, we shared an order of the very plainly-named “Potatoes and Onions”. The plain name under-sells these, since these were one of the few times I’ve gotten home fries that were truly well-executed: tender potatoes, partly-caramelized onions, and the potatoes themselves griddle-cooked (not deep-fried) to a perfect crisp. These were the perfect accompaniment to the pancakes.

If there was one other item that you couldn’t miss at The Bake Shop, it was the giant cinnamon rolls, since about half the tables seemed to order these to share, with a giant plate-sized roll with plentiful frosting and butter. I’m pretty certain that these were the primary source of the spice notes we would smell most afternoons and early mornings at the condo. We didn’t get one of these for the table, but we did get one to-go, and they did a great job packaging it up. Several hours later, as we hiked the Turnagain Arm trail, it made for a great mid-day snack.

Not only did I truly enjoy the pancakes, I enjoyed them enough that three of our four breakfasts while staying in Girdwood were at The Bake Shop, and that wasn’t just out of convenience. The pancakes were perfection, and I’ll have to make sure to update my pancake top ten list, these were indeed that good. Several other items were great, too, like the French toast, fried potatoes, and the giant cinnamon buns. I can definitely see why the place is popular, and can imagine that the place is insanely busy during the winter busy season. If we come back this way, I’m definitely going out of my way to visit again.

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