All Roads Lead to McCarthy
If the wild roses blooming along the Edgerton Highway aren’t enough of a reason to head to McCarthy, I’d like to confirm that the rumors you’ve been hearing are true — there’s some damn fine food to be found across that infamous foot bridge.
If you haven’t been out to McCarthy in a few years and are looking for a food-driven adventure, you might want to move quick while the gettin’ is good. We stayed two nights and could have enjoyed two more while the chorizo and kale in our little camper fridge sat undisturbed. There’s at least a dozen good meals to be had in McCarthy!
Want to start your trip with some good food karma? Pack in a pound of halibut and hand it off to Jim who runs the Basecamp Campground. He might even cut you a deal on a camping space. McCarthy is a long way from anywhere, and a nice piece of fish (or some brownies) goes a long way. With 80 acres and few restrictions, Basecamp lives up to its name whether you’re just pitching a simple tent or braving the road with a giant RV. Twenty bucks gets you 24 hours of riverside bliss.
Also, bring your bike — it’s the easiest way to move in and around town, and burning off some calories with a ride up to the mine is a good plan. If you’re not into biking, you can also walk into McCarthy and there’s a handy shuttle that can take you to and from the mine. You can always take the shuttle up, tour the mine, and hoof the 4 miles back down to town with plenty of time for drinks and dinner.
Speaking of dinner, the Potato is doing great things in their newish building. Once a beloved food truck on the other side of the bridge, the Potato has grown into a full service restaurant and moved into its current digs last year. I enjoyed a piece of perfectly cooked Copper River sockeye over savory mashed potatoes and shredded Brussels sprouts for dinner, and although they are known for their curly fries, they are turning out some elegant plates.
Across the street at the McCarthy Bistro, McCarthy born-and-raised chef Stacie Miller and her staff are also doing great things with local ingredients. Our table loved the colorful pickled beet starter that was featured the night we were there, along with an excellent Copper River sockeye salmon tartare (I did not want to share the delightful crispy salmon skin chips) and the duck breast with peach and spruce tip sauce. Save some room for dessert. The Vietnamese coffee creme brulee gave us just enough of a boost to get back on our bikes for the slow ride back to our campsite. They also have a nicely curated selection of cocktails and an extensive wine list. I loved the blackberry, basil, and balsamic shrub, though my dining companion was partial to the “spruced up” gin fizz. Wear your cleanest T-shirt, it’s a classy joint (seriously, you should make reservations in advance).
Start or finish your night at the Golden Saloon, a comfortable place for a cocktail or even a full meal. Craving a pickled egg after 10 p.m.? This is your joint.
Depending on when you get up (or go to bed), start your day with a sit down breakfast at the McCarthy Bistro or grab a breakfast sandwich featuring housemade breakfast sausage back at the Potato. The coffee is good and strong wherever you find it.
If you’re staying out at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge, they also offer family-style meals.
While you’re in Kennicott, make a point of heading down to the little red food truck below the main lodge. The Meatza Wagon is where Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Joe Macchina offers a selection of sandwiches, all hand-crafted and delicious. As the name implies it’s a pretty meaty selection (the meatballs are terrific), but don’t worry vegetarians, Joe’s got you covered, too.
The Golden Saloon can also pack you a to-go lunch if you’re planning to spend the day out adventuring. Perfect for those of us who like to do our birdwatching with a charcuterie plate in hand.
If you’re feeling like you need an additional snack, the McCarthy Store and Bakery is stocked with a nice selection of treats. It’s not cheap, but it’s good to know that deep in the heart of America’s largest national park there is a little market where you can find a pint of goat milk ice cream or a bag of organic pita chips.
(Oh, and a little liquor store as well.)
As the saying goes, the road to McCarthy is paved with good intentions, not asphalt. Make sure you’ve got a good spare tire, plenty of time and gas, and leave your smartphone at home, it’s probably not going to work out there.
Need another reason to go? The McCarthy Annual Packraft Festival & Race is happening July 21 - 23. More info here.