Island Pub opens up at site of historic eatery

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2005

The day after The Alaska Folk Festival always seems to be one of the gloomiest of the year.

Half the town is hung over; the other half is cranky. The banjos, bagpipes and bodhrans have all left town, and invariably, it's cloudy or raining.

It's the perfect day to remind yourself that yes, it is still spring. No more darkness. The buds are coming out. Rebirth is all around, and the water will soon be calm.

We headed over to The Island Pub, the three-week-old restaurant-bar in the site of Douglas' old Mike's Place, for the sake of something new, reinvigorating, detoxifying. And in a steady rain at quarter to 8 on a Monday evening, the parking lot at the corner of Second Street was full.

Rick Kasnick owns The Island Pub with two of his sisters, Karen Dillon and Kathy Wilson, and his son, Tion. The place sneaks up on you as you're heading down Second, because the exterior is rather clean and understated, tucked into the neighborhood with no garish signs. The thing that caught my eye was they use the wooden water pump, the tower that juts out from the pilings near Sandy Beach, in their logo. The interior includes an oil painting of the pump, done by Tion.

"The pumphouse is something that we've always thought about for some reason, as something to identify with the island of Douglas," Rick said. "The neighborhood's been just great; they're happy with the look of it and the fact that it doesn't intrude. They really feel that it's about time that Douglas has something they can look at and be proud of."

The Kasnicks have some history in this kind of operation. Rick's brother, Guy, owned Pike's Landing, a high-end restaurant-lounge on the Chena River in Fairbanks. It's since been sold to Jay Ramras. Kasnick's sister, Shirley Matheny, owned the Harbor Bar in Petersburg with her husband, Larry, before they sold it to their children.

The Kasnick family has owned the downtown Driftwood Lodge since 1977, and also runs a few apartment properties. They'd been thinking about getting into the restaurant business in Juneau, but didn't realize that the old Mike's Place was the ideal location until about a year and a half ago. The Kasnicks knew the owners, the Pusichs, since they were all kids.

The Island Pub

Where: 1102 second st., douglas.

Hours: open 4 p.m. on weekdays, 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Kitchen opens at 4 p.m. daily, closes at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 p.m. all other nights.

"It was such a historic landmark, with the name that it had and the reputation that it had in the old days," Rick said. "The location seemed pretty attractive, it being a neighborhood place, but at the same time with the new rink coming in and softball and Perseverance Theatre."

Mike Pusich built Mike's Place at 1102 Second St. in the late 1930s, but he'd been in the business since opening The Hub, a Front Street saloon in Douglas, in 1914. The Hub turned into Dreamland, which burned in 1937. Mike died in 1953, and four generations of Pusichs ran Mike's Place, a gathering place for years. It closed in 2003 and The Island Pub has a collage of pictures posted in the foyer, next to a framed menu from the 1940s. Kasnick also has a few of the old white-gold-and-green Mike's Place dishes.

"People have recognized them," Rick said, "especially the old-timers."

The place was under construction for quite some time, because the original plan was to develop the downstairs into a 200-seat fine-dining area. Six months into it, they decided that was too much to chew, and chose to turn the upstairs into a casual pizza/sandwich/bar with warm hues and a picture-window view of the avalanche chute on Mount Roberts. For now, the lower floor is stripped to studs, with a walk-in cooler-freezer to support the upstairs kitchen.

The menu will be evolving in the months to come, but for now it's an 8-by-11 sheet of paper, printed each morning and folded in half. Everything on it is cooked in the centerpiece of the place - the giant Woodstone firebrick oven, manufactured in Bellingham, Wash., and covered with copper to go with the greens and yellows of the dining area.

The oven can cook anything from pizzas to souffles to steaks. The five-foot diameter interior heats up to 600 to 620 degrees and stays at 300 for six hours after you've turned it off. It can cook a pizza in four minutes. You can see the flames and the chefs working from the dining area.

Head cooks Zak Fisher and Brian Mankoski have worked together over the years and have developed most of the menu. They've both cooked at the Baranof Gold Room and The Fiddlehead.

Steaks were a staple of Mike's Place and an item that Kasnick hopes to add in the future. Seafood - black cod and salmon - will probably start in the early summer. They have a steak sandwich ($11) for now, and a few other sandwiches (chicken pesto, Italian sausage and veggie).

"We print our menus each day, so we have the ability to be versatile," Kasnick said. "One of our ideas is to be creative and innovative and always keep people a little bit surprised."

The kitchen makes its own dough and foccacia bread by hand each morning, and the pizza crust, thin but not too snappy, was created by Browkowski.

"We only use the thin to give the ingredients the flavor that comes out," Kasnick said. "Thick crust is a little hard to do on that type of oven, because it's vertical baking time on the surface of the dough versus the baking time through to the thickness. The thinness is almost a necessity."

The cheese is a blend of provolone and mozzarella, which according to Kasnick, is "pretty unusual as far as typical pizza cheese." I can't attest to how rare it is, but the pizza was dramatically less greasy than others I've had in town. The selection for now is fairly standard (vegetarian, pesto, greek, pepperoni-sausage, marg-herita, barbecued chicken and cheese) but there's also the option to build your own. A 13-inch runs from $11 (cheese) to $16.50 for the vegetarian, which comes with romas, asparagus, eggplant, artichoke and garlic.

The two dessert pizzas have already started to develop a following. Fisher and Mankoski came up with a 13-inch apple pie pizza (marscapone and sliced apples, covered with sugar, cinnamon and toasted walnuts) and that led to the creation of the strawberry chocolate (strawberries on cream chocolate, covered with powdered sugar.) Both are fairly light, and are served hot.

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