The emblem of Yukon Tavern is a bearded mountain man in heavy boots, tromping out of the forest, ax in hand. The legend imprinted on the menu refers to him as one of many Men of the North, hard workers hungry for some good grub. For 30 years, owner Kenny Backstrand has honored that legend with hearty meals served in a roomy but warm and inviting bar-slash-restaurant that would be right at home in Juneau or Missoula.
You wanna talk ambience? Save it for your froufrou downtown martini bar. This place has got a hand-crafted chandelier made of a thick hunk of tree and a circle of glass lanterns, and more Budweiser signs than you can shake your microbrew at.
One night at dinner, I sat at the bar near a woman who told me she'd been coming to the Yukon since she was 15. She is now 42. She pointed to the corner of the room where her boyfriend's band used to play, now occupied by a round poker table. She went on reminiscing as I plowed into my dinner: a tequila lime top sirloin with green chili enchiladas ($11.95), one of the nightly specials. The steak, ample if a bit chewy, was overshadowed by the enchiladas, nice and brown on the bottom, cheesy and gooey, smothered with a tangy green chili, heavy on the pork.
The guy a ways down the bar was ripping into a mountain of crab legs, another special, and down from him, a regular was wrangling a half-pound stuffed Yukon burger ($6.95), dripping with onions, cherry peppers and cheese.
I was trying to put my finger on what distinguished this bar food, as I had the day before, when I'd enjoyed the pork and avocado green chili burrito ($7.95) for lunch. Color, I realized, was the key. Instead of the standard gray and beige, this food was filled with and embellished by fresh, colorful vegetables; my steak was topped with a bright pico de gallo and a stack of fresh, halved cherry tomatoes, alongside a pile of fresh lettuce and a substantial house-made salsa.
I'd wandered during lunchtime the day before to the "serve yourself" bar in the back room, set up alongside a row of pool tables, and found a salad bowl the size of a kitchen sink, filled with chunks of fresh broccoli, rings of red bell pepper, carrots and red onions, and slices of fresh zucchini.
The toughest thing about breakfast at Yukon (served only on Saturday and Sunday) may be choosing from the extensive menu of specials. During my visit, it included a pan-fried boneless pork chop and eggs ($6.95), broiled prime rib with garlic mushrooms and eggs ($8.95), and eight other choices, plus a Bloody Mary bar and a pastry and fruit bar in the back room.
I settled on the smoked chicken-apple sausage skillet ($7.95) served with two well-prepared fried eggs, a pile of home fries, and biscuits and gravy. The perfectly grilled sausage was juicy and savory. And my breakfast mate's "meat lovers'" omelette, stuffed with ham, sausage and bacon, was declared the best she's had in a while: light and creamy, not overcooked, pure cowboy poetry that even two women, not of the North, could swear by.
525 S. Circle Drive (at Airport Road, in the Valley Hi Shopping Center), 475-0050
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.