Alex Papasavas & Turkey Red

Palmer restaurant owner’s commitment to quality and community

Sometimes you visit a certain place and it just feels right. Maybe it is the atmosphere, maybe the service, maybe the food. Whatever it is, it is just right. Such is the description that comes to mind when I think of Turkey Red in Palmer, Alaska.

Our family has been going to Turkey Red almost since the day it opened on April 1, 2008. We had heard of a nice new restaurant in Palmer with reviews from personal friends, who simply stated that it was just a wonderful place to eat; there was great food, and it was a comfortable and welcoming place to be. From our very first visit, we could not agree more.

Alex Papasavas, owner of Turkey Red, started her restaurant with a singular purpose, to nourish her friends and neighbors with a welcoming space and real food that is locally sourced as much as possible. Turkey Red is not the type of restaurant that is dedicated to earning accolades and surprising visitors with Michelin stars. In fact, I might argue that such a train of thought would be antithetical to what Alex, both as a person and restaurateur, set out to be.

A photo of food at Turkey Red

Food at Turkey Red

Her own car is a suitable metaphor for her existence. It takes up the smallest physical footprint possible, has only enough space to transport those freshly sourced products, expends the least amount of fuel possible, and hides in the smallest parking spaces available. It draws as little attention to itself as possible, with the exception of its lime green color (all truly humble people have a streak of the bombastic). In fact, it sits immobile most of the time. Alex walks to and from work, enjoying the air of the community she is helping support. The idea that one should extend the least negative impact as possible and, instead, contribute to the wellbeing of those around them is reflected in the food and service one experiences at Turkey Red.

Alex first came to Alaska in 1997, working as a cook for the Northern Outdoor Leadership School just outside of Palmer. From rural Colorado to Baja, Mexico, to the icy deserts of Antarctica, she was already no stranger to more remote settings. In fact, she thrived in them, finding contentment and solace in solitude, but also camaraderie in those she would serve. Alaska became a community she would travel from and return to, finally settling in Palmer more permanently in 2001. She would become one of the pioneers in a shifting food culture in Alaska, where processed foods are being put aside more and more in favor of locally sourced produce and simple, nourishing plates.

She mentioned in our conversation that she really wanted to help people experience what good food is and help inform the unaware of what can be created from the products that grow around them. I told her that, at least with one family, she has met that goal. I can honestly say that I think this place has changed how we eat in our family. We pay more attention to quality and consider the value of a nourishing meal shared with friends. Alex has also always been cognizant of the financial cost of this form of eating, and has worked hard to always keep prices reasonable. In fact, this is one restaurant where we have been able to feed our family of four, never thinking we have overspent.

A photo of Alex serving food at Turkey Red

Alex serving food at Turkey Red

This is not a food review, though the food is very good. However, I believe that food and culture in a community are something to be celebrated when found. I also believe that community happens best around a table where food is not the only occasion, but where the people you share it with are. Turkey Red is a place that invites the community in, and offers exceptional and wholesome food for those friends and neighbors that share a place as special as any in the world. It is, in turn, supported by that very community with fresh produce, rich in flavor and the nutrients provided by the famous glacier-fed soils of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The dishes here are made with the love of those people who create with care, and is the quality of homemade, garden-to-table cooking.

Alex Papasavas is not done in her quest to improve the lives of those around her. She is always looking to give more freedom to her creative cooks and explore new and different flavors with all that is available locally. She is also ever seeking greater efficiency. This year, she installed solar panels to reduce electricity usage and her overall carbon footprint. She is planning on replacing her older gas equipment with high efficiency, European-designed stoves that will be far more efficient and provide a more comfortable working environment for her kitchen staff. All of this will likely not bring financial gain, but it will reduce negative impact, and that is something that Alex is committed to.

Alex admits that she is not very good at marketing and self promotion, though, this is no surprise to me. She does want to spread the news and hopes that more people will learn about Turkey Red and experience her mission of enjoying locally sourced, quality food. This is my desire in writing this as well, along with promoting someone who I know is authentic.

This year is Turkey Red’s 10th anniversary. Our community is a better place because of people like Alex and because of Turkey Red. We would all do well to follow her lead and strive to be of the least negative impact, working constantly to be a positive one instead.

It always helps to have a place where people can gather together around great food and enjoy one another’s company.

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