The Norton Sound commercial crab fishery closed last week, recording more than 41 thousand pounds of red king crab. That pales in comparison to last year’s record-breaking catch. But it was enough for Nome’s Pingo Bakery Seafood House to host its annual crab leg lunch during Iditarod.
Sitting by a window illuminated by a gorgeous day, Stacy Flagg of Eagle River is prying open a bundle of crab legs. It is the week of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race finish, and Flagg is taking a break from the festivities to indulge in Pingo Bakery Seafood House’s annual king crab leg lunch. She says, “I didn’t even want to look, I just said ‘I’m having the crab legs; I don’t care what it costs.’ If it was up to my husband, I would have only eaten the stuff he brought from the grocery store in Anchorage.”
Flagg says she ordered the crab legs because of the region’s access to freshly caught red king crab from the Norton Sound. Flagg states, “they catch it out under the ice, they catch it right here in Nome. So it’s kinda like, when in Nome, you have to eat crab legs.”
Erica Pryzmont is the chef and owner of Pingo Bakery Seafood House, which first opened its doors four years ago. Recently, Pryzmont had to explain the region’s access to seasonal foods to a friend. “I was joking with someone the other day who lived where there are farmer’s markets, ‘well, we don’t really have that, but we do have this,’ and it’s kinda like what we have instead is access to, you know, seasonal foods that are unique to here.”
The crab leg lunch has become an Iditarod tradition for this small restaurant. It has a following ranging from locals to those visiting Nome for the Iditarod finish. Pryzmont states, “We’ve had crab leg lunch every year that we’ve had Iditarod. People really ask about it, yeah, and we’ve gotten enough steady customers over the years that sorta know that’s one of our things that they come back the next year, and they say ‘hey, do you have it yet?'”
Earlier this year, the sea ice conditions in the Norton Sound were not favorable and caused a delay in the opening of the commercial crab fishery. There was a time Pryzmont questioned where she would get her supply of crab for the winter season. This uncertainty put Pryzmont in a difficult position due to her reliance on local crabbers for fresh, affordable king crab.
Even though this situation made Pryzmont nervous about her menu, she claims the availability of ingredients is not just a challenge for restaurants that rely on local food sources. According to Pryzmont, “I think the challenges for relying on local are just the same for trying to get food in general. It’s a bit of a coin toss. It might be available that day or it might not, and so you always have to have a plan B, plan C, plan D.”
Looking towards the future, Pryzmont says she’s not sure how changing weather patterns and crab regulations will affect her restaurant, but she hopes to offer the crab leg lunch for many Iditarods to come. Pryzmont had this final thought on the subject: “It’s pretty hard to be worried about something that none of us have control over. We don’t have control over the weather or the crab supply, or whatever it is the crab like to have for lunch. You just have to have faith and hope that it will be okay. There is no other choice.”