{Right Under Your Nose}

In a town quickly becoming dominated by fast food restaurants, franchised eateries and pancake houses, it can be increasingly difficult to find original, healthy eating options. And though it may be true that every menu these days seems to offer an Atkins-approved selection, a growing number of health-conscious individuals are coming to the conclusion that man cannot survive on meat and cheese alone.

Luckily, Anchorage is blessed with a number of locally owned dining hotspots that cater to the epicurean in all of us with a flair that makes them stand out among the sea of corporate big boys.

One such establishment is the Middle Way Cafe, tucked in the Northern Lights Shopping Center in Anchorage’s midtown. The coffee house and restaurant, which has been serving up some of the city’s best lunches since 1994, has in its last decade of operation catapulted into gastronomic superstardom.

Owner Jonathan Campabello said Middle Way Café was created to satisfy the community’s need for a healthy restaurant with tasty, reasonably priced food.

“You really couldn’t find this kind of eclectic cuisine in town at that time without it being a ‘blandwich’ with alfalfa sprouts,” Campabello said.

And so Campabello went about creating Middle Way, adopting the name from an Eastern philosophical approach that emphasizes the importance of moderation in an individual’s life.

“It’s about harmony, balance and the avoidance of extremes in judgment or action to best respond to everyday life or even crisis,” said Campabello. “Our name responds to this need for balance and health in our own lives and throughout our community.”

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The cafe’s popularity is easily observed between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on any day of the workweek, when hungry locals flock to the tiny cafe located at 1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd. They line up in single file along the counter that dominates the space, waiting patiently for their turn to order that day’s fare.

During the trip down the line, customers are tempted by a variety of fresh-baked goodies that include everything from savory, Southwestern-inspired scones to cannoli cookies to carrot cake.

Middle Way’s menu has something for everyone. Special care has been given to ensuring that vegetarians and carnivores alike will find a meal that both satiates their hunger and satisfies the all-too-human desire to eat well.

In addition to the ready-to-order sandwiches for which the cafe has become famous, customers can treat themselves to hearty salads, vegetarian burgers, or one of the two daily soups that the cafe rotates according to the day of the week.

The Middle Way is far more than an eating establishment. Even those with lighter appetites or those who want a hot cup of tea or coffee and a chance to relax or catch up on their studies will find a welcome change from the Lucy Cuddy Center or Consortium Library. The burnt-umber-colored walls are covered with original artwork, the soft music is unimposing and the free wireless Internet access makes a quiet afternoon entirely pleasurable in the cozy dining room.

Campabello said that he counts the university crowd as one of his most important customer bases.

“We definitely attract the college crowd including the faculty and admin,” Campabello said. “When you can get a spicy veggie sandwich or a Navajo wrap or our chicken tacos, and there is value there and the quality is high, it’s just going to suit folks who are thinking and learning.”

The Middle Way has become a part of Anchorage restaurant royalty, and continues to attract a broad cross-section of the city’s diverse ethnic and social groups. On any given day, one can find men in suits and ties happily munching away while, one table over, a young woman with dreadlocks sips tea and reads the newspaper. This is, in many ways, one of the most charming qualities of the cafe, which continues to bustle along with no lack of hungry admirers.