Good Crowd, Good Music, GREAT Pizza

Try a slice at Peace on Earth in Alaska or they can fly your food to you.

June 15, 2007 — -- There are no roads that lead to Unalakleet, Alaska, a tiny town of 600 or so people on the western coast of the state. Most visitors to the remote village fly in. But once a year, a few dozen hearty souls arrive by dog sled.

Coming down out of the nearby mountains and following the frozen Unalakleet River, racers in the 1,100-mile Iditarod dog sled race pull into town, the first checkpoint along the coast.

"Nightline" caught up with the Iditarod mushers, race officials and fans in Unalakleet this past March, and in doing our research discovered that the town was home to just one restaurant, a pizza parlor called Peace on Earth Restaurant and Music Company.

Nestled among the other small wooden buildings in town, Peace on Earth belongs to Bret Hanson, whose wife grew up in Unalakleet.

"I was creating work," Hanson said. "I was here and was doing construction, and construction was a little slim, and there wasn't a job, so I created one. And it kind of stuck."

Hanson wanted to "have a place where you could just feel good, have good sound, good food, relax and have peace on Earth right here."

With temperatures below zero, a fierce wind making it feel even colder, and the snow swirling off the frozen waters of Norton Sound, Peace on Earth was a warm haven the night we visited.

The decor was basic: plain drywall walls, wooden tables covered with plastic, flowered tablecloths, folding metal chairs, a few plants.

The band that played was rather impromptu. Hansen was on guitar, his son played the drums and a couple of other local residents rounded out the sound with some backup guitar and bass.

Country standards were the preferred music of choice, including "Wildwood Flower," which drew a few couples to the small dance floor. One customer, after finishing his pizza, accompanied the band on the spoons.

The menu at Peace on Earth was also basic. Pizza is the main focus, but with homemade dough and toppings such as imported kalamata olives, Hansen offers options beyond just plain cheese and pepperoni.

"I created the Greek one," he said.

It's modeled on a Greek salad. "I did a crust with herbs and butter, and it took forever to catch on around here. But after it caught on we sell it all the time."

The pizza that "Nightline" shared with a couple from California that was following the dog sled race was thick and cheesy and very satisfying after a day out in the cold.

The menu offers other comfort food items: Philly cheesesteaks, ham and cheese sandwiches, fresh salads.

As the only pizza parlor in town, Peace on Earth naturally will deliver pizzas to your door, a huge bonus when the temperatures can reach 30 below. But Hansen will even go one step further.

With many other small isolated communities nearby, Peace on Earth will arrange to fly pizzas out to those villages.

"I usually cook it until its handable and browning nicely on the bottom and then put it in tin foil for the plane ride," Hansen said.

The Iditarod race is the busiest time of the year. Hanson estimates he makes as many as 35 pies a day while the race is in town. The rest of the year, he averages just 10 pies a day.

While Peace on Earth may be small, it effortlessly has the warm and cozy atmosphere any corner bistro or restaurant would pay big bucks for. For those qualities -- and a great piece of pizza -- I give it four light bulbs.