Story last updated at 7/10/2013 - 2:22 pm
Running a restaurant is a tough business. Profit margins are tight, staffing can be a challenge. A consistent customer base is hard to develop in a town that sees big seasonal fluctuation in both visitors and residents. It's no surprise that eateries come and go here in Juneau. Lately, the town seems to be on a culinary upswing. New places are opening and finding success, and established restaurants are expanding hours and offerings. The new restaurants are certainly happy to serve tourists, but they aren't designed for them-they're in areas of town frequented just as much by locals as out-of-town guests. This week we'll check out some of the options for enjoying a meal in the Valley.
When Joan Deering moved Paradise Cafe to the Valley, it felt like a huge loss for those of us who frequented her spot on Marine Way for a cookie and a friendly hello. But we didn't have long to feel sad. A short drive to the Valley and we're back in Paradise. The new location on Glacier Highway is alive with hungry people, proving the Valley was ready for Joan's brand of fresh baked goods, quiches, wraps and handmade pizzas. The spacious restaurant bustles with patrons coming and going or sitting and relaxing. Joan has always wanted her restaurant to be a gathering place, and the new space gives her more room for that. (And more room for things like her bicycle powered smoothie-blender.) On Tuesday evenings, bluegrass musicians gather to eat and jam. Joan features artists and artisans, and she offers bread from Wild Oven.
I admit it: sometimes I dream up excuses to head to the Valley around lunch time just so I can eat at the Suwanna Cafe. Located in the atrium of the Jordan Creek Mall, the cafe has limited seating and caters to a take-out lunchtime crowd. They have a small menu of what chef and part owner Sitthida calls "Thai-style" cuisine. Pad-Thai, Panang and Yellow Curry, Satay, and summer rolls made with your choice of chicken, shrimp, or tofu. Everything has the fresh flavor of Thai ingredients-basil, lemongrass, cilantro, and peppers. The restaurant offers weekly specials like Thai roasted duck or papaya salad with grilled chicken. The portions are generous, and the prices are fair. The Suwanna Cafe is open weekdays for lunch and on Thursday and Friday they stay open until 6:30 p.m.
When I started hearing rumors of a new Indian restaurant in town, I couldn't have been happier. I love the spices and combinations of vegetables and sauces in Indian food, and it's something I've missed in my five years living in Alaska. Clay Oven is in the Frontier Suites Hotel on Glacier Highway. Since it caters to both hotel guests and local diners, they have a dual menu: one page of Indian offerings and one page of traditional American fare. The restaurant space is light and open, with a bar and a small dining area. The decor matches the hotel more than the style of the food, with exposed pine beams and wooden accents.
When I arrived with a friend on Friday night, the restaurant was busy but not full, and the pleasant smell of Indian spices filled the room. Clay Oven has been open for only a few weeks, and they will soon be expanding their menu. Currently, they are offering Tandori Chicken, a mixed grill, and a selection of curries and vegetable and fish dishes. I ordered the Shakahari Shojan, the vegetarian platter. It came with black-eyed peas and garbanzo beans, curried vegetables, palak paneer, and basmati rice. The garbanzos and black-eyed peas each had a mild spicy flavor, and the curried vegetables were stir-fried and still fresh and crunchy with an interesting combination of spices. We ordered both garlic and plain naan and a side of raita, a yogurt sauce. Our waitress was apologetic about the newness of the restaurant and what she claimed was slow service, but the wait was not long at all. I am eager to see how the menu expands and how the chef settles into his new surroundings.
These restaurants join a collection of our favorite places in the Valley and Auke Bay, like The Hot Bite and Asiana Gardens. So we can grab a waffle at the Southeast Waffle Co. or some sushi before a movie, or try something new. Whether we live or shop in the Valley or pass through on the way to adventuring out the road, we're lucky to have new and old favorite places to gather for a good meal and good company.
If you go:
9400 Glacier Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801
9351 Glacier Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801
Suwanna CafeJordan Creek Mall
8800 Glacier Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801