Story last updated at 7/18/2013 - 1:10 pm
The other day I was chatting with a longtime Juneau resident about places to eat, and I mentioned a relatively new restaurant that had been open for about a year. He had never heard of it. I realized that not everyone has their nose in the air constantly sniffing out new culinary opportunities. Downtown Juneau's food landscape has changed a lot in the last two years. There are options for every meal of the day, including one of my favorites, the late-night snack.
When I first moved to Juneau in August of 2011, I wished silently for a fun and funky breakfast joint. You see them in bigger cities, sometimes so popular that lines for tables run out the door on Sunday mornings. In 2012, Rockwell opened in the old Elk's Lodge on Franklin Street. The building has had many incarnations over the past decades. It was even the site of Alaska's first territorial legislature. The upstairs ballroom is now a venue for all kinds of events from weddings to plays to ballroom dancing. Rockwell, a bar and restaurant owned by Deb Barry and Erik Emert, has daily breakfast, lunch and dinner service.
On the weekends, breakfast goes until noon, then "blunch," a hybrid menu with a little bit of their lunch and dinner menu and a bit of their breakfast menu lets people decide how they want to start their day. The breakfast menu has the usual eggs and potatoes and a few signature items like the vegetable hash - with beets, rutabagas, carrots, kale and eggs as well as a few southwestern options like a breakfast burrito and Migas - eggs with tortillas, beans and salsa.
At lunchtime, there are a few new options downtown. On Marine Way, just across from Marine Park, is Samovars in the space that used to hold Paradise Cafe. New Russian decor and new lighting and fixtures give Samovars a bright, clean, welcoming feel. The menu features both sweet and savory Russian cuisine. You can try handmade pelmini dumplings filled with beef, pork, and lamb, or chicken or cabbage rolls - golubtzi - filled with beef and rice and simmered in a tomato sauce. I had the pirozhki, a delicate pastry filled with cabbage and potatoes.
If you're not looking to sit down for a leisurely meal, you can grab a bite from the Wild Oven bakery. Baker Daniel Martin offers fresh loaves of organic artisan bread made with his own wild Alaskan sourdough. The bread varieties change daily (my favorite is Wednesday's Italian Chocolate Bread made with dried cherries). The bakery offers two sandwiches - avocado and dubliner cheese with mayo, red onion, lettuce and tomato, or Genoa salami and swiss with pickled onions, mustard lettuce and tomato. You can also try their focaccia squares. A bit like pizza, these adorned flat bread squares are fresh daily and include options like arugula and parmesan, or basil and roasted mushrooms. Wild Oven offers a few carefully selected beverages and things you might want with your bread like organic pasture-raised butter and packets of natural peanut butter. Even if you're just popping in for a cookie you can grab a sample of the day's loaf dipped in flavorful olive oil.
There was quite a bit of buzz last year when folks heard that The Rookery started their dinner service. The cafe is known for its coffee, pastries, and bustling atmosphere. Word traveled quickly among local food lovers about the new rotating dinner menu featuring local ingredients in unusual preparations. The Rookery transforms during the dinner hour, moving tables, adding candles and creating a bistro atmosphere with water served in upcycled liquor bottles. The menu is divided into small and large plates, so you can eat appetizers and an entree, or assemble a tapas-style meal of various tastes. The menu draws inspiration from all over the globe, from Asia to the American south. A recent list of the small plates included halibut steam buns with a Napa cabbage slaw and garlic aioli, as well as a baked macaroni and cheese with Beecher's cheddar and "Cheez-it crumbs." Local ingredients, especially seafood, are at the forefront of the menu. Spruce tip salt adorns one appetizer and local pea shoots become part of a spring vegetarian couscous.
Two of Juneau's new restaurants, Rockwell and Samovars, are open late. Rockwell offers their dinner menu late at night and also has a happy-hour menu that includes inexpensive bites of their firecracker mac and cheese, french fries, beet and blue cheese salad, and cheese and jalapeno croquettes. Their nachos also make a great late-night snack. It's good to know, if you're out in the evening enjoying some live music, just finished a movie downtown, or are simply visiting with friends, you no longer have to go hungry in the wee hours downtown.