Juneau is the capital of Alaska and a modest town of just over 30,000 full-time residents. It’s also home to one of the most interesting food and drinks scenes in not only The Land of the Midnight Sun, but the entire American West Coast.
Jared Cure, owner of local cocktail hotspot The Narrows, says a lot of people like him are moving back to where they grew up, bringing with them fresh ideas and creative energy. “Juneau seems to be having a resurgence in the food and beverage scene over the last number of years,” he says. “It’s great to see in our remote part of the world.”
Preservation is a big part of the Alaskan way of eating. “From smoking salmon to canning berries, we’re always looking for ways to eat our local product year round,” he says. At his bar, that translates to spruce tips frozen each spring, rhubarb in the summer, and blueberries in the fall. It also means using glacial ice in cocktails.
“The Narrows was born out of a love for craft cocktails and spirits,” he adds. Cure spent a combined fifteen years in the foodie west coast towns of Portland and San Francisco before returning to Juneau. “That time in larger cities shaped my idea of what a bar could be. It’s an aggressive concept for a small remote town, but it’s a small enough bar that it works.”
One of Cure’s favorite and most Alaskan cocktail concoctions is the Blue Bear. It’s a mix of Bacardi Gran Reserve 10 Year, fresh mint, lemon juice, and house-made wild Alaskan blueberry syrup, topped with Fever Tree ginger beer. Better still, it’s poured over glacial ice chards.
“Some of my favorite spots in town include Seong’s for some wild Alaskan salmon sushi, Roma Bistro for a cocktail and an appetizer, and Red Spruce to see what Chef Nel has been working on,” Cure says.
Craft beer fans flock to nearby joints like Haines Brewing Company. It’s 90 miles away, but that’s practically the next town over in massive Alaska. The brewery is responsible for Lookout Stout, celebrated by locals and tourists alike, along with a red ale brewed with caramel malts and Cascade hops, and its flagship beer, the Dalton Trail Ale. Seasonals like Captain Cook’s Spruce Tip Ale, made from locally foraged needles, round out the brewery’s esteemed list of offerings.
The brewery started in 1999 and brewed out of a facility in the Southeast Alaska State Fairgrounds up until 2015. That year, the brewery moved to Main Street in Haines, settling into a new building with a more expansive beer garden. As it stands, it’s a small but lauded Alaskan producer, operating with 7-barrel system. Haines is home to an annual craft beer showcase and part of a larger Last Frontier brewing scene that’s surprisingly robust.
Back in Juneau at SALT, diners have grown accustomed to the creative work of Chef Lionel Uddipa. Raised in Juneau, Uddipa is a third-generation chef who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta. Since, he’s worked in celebrated kitchens like Estencia in southern California and Next in Chicago. He’s won numerous awards and even appeared on television alongside five other standout chefs in Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted via National Geographic.
The restaurant’s award-winning output is self-described as modern Alaskan cuisine. That includes dishes like crispy rockfish bites, parsnip pasta, local butter lettuce salad with house-made bacon, Alaskan scallops and spot prawns, and some tantalizing steak options. With a mix of foraged goods, root veggies, and protein from the sea and land, it’s a bit Nordic in nature.
There’s beer and wine at SALT, naturally, and also a respectable cocktail list. Offerings include the Clover Club, a mix of gin, raspberry compound syrup, lemon, and egg white, and Whiskey Fields Forever, made with bourbon, fresh strawberries, sweet vermouth, and southern pecan and chicory bitters.
And that’s just the tip of the glacier, with fantastic local spirits pouring in thanks to Port Chilkoot Distillery and java from Heritage Coffee Roasting Company. As Cure says, in a typical year there’s quite an influx of tourists to the area in the summer, especially by way of cruise ship. Things are strange amid the pandemic but regardless, Juneau should be on every hungry diner and thirst imbiber’s shortlist of places to visit.