A special dinner meant to highlight the seafood cultures of Alaska and Louisiana this summer has resulted in two new Alaskans.
Chef Michael “MB” Brewer and his wife, Jennry, who is also in the restaurant business, were part of the Great American Seafood Cookoff roadshow that passed through Juneau in early June. During their visit, the couple dropped by Roma Bistro on the Wharf to sample a few cocktails and try out some local fare.
At the bar, they ran into Reecia Wilson, who owns the Juneau Waterfront Restaurant Group. The group started talking and sharing ideas about food.
As the food and conversation flowed, Wilson shared that she was looking for new talent to tune up the menus at her restaurants, including Roma, The Hangar at the Wharf, The Alaska Fish and Chips Company, Pier 49, and Twisted Fish Company Alaska Grill.
The Brewers said they had been thinking about trying a new city.
Before long, the Brewers had accepted a job offer from Wilson—making him the corporate executive chef and her the director of operations.
“It was serendipitous,” Wilson said.
“When a door opens itself, I believe it’s best to just walk on through it and not question it,” he said in a recent interview at Roma.
The Brewers arrived in Juneau in mid-September after riding out Hurricane Ida in New Orleans.
Brewer said that after the hurricane, they spent two days without water and a week without power. While trying to sleep through an 87-degree night, the pair decided to make the move official and full-time.
“We packed the car in the middle of the night and drove to Dallas,” he said, describing their journey across the country and into Juneau by ferry.
Two weeks later, the pair arrived in Juneau and got right to work.
A new adventure
Describing their arrival as “the start of a new adventure,” Brewer said he plans to “brighten and lighten” menus across the different restaurant concepts but isn’t expecting to make wholesale changes out of the gate.
As he considers the changes that make sense, Brewer can call upon his long history in the kitchen for inspiration.
A graduate of the University of South Alabama, he earned a degree in electrical engineering but turned to the hospitality industry after economic slowdowns in the energy sector changed his career plans.
Now, he’s an experienced chef with more than 20 years in the New Orleans restaurant scene, a master sommelier and the recipient of several awards and accolades.
In 2015, he was crowned King of Louisiana Seafood. Grand Marnier named him among the top 100 bartenders in America. He has been featured in the Star Chef’s International Congress. Most recently, he was the chef/owner at Nola Geauxst Kitchen.
But, he said he’s not here to bring New Orleans-style food to Juneau.
Wilson and Brewer both said changes are coming to the group’s restaurants. But, the changes will happen slowly and on a flexible schedule, depending on supply chain issues.
“It’s not broken, it just needs a tune up. I’m excited to have new talent in town,” Wilson said. “Mike’s resume speaks for itself.”
Brewer said he is excited to bring new flavors to Juneau and he’s learning more about the local food available, supply chain issues and the labor force.
“Juneau has its own identity,” Brewer said. “The culture and food here is fantastic. I want to bring extra flavor and make the palette dance.”
Brewer said that his initial changes included introducing a new pizza dough at Roma.
“I’m not a baker. Generally, baking is for witches and warlocks and I cook by taste,” he said, adding that he’s happy with the new dough and the staff’s work to make it consistently.
Brewer said he’s also planning special events, such as wine dinners at Roma and holiday-themed events. He’s also started a new brunch, which has a New Orleans theme.
“The brunch is about attitude and atmosphere,” Brewer said, explaining that the menu features crowd favorites such as seafood gumbo, pain perdu,— New Orleans-style french toast with mascarpone cream and macerated strawberries—and eggs benedict served three ways.
Brewer said he paid particular attention to the brunch cocktails, reaching to pre-prohibition era recipes for inspiration.
Ready for brunch? A review
If the darkness and chilly fall temperatures have you dreaming of warmer environments, head on over to Roma Bistro on the Wharf and try New Orleans edition brunch. It’s offered every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are recommended.
If your experience is anything like ours last week, bring your appetite because the food is excellent and plentiful. Bright brass band music fills the warm and cozy atmosphere. The service was helpful and attentive and the cocktails were fantastic.
We tried the bloody Mary, which featured a pleasant horseradish flavor that was stout without being overpowering.
We also enjoyed the Big Easy, an award-winning and refreshing mix that features Primm’s, Hendrick’s gin, ginger beer and citrus flavors.
But, the Ramos Gin Fizz stole the show with its frothy consistency and orange flavor. Made from orange flower water, gin, egg white, heavy cream, lemon juice, lime juice and simple syrup, the overall effect feels equal parts breakfast and boozy party.
The French onion soup was a perfect start with a good amount of onion nicely offset with cheese and a crisp piece of toast on top of the soup. (This is one of my favorite soups, and this version stands out as excellent.)
The gumbo with shrimp and crab featured expertly prepared shrimp that were bursting with flavor in a rich and well-flavored roux.
The shrimp and grits were creamy and delicious with plump, tasty and tender shrimp. The grits were firm and delicious with the right amount of butter and salt. The tomato stock was rich but not overpowering, which led to a balanced dish that reminded us of trips to Atlanta and New Orleans. (Try them, even if you don’t think you like grits.)
The eggs housarde featured poached eggs in a red wine mushroom sauce served benedict style. Green onions on top added zing. Next time, I’ll ask that my English muffin toast a little longer in this delicious take on eggs benedict.
Save room for dessert. The bananas foster and strawberry shortcake are both excellent. The shortcake features a crumbly biscuit that melts in your mouth and is not too sweet and makes a perfect ending.