Walking into In Bocca al Lupo as dinner service begins, there’s nothing to suggest it was just named one of the 50 top restaurants in the U.S. by the New York Times. Or any of the restaurant’s other nationwide acclaim, including yet again being a semifinalist for this year’s James Beard Awards.
A sheet of paper taped unpretentiously to a front display counter showed a lunch menu from earlier in the day consisting of four sandwiches (ham, turkey, roast beef, or grinder) for $14 each, roughly in line with other cafes and food stands in downtown Juneau. There was no line of diners waiting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and in the kitchen the staff was going about their prep work at a quick-but-not-rushed pace.
“I think that’s the thing that excites people about here that gets us on these lists is the fact that they come to this really casual place and then they get this food that surprises them a little bit,” said Beau Schooler, chef and co-owner of the restaurant that opened in 2016 in the Silverbow Inn’s dining space, the day after the New York Times prominently announced its third annual “50 places in the United States that we’re most excited about right now.”
It is the first time an Alaska establishment has made what the Times calls “The Restaurant List.”
The narrative for In Bocca al Lupo written by Julia O’Malley, one of about a dozen reporters credited for the list, says the Juneau restaurant’s influences go beyond what its Italian name might suggest.
“If you find your way to this 100-year-old bakery building, you might think, eyeing the menu, that it’s just a wood-fired pizza place,” she wrote. “But it’s the sophisticated, deeply Alaskan specials — usually announced on Instagram — that have brought the chef Beau Schooler a half-dozen James Beard award nominations. Mr. Schooler trained in Italy, but the menu also reflects the influence of the chef de cuisine, Rachel Carrillo Barril, whose Filipino family came to Alaska’s capital generations ago. Mr. Schooler fishes commercially and shows a wild creativity when it comes to salmon — wood-firing Chinook off-cuts, grinding bones to salt, curing fish into mortadella, painting smoked salmon with a candy shell. Expect a casual dining room, gorgeous Filipino-influenced pastries and plenty of ’90s hip-hop.”
Barril, who was spending the early part of Tuesday’s dinner service making meatballs and then tossing pizza dough, said there are some overlapping influences of Filipino and Italian food, so it’s not as eclectic a match as it might sound on a menu. But she also said the menu planning and general concept for the restaurant is more collaborative among those working there than in some other eateries she’s worked.
“We try to do high-quality food, but to not take ourselves too seriously,” she said.
Schooler said he was told about the Times’ award a couple of months ago, but had to keep quiet about it while the newspaper sent a photographer and then prepared the feature for publication. He said it wasn’t a surprise to end up being among the restaurants considered, despite Juneau’s low profile compared to bigger cities with more famous eateries, largely due to past acclaim such as the James Beard nominations.
“We kind of have a good reputation nationally, especially in the restaurant industry itself,” he said. “Maybe not to the general public, but as far as industrywide we kind of have a good reputation and are well-known, so you know it’s not too surprising these days anymore when we have people reach out to us.”
The restaurant has managed to retain fairly steady staffing and businesses coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schooler said. But while Juneau is seeing a record cruise tourism year this summer, he said the customers at his restaurant remain largely what they have been in the past.
“We’ve always kind of tried to cater more towards the locals than tourists, and I think that pays off for us in the shoulder seasons and in the winter,” he said, although he added there has been a notable amount of walk-in traffic from visitors this year.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.