Lining the back wall of In Bocca Al Lupo’s dining room are stacks of apple tree logs. A few at a time go into the restaurant’s oven, sometimes bringing the temperature to a scorching 800 degrees.
The wood-fired oven can be temperamental.
“It constantly changes. It depends on how the wood’s burning that day, how hot you got the oven before, what we were doing in the oven earlier that day,” said chef Beau Schooler.
On Thursday afternoon, the oven was around 450 degrees. Eight loaves of ciabatta bread were baking for the evening dinner service.
“Earlier in the day, we were smoking bacon,” Schooler said.
In Bocca Al Lupo — Italian for ‘into the wolf’s mouth,’ a way of saying ‘good luck’ — opened to the public Wednesday night after a month of quietly making pizzas for takeout and a test run Tuesday night with invited guests.
This is the third restaurant for Travis Smith. He started The Rookery Café in 2010 and, with Beau Schooler and Luke Metcalfe, opened The Taqueria last year. All three opened In Bocca Al Lupo together.
It’s located in the old Silverbow Bakery space on Second Street. The chairs, which have been repainted, are a familiar sight, but almost everything else inside has changed.
“We essentially took a large wall down that had been running the length of their dining room to expand the room and allow us to put in a big long bar,” said Smith.
Smith and his dad, contractor Mark Petz, built two bars and the tables out of hemlock from Icy Straits Lumber and Milling. The white-and-blue paint job is simple.
“It’s not a white-linen environment. We really want people to feel comfortable,” Smith said.
The focus is on the food, which is all made in-house.
“We’re buying cheese curds from the East Coast and turning these cheese curds into the mozzarella and part of the byproduct of that is butter, so you get an order of wood-fired oven bread with house made butter,” Smith said.
The restaurant’s multipage menu is presented on a clipboard. It offers appetizers, vegetable dishes, handmade pasta and wood-fired pizza.
“We’re kind of focusing on sharable family-style service. You can get a couple of items and share them amongst the table,” Smith said.
All the main dishes on the menu are under $20, except for a pasta called Strozzapreti di Orzo Alaskan, which features Alaskan barley pasta, Dungeness crab, lemon, brown butter, thyme and calabrian chili. That’ll cost you $24.
“We’ll always try to have varied kinds of pasta just so you can try different kinds of noodles,” Schooler said, who learned the basics of Italian cuisine in Calabria, Italy. A couple of the pastas are made from semolina dough; one is an egg yolk pasta. There’s a gnocchi option, and the lasagnas are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
There are several vegetable dishes, including a whole roasted cauliflower with parsley pesto and pistachio.
“For vegetarians, there’s quite a few options, which is kind of lacking in Juneau,” Metcalfe said. “We’ve had a couple of my friends who are pretty straight vegetarians in here, and they were very pleased with the menu.”
The last two pages of the menu list a variety of beverages — more than 40 different wines, including two on tap, bottled beer and cider, and non-alcoholic options.
In Bocca Al Lupo is open Monday through Saturday at 5 p.m. At the moment, it’s not taking reservations.
The deli Panhandle Provisions, started by Smith and Schooler in 2014, is in the process of getting set up in the same building.
Smith said between 40 and 50 people came through In Bocca Al Lupo Wednesday night, and he’s optimistic the customer base will continue to grow. At the same time, The Rookery and The Taqueria are gearing up for the summer season.
“It’s been fun and interesting watching this process come along,” Smith said. “And now we all of a sudden have three little babies producing delicious food.”