Cheers and all the best, Zita
Enjoy Sitka like I did. Cheers and all the best,
Thanks to Tribal Tours, Bayview Pub, Our Town Catering and Ludvig’s Bistro.
Enjoy some highlights from the show! This was a wonderful stop on the Inside Passage Cruise in Alaska on Holland America Line’s MS Amsterdam.
Highlights from Juneau Alaska from All the Best with Zita Keeley. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more!
More to come: Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Anchorage, Kodiak, Homer, Alaska and Victoria, BC
The biggest bears in the world are in Kodiak, Alaska. There are more than 3,500 of these brown bears in the town of little over 6,000 people. While my few hours there were to explore the food I couldn’t help but anticipate and actually expect to see one of these giants. (From a distance of course).
I’d arranged to meet with Chef Joel Chenet, a Frenchman, who settled in Kodiak some years ago. He was excited to share some local recipes with me but first took me on a drive around to show me some highlights of the very small town.
Needing some ingredients, we stopped at one of his friend’s houses and walked through her garden picking herbs and lettuce. From there we went down to the beach to forage for some edible greens that are regularly used here like beach greens and sea lettuce. I found out that there are so many edible plants all growing along the shore line. After that, it was to a nearby field to pick more interesting plants and wild greens. It just can’t get fresher than this.
We drove back to his house with our collection of goodies where his lovely wife, Martine, had arranged a full table of scones and tea for our visit. Chef Joel went straight to his kitchen to start preparing an interesting dish with a smoked salmon ravioli and a type of pesto made with nettles and seal oil. I had wondered if I’d get to taste anything unusual on this visit and so seal oil would be it. Other than a slight fishy after taste like when you have a fish oil capsule, the flavor was quite soft and not unlike olive oil.
There was a dish with halibut that Joel was quite excited to showcase. He filled a clay pot with sea water and then lowered hot rocks (usually heated over an open fire but he heated them in his oven here) into the water followed by the halibut filets. It was quite a presentation and the fish turned out delicious.
With only a short time before having to get back to the ship, Joel and Martine insisted on taking us to the Monks Rock Coffeehouse and bookstore they described as a local gem. We were greeted by the friendliest people who are all student volunteers from St. Innocent’s Academy and who immediately made me feel at home. The place is quaint with one side set up as the café and the other a shop with all kinds of Russian do-dads. They also have a thrift store upstairs that I didn’t get to see. While we sipped our delicious coffees and nibbled on an amazing Reuben sandwich, we were suddenly being serenaded with some Georgian folk song by this amazing group of people. It was an unusual yet very moving experience.
Back at the port, Chef Joel tried to give me some remaining halibut to take on board but sadly, the security people there refused to let me. It would have been so great to have the Executive Chef of the ship cook that up. Oh well.
I still can’t believe I never saw any bears in Kodiak, but maybe next time.
Cheers and all the best,
I’m now about half way through my Alaska cruise and the next stop is the quaint town of Homer. This pretty place is located on the Katchemak Bay and is noted for an area called “The Spit”, a 4 mile or so strip of land that was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago and now is the main location for Homer’s best restaurants and shops.
Before heading to the Spit though I have a date at Tutka Bay Lodge, a wilderness retreat about 25 minutes across the bay from Homer. The scenery surrounding us as we motor on over there is breathtaking. The lodge is on an 11 acre stretch of land with all types of relaxing and luxurious amenities plus, the reason I am visiting, a popular cooking school inside a repurposed crabbing boat, the Widgeon, they fondly call “the ark.”
Before any cooking happens, I am taken by the Chef, Charles and nature guide, Karen to forage for ingredients Charles will want to use for my dish. We head down to the rocky beach and before long our basket is filled with all types of odd looking greens and flowers. I’m given a brief explanation of each one. There’s one called bladder wrack and it’s particularly strange looking but Karen assures me is delicious in soups and stews.
Back at the ark, Charles sets up a cooking area and proceeds to grill up beautiful looking salmon filets that will be garnished with a salad of our just picked greens. How much fresher can you get than this?
After boating back to Homer, I head to the Spit to meet with Chef Mandy Dixon at her popular La Baleine Café. She tells me she serves a lot of the local fishermen so her portions are quite hefty. To my surprise, I was served a bowl of ramen noodles (with salmon), a dish I definitely would never have thought would be on a menu here. It was outrageously good. Along side that I had a crab melt that was rich and delicious and more of what I’d expect. What a terrific little spot this was.
Now heading off the Spit and into town we make a quick stop at Homer’s local brewery where the owner, Steve McCasland, guides me through a flight of all their brews.
Although there’s very little time left before my cruise ship leaves Homer, I have one final cooking date with Anna at Homer Stay & Play, a bed & breakfast place with spectacular views over the bay and glaciers. Anna and her husband Byron have prepared an incredible spread of food for us and I feel so bad that we have to rush through this visit. We still manage to whip up some tasty purple potatoes with goat cheese and “nesto” a pesto made with nettles and have a few bites of their delicious display.
It’s back onboard the MS Amsterdam and on to Kodiak with a full and satisfied belly and some wonderful new friends.
Anchorage is the next stop on this 2 week inside passage cruise. Since I had such great food experiences in Juneau, I am now quite eager to see what Alaska’s biggest city has to offer. Having over 40% of Alaska’s population, Anchorage is popular for fishing, hiking and I am certainly hoping, for eating.
I made a plan to meet Jack from Visit Anchorage who has made a few dining arrangements for me. We hop into his mini van and drive to the “south side” of town and stop at what looks like an out of business strip mall. There’s not another car in site and while I’m a bit confused about this location, Jack gets out and walks to one of the doors and assures me that the Southside Bistro is one of Anchorage’s neighborhood gems. A uniformed Chef greets us and brings us inside. What a surprise to find a beautifully decorated and inviting space with an open kitchen and 2 warm and comfortable dining areas. I’m told they have one of the best wine and beer lists in the city too. The restaurant is noted for its fresh and fun food and Chef Travis creates different specials on a daily basis. Today, he wants to make a salmon with cherries and lentil dish and has a gorgeous 20 pound king salmon already waiting to be prepared. He does all the hard work and then we sit down with a glass of pinot noir and this amazing dish. The wine and the salmon are just a perfect pairing and I’m feeling more excited with what’s yet to come.
We drive back into “town” and the main street of Anchorage where there are numerous vendors behind hot dog carts selling their popular reindeer hotdogs. Of course, I have to try one so Jack brings me to his favorite. It seems these are eaten all over town, even for breakfast, and I love mine loaded with spices and this vendor’s very own, special sauce called “the boss.” I loved it!
So now we go from street side hot dog stand to elegant, upscale dining just around the corner at Marx Brothers Café. This restaurant is an unquestionable treasure in the Anchorage dining scene located in a pretty little house with only 14 tables. They are known for some of the most innovative contemporary food in Alaska and I find this out for myself as Chef Jack promptly brings out 3 outrageously gorgeous looking dishes. There’s a king salmon with sorrel sauce and mashed purple potatoes, a macademia crusted halibut with coconut curry, mango chutney forbidden rice and grilled Japanese eggplant and neopolitan seafood mousse with smoked salmon, smoked halibut, and maine lobster with brioche toast points and caviar. Yes, all that for me! The Chef explains that he loves when opposing flavors can come together on a plate. He also said this is Alaska so you can’t get too crazy with ingredients and ideas. We finished with his special birch syrup butter pecan ice cream. This meal was as extraordinary as it sounds.
We have one more place to go in one of Anchorage’s oldest neighborhoods. This time it’s for scones at the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. I have to work for my scone as Rachel shows me the process in creating these multi berried beauties. Needless to say I was a bit too full to eat a whole one but thankfully, Rachel let me take some with me.
There’s still a little time left before I had to get back to the ship. I certainly couldn’t eat any more so Jack drives to one of his favorite spots, Chugach State Park. The views are simply breathtaking and while I didn’t see any moose or other wildlife so prevalent there, I was able to take in some of the natural beauty surrounding this part of Alaska and even managed to hike around a bit and work off some of that food.
Anchorage might be the biggest city in Alaska, but it definitely has small town charm and I’m happy to say, the nicest people and extraordinarily good eating.
Cheers and all the best,