Homer’s culinary scene sees an infusion of new options

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HOMER – In what is undeniably one of Alaska’s most vital food towns, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, hampering tourism and forcing job cuts.

But now, a new wave of chefs and restaurateurs are hitting Homer’s culinary scene, bringing with them a new perspective and dishes to match.

Between new restaurants, reinvented spaces and budding food trucks, several new businesses have opened this year, bringing this fishing town to life with quality options ranging from street food to fine dining.

In the building along the Sterling Highway that once housed the Kannery Grill, Cody Fry and Chris Miller recently opened The green can. The duo hope to bring new and inspired dishes to Homer, like a black pepper crab wok and a selection of bao buns.

“It looks like there’s a proven pattern for Homer,” Fry said. “That’s what works. That’s what you do. And everything outside was pretty tough. I think a lot of people this year have tried to break that. They try to bring new things and it doesn’t have to be all fish and chips. It could be something else. It can be skewers over a fire and that’s great.

Ethan Eutsler has found success during the pandemic. He opened Pizza Underground operating in the basement of Alice’s Champagne Palace, serving take-out which became a quick hit.

So much so that this spring it opened The twisted goat with his wife, Susan, and their friend Josie Whitby. The restaurant, located a few blocks from Alice’s, maintains Pizza Underground’s take-out option with a whole new set of table-side dining options, from goat cheese balls with cranberries and pistachios to cioppino.

“There was definitely a huge crowd of people who wanted this dining option who wanted to sit down and have a beer with their food and somewhere to congregate,” Eutsler said. “Pizza Underground didn’t really offer that, and being able to combine the two halves. We still offer curbside delivery. You can pay over the phone if you want, and I think the merging of those two things has been a great experience.

Once Pizza Underground turned into Twisted Goat, Alice’s basement kitchen was open – but not for long. Very Good Breakfast and Astro Taco are recent startups operating out of space.

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Like Eutsler, Randon Birchette worked in several restaurants over the past decade before launching his own. Astro Tacos is essentially a take-out operation with customers calling in or placing orders online. Birchette said he smokes small amounts of chicken and pork for tacos and burritos, and makes fresh fries and salsa daily.

“The opportunity was finally here,” Birchette said. ” I was ready. Just waiting for the right moment. It was a process, but we were well received. People seem to really enjoy the food and I really enjoy doing it. … Yeah, it feels good. It feels good to work for me. »

Perhaps the biggest impact on food culture has been the new influx of food trucks, according to Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce.

This includes the Venezuelan empanada food truck Quebec Ricooperated by the mother-daughter team of Jeannette Aragones and Jessica Hahn.

Aragones, a longtime Homer resident, recently retired from South Peninsula Hospital as a certified practical nurse. Hahn and her husband began outfitting a truck and developing a business plan, and in April the duo opened.

“I’ve been making empanadas my whole life,” Hahn said in a post to DNA. “It’s a super popular meal in Venezuela. Two years ago I saw a food truck for sale and suddenly everything made sense. It was the perfect truck to share something special and different. Even though we have different delicious dishes, I thought the empanadas were the perfect choice for Homer.

The truck includes empanadas with a number of savory toppings like shrimp and cordon bleu. They also have a pair of specialty desserts, a chocolate marquise and an arequipe cheesecake.

The common thread for many of the new ventures is a story in the Homer Food community.

Fry and Miller met when they worked together for four years at Land’s End Resort. Eutsler has worked at Alibi, Fat Olive’s, Alice’s and AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse & Tavern. Birchette worked at several restaurants, including Pizza Underground, before moving into the same space.

Relationships extend to producers, growers and the fishing community.

“Everyone we source from is our friend,” Fry said. “It’s the farmers. The people who provide us with our seaweed and our oysters are all people we have met while working here and with whom we like to work. We get our mushrooms from different suppliers that we are friends with. The guy who gives us the alder planks to smoke the salmon. It is a collection of many good relationships.

The revival happened just as Homer returned to a more normal summer, Anderson said. Last year was a big year for Homeric tourism, he said, but labor shortages caught many businesses off guard. Recently launched food trucks like Que Rico, Jaxx Black Grill, PikaPika Bento and others have provided new options for tourists and locals.

“Absolutely there has been a rebound this year,” he said. “The biggest difference was some of the trucks. They were able to reduce the pressure on our existing restaurants. … It helped to recruit new people and test their skills, and it added a lot of dynamism to the culinary scene. We love seeing this opportunity for new entrepreneurs.

It’s not just the food that gets a makeover. Grace Ridge Brewery moved earlier this year to an area tucked away on a side road above the freeway that takes tourists to the spit. The move led to increased food truck traffic and made it a more essential gathering place.

And The Green Can’s bar service, developed by San Diego consultant Louis Chavez, includes a dozen unique cocktails with ingredients like spit brine and tinctures made from black tea or peppercorns.

“He puts so much work into this place,” Miller said of Chavez. “He has literally trained every bartender we have, created every drink, from premium scotch to champagne to craft cocktails.”

Anderson said the Chamber is planning a local food festival for next year and is also considering more opportunities for the brand new fleet of food trucks.

After the restaurant where he worked was forced to temporarily close during the pandemic, Eutsler was at a crossroads. But his experience in the Homeric community prompted him to try his luck at home.

“I might as well try. I’ve worked in restaurants for quite a long time,” he said. “And, you know, I think it went really well. And living in Homer, as long as people know you want to be part of the community, they want you there. And that’s amazing.

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