First Look: Top Chef All Stars’ Karen Akunowicz Opens Bar Volpe in South Boston This Weekend
At her new pasta-business HQ, the entrepreneurial chef turns her attention to Southern Italian—and rolls out her own wine label, too.
The mercury is falling, days are getting shorter, and sweater-weather is officially upon us: In other words, it’s the perfect time to start filling your plate with rib-sticking portions of homemade pasta.
Good news! One of Boston’s best chefs has just the place to do it: Bar Volpe, the second South Boston restaurant from Top Chef All Stars favorite and James Beard Award winner Karen Akunowicz, which is slated for a soft opening this weekend.
For this hugely anticipated follow-up to her first self-owned spot, the Northern Italian-oriented Fox & the Knife, Akunowicz is turning her attention to Southern Italian cuisine. She’s also doubling down on the success she’s seen with Fox Pasta, her brand of bagged bucatini, creste di gallo, and more that now ships nationally (and helped her delicious debut restaurant nab its latest Best of Boston award).
Located just a few doors down from Fox & the Knife at 170 W Broadway, Bar Volpe (which means “fox” in Italian) will serve as the new mothership for Akunowicz’s al dente noodles and shells and elbows, oh my! In fact, the place has a small Italian market and dedicated pastificio behind glass, so guests can watch the flour flinging team at work. This enclosed space has its own 10-seat table for private events, plus a walk-up counter where anyone can snag grab-and-go pasta and sauces, such as a signature wild boar Bolognese, to take home.
What’s more, now they’ll have the perfect wine pairing for all that pasta: Akunowicz has launched her own eponymous wine label, and it will debut with the 2019 “Forlì Sangiovese,” a bright Sangiovese-Merlot blend she crafted with Italian winemaker Giovanna Madonia. Akunowicz’s affordable ($10/glass) inaugural grapes, what she calls her answer to table wine, are in addition to the value-through-splurge-level list curated by wine director Kristie Weiss. Weiss previously helped stock the cellar at Fenway’s excellent Nathalie, one of the best places in town to grab a glass.
Fresh pasta, bottled wine—they’re only the latest ventures from the business-savvy chef, who in recent years has successfully diversified her brand to encompass endorsement deals (she recently put her stamp of approval on kitchen-design company Zephyr), cookbooks (she’s working on her second, slated for release in 2023), and more. (Up next: a partnership with Williams Sonoma.)
In a restaurant industry that’s always rapidly changing, especially post-COVID, having your hands in a lot of pots is a smart way for a chef to work. It’s also, Akunowicz says, a way to stay engaged and motivated.
“I think in all industries, in the way the world is going, diversification is really important. On the personal and creative side of it, it’s just so fun for me. I love it because it makes my brain work in a different way. That makes everything I do better.”
Cooking is one area where Akunowicz never wants for inspiration, and Bar Volpe is no exception in that regard. Here, her open kitchen is anchored by a wood-fired grill for crafting dishes with rotisserie chicken, porchetta, and flame-kissed fish—expect more seafood here than at Fox & the Knife, Akunowicz says. Besides boasting a mozzarella-bar section with all sorts of spectacular cheeses, the menu will cover regional cuisines from the lower half of the Boot, all the way down to Sicily, even incorporating Moroccan and other North African spices to nod to the history of the spice trade. Think: orrechiette with lamb sausage, wood-fired Sardinian paella, and more.
For a light bite and a drink—Negronis and classic Italian cocktails are the game—you can slink over to the 25-seat main bar, a former Airstream given a marble-topped, Art Deco facelift. The rest of the restaurant features floor-to-ceiling street-side windows, buttery banquettes, and light fixtures shaped like moons that hit your eye like a big pizza pie. (Note: There are no actual pizza pies here, but who cares when there’s her pizzetta bianca, flaky laminated dough stuffed with warm and melty Stracciatella and Provolone, cut into pieces and served on a pizza plate.)
Bar Volpe is the latest in a series of exciting new Italian restaurants from major chefs, following hot on the heels of Mark Ladner’s Bar Enza and Will Gilson’s Geppetto, both in Cambridge. For her latest entry in Southie, Akunowicz says the key to standing out is simply to stand strong on her own two feet.
“Everything we do in the restaurants—from the design to any specific dish—is incredibly intentional, because for me it’s personal,” Akunowicz says. “I can’t do anything that doesn’t feel incredibly personal. So yes, the menu is completely different from Fox & the Knife, but I think if anyone loves Fox & the Knife, they would know that this is me. This is how I cook.”
170 West Broadway, South Boston, barvolpe.com.