Restaurants

‘I have a very clear vision’: Karen Akunowicz to open Bar Volpe in the fall

The Southie restaurant will be an ode to Southern Italian cuisine.

Karen Akunowicz at Fox & the Knife
Karen Akunowicz at Fox & the Knife. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

When Karen Akunowicz opened her first restaurant, Fox & the Knife, in February 2019, the praise came flooding in, including a nod for Best New Restaurant from Food & Wine.

The chef’s next move? Opening another Southie stunner: This fall, Akunowicz will debut Bar Volpe, a Southern Italian restaurant located a few blocks away from Fox & the Knife.

In fact, Bar Volpe has been kicking around inside Akunowicz’s head for a while — she almost used the name for Fox & the Knife, she told Boston.com (“volpe” means “fox” in Italian). After the success of her first restaurant, developers began reaching out to Akunowicz about a space for her second. A location she had her heart set on fell through right before the pandemic — “a blessing in disguise,” she said — but eventually she secured the former Backyard Betty’s digs at 170 W. Broadway.

“When the space became available, even though it was during the pandemic, I could really envision us being able to do so much with it and really bring to life this idea of a Southern-focused Italian restaurant,” Akunowicz said. “Everything sort of fell into place.”

While Fox & the Knife focuses on the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, Bar Volpe pays homage to the country’s southern region by highlighting wood-fired seafood, vegetable-forward fare, and housemade pasta.

“In the south of Italy, we draw on all the nightshades — the peppers, the tomatoes and eggplants, even artichokes and things like that,” Akunowicz said. “So it’ll definitely be vegetable-focused and a lot more seafood, as is prevalent in the coastal areas. I’m really excited about some specialty dishes and pastas like culurgiones, which are a stuffed pasta from Sardinia. I’m obsessed with Sardinia. Always have been.”

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A main focus of Bar Volpe will be the restaurant’s pastificio, or pasta shop. Here, diners will be able to purchase fresh pasta and sauces from Fox Pasta, a part of Akunowicz’s business that the chef developed at the beginning of the pandemic.

“As the pandemic hit, we pivoted very quickly at Fox & the Knife, and we started Fox Pasta,” she said. “We’re now shipping nationwide, and making hundreds of pounds of pasta a week that we are shipping and selling to people. That piece was always, in my mind, part of Bar Volpe — part of the next restaurant that I wanted to do.”

In addition to the pastificio, which will host a 10-seat bar where guests can order coffee or a glass of wine, Bar Volpe will feature a 110-seat dining room and a 25-seat bar. Oversized booths, an open kitchen, and a small market fill the rest of the space.

Like Fox & the Knife, cocktails and wine will be the focus of Bar Volpe’s bar program, with Kristie Weiss (haley.henry, nathálie) serving as the restaurant’s wine director and director of operations.

“We’re really excited to have her on board,” Akunowicz said. “She’s putting a lot of our opening systems in place as well as curating a pretty amazing wine list, and that’s something I’m just beyond excited about. She’s one of my dearest friends but also so talented, and we’re really lucky that she’s bringing her talents to the table.”

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After more than a year of pandemic upheaval, opening a new restaurant might seem like a daunting project. But Bar Volpe has been a long time in the making for Akunowicz, and a concept that the James Beard Award winner has been steadfast in executing.

“I have a very clear vision, and I’m just moving forward with that vision,” she said. “I think it’s baby steps, because what else could we do during this time? The way I’ve gotten through the last year is to just keep moving forward. … And we’ll side step and do whatever else we have to do as we go, but I think that continuing to move forward with the vision and the restaurant the way I imagined it — that, for me, is the best move.”

When Bar Volpe debuts in the fall, it will be open for aperitivo daily starting at 4:30 p.m., and for dinner on Sundays through Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursdays through Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Follow @bar.volpe on Instagram for updates.

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