Tucked on the wispy shores of Ismailof Island, Halibut Cove sits along Kachemak Bay off the southern Alaskan coast. The hidden treasure of Homer is a seasonal restaurant called The Saltry, conjured up with immense love by Marian Beck. The island is owned by Marian’s father, who homesteaded it back in 1948. She has been in the restaurant business for thirty years.
Here in these waters, the white-fleshed fish can grow as large as 500 pounds. The Saltry was so named after the buildings that housed the plethora of fish during herring rush of the 1910’s and 20’s, where the fish were salted and air-dried for export. Since 1984, it has taken its journey from a humble chowder shack to the world renowned destination it is today.
The restaurant is a destination unto itself, because you have to make quite a journey to get here. I flew into Anchorage, Alaska, then drove four hours to Homer, otherwise known as “the end of the road.” Then I boarded a fishing-boat-turned ferry, named the Danny J (there was even a cocktail served at The Saltry called the Danny J Rye,) to cruise another five miles across Kachemak Bay to the tiny mystical inlet at Halibut Cove.
Once you’re on the island, the restaurant sits on 25-foot-tall pilings on a rustic boardwalk. It needs these pilings because twice a day the tide can get very close to the bottom side of the boardwalk.
The Romanticized Palette
The stunning surroundings and journey to arrival are just the beginning of the exquisite experience at The Saltry.
Chefs and foodies from far and wide have made pilgrimage here to find out for themselves what all of the fuss is about. Among the regular offerings on the menu are pickled salmon, local Glacier Point oysters, black cod in a pho broth with shiitake mushrooms, and a variety of chef’s creations made from the catch of the day. All of this paired with root vegetables grown right on the island.
The restaurant is only open during the warm season, from around Memorial Day to Labor Day, when the sun hardly ever sets. And even in the summer, it can get cold! I visited the Saltry in late August and it was quite chilly.
Not only is the food and service incredible, but the view also does not disappoint. Perched high above the water, I felt inspired to stay and author my first novel while gazing out over the shimmering water.
Ms. Beck grew up here, fishing and clamming with her father as a child. She has lived here practically her whole life, save for a few years in California, then a brief stint in New York and Europe. She returned to her homeland with a vision to create local seafood that is a cut above the rest. Over the years she honed her craft, and along with her fisherman husband, slowly cultivated The Saltry into the world-class restaurant it is today.
She buys her seafood only from local fisherman, and what produce that is not grown on the island is bought just across the water in Homer. Much of the salmon on the menu is caught by her husband in Cook Inlet. The pickled variety that is a staple on the menu takes a long time to prepare, sometimes months.
The menu includes such delights as octopus with radicchio and oyster cream, and smoked salmon pate. Another look shows an impressive parade of delicacies with Pacific Rim inspirations, such as scallops with butternut, beet and peas, and black cod with harissa and kale.
The wait staff who live in cabins on the property for the short time the restaurant is open each year know their stuff. Their knowledge of the menu and how it’s prepared is impeccable – it is all part and parcel of the excellent service you experience.
Reservations are most definitely recommended.
An Isle of Legend and Lore
As much as I enjoyed the food, my favorite part of my visit to Halibut Cove actually began after lunch, when we had time to explore the mysterious island on our own before heading back to Homer.
As I wandered the dewy pathways I discovered a century of stories untold. An abandoned artist’s studio filled with a lifetime worth of prints made with local squid ink. A cemetery in peaceful solitude, looking out across the sea. Horses grazing on a breeze blown hill.
Do you have plans to visit Alaska? Let me know in the comments below!