Ketchikan, Alaska’s âFirst Townâ, is an island accessible by plane or boat. A popular cruise port, tourists flock to the city daily to view the artwork along the Inside Passage waterfront, Native American totem poles, and to savor the variety of fresh seafood in a town known as the salmon capital of the world. .
It is home to black bears, wolves, and bald eagles, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States. The temperate rainforest keeps the air moist and flora and fauna thrive. Then there are the waters that allow daily sightings of whales, puffins and other marine life, and the fresh catches that feed tourists and residents alike.
Tourism and commercial fishing are the two main industries in Ketchikan, so it’s easy to find halibut, salmon, ling cod, and other fresh seafood at local restaurants.
I was invited to visit the nearby Steamboat Bay Fishing Lodge on Noyes Island for a women’s fishing expedition (my first trip since the coronavirus). Along the way we stayed in Ketchikan and sampled some of the fresh seafood ourselves. While Ketchikan can boast of being the Salmon Capital of the World, you’ll find plenty of other celebrated seafood options in restaurants – halibut is a favorite with local chefs, and it’s my new favorite fish. after tasting it, whether wrapped in bacon, topped with wine and butter sauce, or stuffed with crab.
When asked why there are so many halibut options in a town known for its salmon, Chris Lemerond, business manager for Cape Fox Corporation, explained, âI like selling halibut because the locals are depleted by salmon. Honestly, they eat salmon all the time. Difficult problem to have, I know! I think halibut is a big seller because not everyone can go out and buy halibut. I mean, you have to go far. The salmon come into the streams and everyone has them. So you can go down to the stream and fish and catch salmon. But for halibut, you have to be in the boat, you have to get out and you have to release. It is a matter of patience.
Ketchikan restaurants typically focus on what’s in season and what anglers catch. The menus therefore change depending on what comes out of the boats.
âI think the real seafood that comes out of here – besides salmon – is shrimp, halibut and yelloweye rockfish, and lingcod is very popular in season. When you can put ling cod on the menu, many people here consider it a little treasure.
Ready to taste the delicious seafood Lemerond talks about? Here’s where to go to get it.
The local grill restaurant overlooking the waterway and mountains, Bar Harbor Ale House, also serves excellent seafood alongside its smoked meats. We sampled a variety of flavors during our visit: pork belly and peaches, halibut tacos, a halibut salad wrapped in bacon, a smoked salmon chowder, and a flatbread topped with minced pork belly, honey, brie and nuts.
The salmon chowder was deceptively rich considering it’s not very heavy in cream. Chef Lemerond explains the process of making the delicious soup: âFirst, we smoke the salmon for the chowder. It starts with a vegetable broth to which corn is added and cooked for its flavor. Then the salmon is added last. Adding it last gives the soup a spoonful of flavor at the end.
And there’s no shortage of salmon in this chowder. Lemerond says there’s almost a pound and a half of salmon in a gallon of soup, with just a little cream added at the end. Deliciously rich in flavor, I would have thought it was a thicker cream, but Lemerond said: “The soup has real depth from the vegetable broth itself.”
Go for the seafood dishes and the chowder in particular, but be sure to try the barbecue as well. It’s all delicious.
2. Cape Fox Lodge
As we stayed at the Cape Fox Lodge two nights, I had a few meals in the lodge’s Heen Kahidi dining room. The lodge is nestled on the hillside on the edge of the Tongass National Forest and overlooks Ketchikan and the waterway. The meals, created by Chef Lemerond and Chef Eddie Lopez, were particularly well prepared and presented.
My first lunch when I arrived in Ketchikan was at Heen Kahidi, and the meal set the tone for my new love of halibut. I ordered the Alaskan Gold Rush Sandwich – a delicate piece of fried halibut topped with candied bacon, provolone, and honey mustard on a potato bun. My friend ordered the Halibut Gruyere, a similar sandwich, except the fish was grilled and it came with a Gruyere sauce. They were both amazing.
Seafood shone with every meal. One morning we had salmon roe benedict for breakfast and scampi with shrimp and seared scallops for dinner.
3. Annabelle’s famous Keg And Chowder House
Another hotel restaurant, Annabelle’s, is located inside the historic Gilmore Hotel. Chowder is a must-try because it bears its name and is considered the best seafood chowder in Alaska. There are two dining options at Annabelle’s. On the left side of the building, you can sit in a tavern-style bar and order from an antique newspaper from 1927 which is the menu (and can be taken with you as a souvenir). Or sit on the right side for a fine dining environment with a traditional menu. Both menus have the same choices; it’s just a matter of the environment in which you choose to dine.
The famous seafood chowder contains a mixture of scallops, halibut and salmon added to potatoes, tomatoes, celery, onion and an assortment of simmered herbs that are finished half and half. Or choose clam or smoked salmon chowders. In addition to the chowder, other specialties include sautÃ©ed clams in an herb, garlic, and white wine sauce, crab and cheese macaroni, shrimp, or a halibut in a blue breadcrumb crust – all are rich, decadent and satisfying.
4. Alaskan Fish House
The Alaska Fish House by the water is known for its Dungeness Crab, Smoked Salmon Cornbread, and another delicious incarnation of smoked salmon chowder. Chowders are popular in every restaurant – the cooler temperatures and the rainforest atmosphere lend themselves well to a bowl of hot chowder any time of the year.
The Alaska Fish House is more of a crab shack type establishment, so look for hearty portions of fish tacos, fish and chips, fish burgers, and burgers.
5.18 Tap House and Burger Bar
108 Tap House, Ketchikan’s newest culinary addition, adds style to the dining scene. This is not a seafood restaurant, but it is a meal not to be missed. Mashed burgers are prepared in front of you and served with handcrafted cocktails concocted with special touches like a homemade dehydrated lemon slice. Poutine, cheese curds, and hummus fries are also rich in flavor and style.
I ordered the 108 Burger, a bacon-wrapped burger with Beecher’s Flagship cheese, caramelized onions, butter lettuce, homemade tomatoes and pickles. It was huge and one of the best burgers I have ever tasted.
The cocktails are as stylish as the redesigned interior, incorporating tea and coffee infused liquors into drinks such as Earl Gray Old Fashion with 108 Earl Gray infused bourbon, simple syrup, bitters, sweet vermouth and a dried orange with cherry. The Smoked Boulevardier is a spectacular presentation of Whistle Pig rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Campari and a slice of orange topped with a bubble of smoke.
6. The taste of Ketchikan Tour
To sample a variety of dishes, take the Taste of Ketchikan tour. This guided tour begins along the coastal promenade in the city center, as the guide points out the works of art and artists in the area. At the edge of the famous Ketchikan Red Light District on Creek Street, the tour ends at the New York Cafe in a private dining room where the chef prepares several dishes, all centered around the catch of the day.
My Alaska Tours co-owner, Shauna Lee, said, âThe chef comes over to explain every dish, and it’s always the catch of the day. The guests therefore learn: âThis is the fishing boat he was caught on. It was the fishermen who caught it. And this is what a halibut looks like. The chef will also explain âall aspects of fish in particularâ.
7. New York cafÃ©
You can stop by the New York Cafe without joining a tour to sample fresh local seafood and American and Mediterranean cuisine with vegetarian options at your own pace.
When looking for locally sourced foods, in addition to seafood, you will find plenty of reindeer, local beer and spirits, Alaskan birch syrup, fireweed honey, salmon berries and blueberries at Ketchican. There is even a blueberry festival every August to celebrate the beloved fruit.