If there’s one dish that embodies the philosophy of Bar Volpe, South Boston’s new southern Italian restaurant and pasta shop from chef and restaurateur Karen Akunowicz, it’s the culurgiones, Sardinian stuffed pasta with an intricate seam. It’s all about simplicity on the surface — four plump pockets of dough sit in tomato sauce — but lots of effort underneath, and it’s such a regionally specific dish that you’re unlikely to find it elsewhere around Boston.
That doesn’t mean that everything on the menu strictly adheres to the southern Italian repertoire. While Akunowicz is “passionate” (as she says) — or “obsessive” (as she says others say) — about some culinary traditions, she’s also “not quite so staunch” about others, so the menu plays with classic dishes as well as her own spins inspired by the flavors of the region.
Bar Volpe is the follow-up to Fox & the Knife, which focuses on northern Italian cuisine, particularly the Emilia-Romagna region. Bar Volpe gives Akunowicz a chance to serve dishes that don’t fit into the Fox & the Knife concept, and the larger space also allows for the expansion of the fresh pasta sales she began during the pandemic. Really, her dream of opening a pasta shop fueled the opening of the restaurant: A shop on its own would be hard to make financially viable, but it works if it’s attached to a restaurant, she says, and so Bar Volpe is both. A little over a decade ago, Akunowicz was living in Modena, Italy, waking up at 3 a.m. and learning to make pasta from “little old ladies” in a room full of sawhorses topped with plywood; now she’s selling pasta nationwide via Goldbelly, with a Williams-Sonoma partnership coming soon.
Here’s a closer look at a few of the dishes on Bar Volpe’s opening menu.
When Akunowicz traveled to Naples, a group of women befriended her in a piazza, curious as to why she was there alone. When she explained that she was a cook and was there to eat pizza, they brought her around to various pizzerias, and that hospitality is a driving force behind what she hopes to achieve at Bar Volpe. “I want to say, ‘Come hang out. Come eat with us. Let us show you this thing.’”
While that memory of eating pizza with strangers in Naples is an undercurrent at Bar Volpe, the restaurant doesn’t have a pizza oven, so there’s no Neapolitan-style pizza on the menu, but Akunowicz and her team wanted to do something in the pizza realm that would make sense for Bar Volpe. They landed on a pizzetta made with laminated dough stuffed with cheese and topped with nigella seeds. “Armenian string cheese has nigella seeds in it,” says Akunowicz, “and I love those flavors together. For some reason the flavors of the cheese kept making me think of that.”
The pizzetta is “super flaky, very crispy, and great for sharing,” says Akunowicz, noting that Bar Volpe can better accommodate larger parties than its older sibling, and meant-to-be-shared dishes like these are “the dishes that the restaurant was built on.”
When Akunowicz worked in the pasta shop in Modena, the shop almost exclusively produced tortellini, but the workers would show her how to make different pasta shapes, too, like Sardinian culurgiones. “I think it’s just such a beautiful, fun shape, and I hope that when people see them and eat them they know that — at the risk of sounding really cheesy — a lot of love, a lot of effort went into that. It’s really simple, but there’s a lot of effort, technique, and skill that goes into it.”
Bar Volpe serves several other pastas, too, including bucatini pomodoro with guanciale and spaghetti al limone with Jonah crab.
“Ubiquitous, right?” says Akunowicz. “You can’t go anywhere in Sicily without having fritti misti.” While developing the dish, she kept coming back to a Rhode Island-style calamari with spicy hots, “and it ended up morphing” into using bomba Calabrese, a spicy pepper spread, all over the top, balanced with a cooling basil aioli. “It’s a fun representation of that dish,” she says, noting that it’s one of her favorites on the menu.
One of the restaurant’s antipasti, it joins dishes like farro arancini; porchetta with salsa verde; and grilled artichokes.
Akunowicz inherited a bunch of paella pans with the restaurant. Thinking about the pans, the wood-fired grill, and her “weird obsession” with the Sardinian pasta fregola (little toasted balls typically made from semolina flour), she decided to make a Sardinian-inspired paella, full of seafood and artichokes, cooked over the wood fire. “It’s something we worked on for a very long time, and I love it,” she says. “I am pumped to be able to use fregola in that way, where it’s kind of the star of the show, not an afterthought.”
“I love chicken,” says Akunowicz. At Bar Volpe, it gets brined in buttermilk overnight and then stuffed with black truffle mayo before firming up and drying out in the walk-in for a day. It’s served with kale — ”I always want to eat everything with braisy, brothy greens,” says Akunowicz.
“We wanted the chicken to be simple; we wanted the flavors to all really shine. It’s really utilizing the wood-fired grill in a way that makes a lot of sense, letting those beautiful ingredients shine.”
Like Fox & the Knife, Bar Volpe offers an exciting collection of amari, and there are a few desserts to pair with an after-dinner drink, including gelato en brioche (essentially an Italian ice cream sandwich like you might find in Sicily) and a boozy affogato float.
Bar Volpe is currently open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., although Akunowicz hopes to expand the hours in the future; the cozy bar/market nook could possibly be open for cafe service on weekends. Follow along on Instagram for updates, and make reservations here.